Hill Top Residents' Action Group Inc

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IMPORTANT UPDATE REGARDING THE EXISTING 800 METRE RIFLE RANGE
 
The following Neighbour Notification and Application to Modify a Consent was sent out recently by Wingecarribee Shire Council to some Hill Top residents.
For those who did not receive it, or who have not heard about the intended changes and wish to oppose it, we ask that you read the following documentation.  
We have also included a suggested letter of response objecting to the proposal which we recommend is returned to Council a.s.a.p. (click on Sample Letters tab to view letter)
 
The closing date for submissions is 28th February 2008
 

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LATEST BRIEFING NOTES

 

HILLTOP RESIDENTS ACTION GROUP (HTRAG)

 SARTOR BY-PASSES PLANNING LAWS
 IN APPROVAL PROCESS FOR MEGA SHOOTING COMPLEX

 

 

Introduction

 

The NSW Minister for Planning, Frank Sartor is once again using the State’s planning laws to ride roughshod over a local council and one of its communities, and in the process is by-passing the very limits he recently placed on his power to override local council zoning.

 

In this case, regulations have been gazetted specifically to help deliver a deal done by the Carr Government several years ago with Shooter’s Party members in the Upper House. The deal involves the development of a mega- shooting range near the village of Hill Top in the Southern Highlands,  to be set in 1,000 hectares excised from a State Conservation Area.

 

This is being done with $5.2 million of taxpayers’ money, without proper consultation with the local community and by using already controversial legislation to by-pass the Wingecarribee Council, whose Local Environment Plan (LEP) prohibits such a development.

 

The legislative gymnastics employed to push the development through have raised the question of whether similar shooting complexes could be legally built on any similarly zoned land in NSW.

 

Planning Issues

 

In the early part of this decade, the Carr Government made a commitment to assist in resolving issues surrounding the location and development of a regional shooting facility. It is believed that this stemmed from a desire by the Government to garner the support of the Shooters Party in the NSW Upper House.

 

In August, 2006, the Department of Sport and Recreation announced a proposal to build the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Complex 2.4 kilometres north-west of the village of Hill Top.

 

A single range was established on the site in 1986 on what was then Forestry Commission land. It was transferred to the Minister for Conservation who leased it to the Hill Top shooting club until 2008 with no further options.

 

The then Premier, Barry Unsworth, directed the then Minister for Planning and Environment to facilitate the approval of the range and the council granted approval in September, 1986.

 

While the National Parks and Wildlife Service accepted the Government’s decision, it was not happy about it as the land had been earmarked for the Nattai National Park.

 

 

In a letter to the Council in 1986 it expressed its concerns which included: clearing the site would cause erosion of pristine areas; rocky outcrops on the site were important for wildlife; there was poor access; closeness to a popular bushwalking track and “extreme concern” that the site was a high fire risk.  

 

HTRAG has already drawn to the Council’s attention several examples of the users of the existing range not complying with the original consent conditions including use by clubs not authorised to do so, use of automatic weapons by non-army shooters, night shooting, storage of ammunition and guns on the site and unauthorised use by the Army.

 

In August 2006, the Department of Sport and Recreation submitted a planning proposal for a new complex with additional facilities and extended hours of operation:

 

 

         A complex to operate seven days a week

         Another rifle range

         Another  pistol range

         A shotgun range

         Clubhouse with amenities

         Armoury

         Army to use the complex as they wish

         New infrastructure including a gravel access road, generator, water storages and car park for 75 cars.

 

By August 2007, the size of the proposal had been significantly increased to add:

 

         An additional rifle/pistol range

         An indoor air pistol range

         Enlargement of one pistol range to 90 shooting positions

         A doubling of car parking spaces to 180.

         Expected peak use by 250 shooters

         6.5metre tall building

         Extensive clearing

         Shooting at night.

 

 

 

 

 

The Department of Sport and Recreation has entered into lease arrangements with the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Club Inc, the new incorporated body to manage the facility, which would be known as the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Complex .  However there are no details of the commercial arrangement available.

 

To facilitate this complex it was necessary to excise 1,000 hectares from the Bargo State Conservation Area by special legislation to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Native Title (New South Wales) Act. Of this, 15 hectares has been set aside for the complex and the rest is to be a buffer zone.

 

The 1,000 hectares was transferred to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Recreation, under s9 of the Sporting Venues Management Act in April 2006.

 

The land is zoned 1 (a) (Rural) under the Wingecarribee Local Environmental Plan (LEP) . One of the prohibited uses under this LEP is “recreation facility”. A shooting complex falls within the definition of a recreation facility and is therefore a prohibited use of the land.

 

A project application was submitted on behalf of Department of Sport and Recreation to the Minister for Planning, Mr Sartor, for the new development  to consolidate seven shooting clubs in the region.

 

The Minister for Planning had already paved the way for the Complex to proceed by listing the consolidation of two or more shooting ranges into one complex as a class of development that he could deal with under the Major Projects State Environment Planning Policy 2005 (MP SEPP), pursuant to clause 15(3) of Schedule 1 of the policy. Schedule 1 of MP SEPP defines “classes of development” deemed to be “major projects” where the Minister is the consent authority.

 

The Minister then declared under the MP SEPP that the project is a Major Project under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

 

Part 3A is a controversial piece of legislation which is used by the State Government to remove planning powers of local councils to enable it to push through projects which it deems to be of State significance. This cleared the way for the Minister to approve the project, despite its original zoning.

 

However, to make the State’s planning processes more transparent, in July this year, Minister Sartor introduced new regulations under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act  -- the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Miscellaneous) Regulation 2007.

 

Regulation 8 (O) prohibits the Minister for Planning from granting approval for developments which are prohibited by a Local Environmental Plan. Under the Wingecarribee LEP, a shooting complex is prohibited.

 

The new regulations made no mention of transitional provisions. This is important because this project’s planning process started before these new regulations. This was interpreted by planning lawyers as meaning that the new regulations applied and the Minister could not approve a use for this site which is prohibited under its 1(a) (Rural) zoning. 

The HTRAG’s lawyers wrote to Mr Sartor on 20 October, pointing out the July removal of the Minister’s power to over-ride such zoning. On Friday 16 November, the Minister quietly amended the new regulations in the Government Gazette to allow any rezoning by the Minister to go ahead if the application was submitted before July, 2007.

 

Such a cynical circumvention of the recently imposed limits on the Minister’s over-riding powers is bad enough. But it is also at odds with a decision of the Minister in 2006 when he introduced a standardised planning process or template across the State to eliminate the confusion caused by many differences between local councils’ LEPs.

 

As part of this template, the State Government harmonised across all of NSW those uses that could be permitted or prohibited in each zone.

 

Under the template, councils can add to (but not remove from) the list of permissible uses in a particular zone. If they do so, they have to do so for the whole local government area, not just for one or a select number of properties or owners. This was to eliminate the unfairness and inconsistency of “spot rezoning”, confirming that the same rules should apply to all properties with the same zoning.

 

In directing councils to use this template, the Minister has declared that there will be uniformity and has defined what can be added or prohibited. The Government’s template prohibited recreational use (which includes a shooting range) in any 1 (a) (Rural) zone.

 

If Wingecarribee Council wished to add shooting ranges as a permitted use at Hilltop which is a 1 (a) (Rural) zone it would have to permit shooting ranges on any land zoned 1 (a) (Rural) in the council’s area.

 

The Minister has declared that a shooting complex of this type is a development of State significance but it appears he is only considering approval  for the specific Hill Top site zoned 1 (a) (Rural). In other words he is preparing to approve a “spot rezoning.”

 

If the Minister adhered to his own rules, if he approves this type of development for Hill Top, and it is also a development of State significance, then it should be suitable for every 1 (a) (Rural) zone in the State.

 

On that basis the community of Hill Top is asking the Minister to identify where all these sites are to be around NSW, and to confirm that this use can be permitted in any 1 (a) (Rural) zone in NSW.

 

 

The Minister’s position is absurd and the Hilltop development should not be allowed to proceed. To do so would completely undermine the planning reform process.

 

 

 

 

 

Other important issues

 

The Minister’s actions are not the only issues of significant concern to the residents of Hill Top.

 

The only communication from the Government has consisted of two single-page information sheets dropped in letter boxes last Christmas and again in August this year. In addition to the planning issues there are a plethora of other reasons why this development should not go ahead.

 

HTRAG has engaged a number of experts to assess the negative impacts of the development on local communities including:

 

  • Noise impact of seven days a week use and undetermined nights with estimates of up to 250 people shooting on weekends and uncontrolled use at undetermined times by the army

 

Many residents have bought into the area because of the peace and quiet of the surrounds and its proximity to pristine conservation areas for bushwalking and horse riding right next door to this proposed site which adjoins Blue Mountains World Heritage area. Many of these people are understandably worried that their properties will be devalued as a result of the development.

 

Noise from the shooting range will either directly or indirectly result in a decrease in the values of homes in the surrounding area.

 

In particular, the Hill Top Primary School is approx. 4 kilometres from the proposed shooting complex and the shooting noise can be heard at the school even now from the single range. Parents are extremely concerned about the distress that could be caused by constant firing on the range.

 

  • Lead contamination of local water courses by spent ammunition

 

The site is on a plateau surrounded by steep gullies that lead to streams and rivers that feed into the eastern part of the Warragamba catchment which provides drinking water to Sydney. Rocky Waterholes Creek and Iron Creek flow from east to west across the site to connect with the Nattai River which then flows into Lake Burragorang (Warragamba Dam).

 

After the site is cleared there will be faster run-off into the water catchment which creates erosion issues and the transportation of lead.

 

Lead is deposited at shooting ranges as spent lead shot (pellets) and spent lead bullets at rifle/pistol shooting areas, causing lead contamination.

 

Despite claims that spent ordinance will be collected, tonnes of lead per year will be fired by rifles and it is inevitable that a significant proportion will end up outside the planned drop zones. Shotgun pellets in particular are difficult to control and reclaim and bullets fragment on impact and cause soil and water pollution.

According to the US Environmental Protection Authority topography of the kind found at this site is unsuitable for shooting complexes.

 

  • Endangerment of local flora and fauna


With
1,000 hectares of conservation land being taken for this development, and following the addition of more ranges and an undisclosed amount of land to be cleared, flora and fauna on site and in the surrounding area will be affected. There are recorded 108 protected species and 22 threatened species and breeding koalas on this site.  The land was not zoned 'conservation' for nothing.

 

  • Bushfires


Bushfires are a high risk the local residents already manage in this extreme bushfire zone.  Previous fires have been started by lightning strikes on this area and have endangered lives and homes. The specific site is supposed to be a buffer around the village and managed to protect the villages against bushfire. Many hundreds of people and an estimated 200 vehicles on weekends moving in and out of the area will add the risk of possible arson and accidental fires by discarded cigarette butts in an area with single dirt road access.

 

  • Unsuitable dirt access road

 

Wingecarribee Shire Council’s traffic count in August 2007 estimates a 40% increase in the number of vehicles, particularly 4WDs, travelling through the main street of Hill Top in peak periods like weekends and then onto the narrow, unsealed access road. This increases the risk of accidents and impacts on local pedestrians and road users – and increases wear and tear on the roads which are unaligned, unlit and unguttered. There is no plan to improve the bridge into the main street which is too narrow to allow 4WDs to pass each other, nor the single lane rail crossing that enters the main street at the only other point. There is no intention to seal the dirt access road.

 

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Update: 19th September:
 
An Information update from GHD was received by Hill Top residents around 23rd August.  This update shows that the intended number of shooting ranges has been increase to 6.  This number includes the existing range. (see map on home page)
Please note that the information sheet did not contain any senders details or any contact information.
 
If you didn't receive one of these updates we would like to hear from you.
 
The proposed new ranges are now:
 
1 x 90 BAY PISTOL RANGE - 50 metres x 140 metres
This range will allow 90 shooters to shoot simultaneously.
1 x RIFLE RANGE - 500 metres x 140 metres
1 x SHOTGUN RANGE - size not specified
1 x 20 BAY INDOOR AIRGUN RANGE - 10 metres          (adjoining club house)
1 x PISTOL RANGE - 200 metres x 85 metres
Preliminary plan shows an additional 45 shooting bays available for simultaneous shooting but it is unclear which ranges it applies to.
 
As a result of the additional ranges, an increase in the operating hours has been announced.
The proposed shooting complex will now operate 7 DAYS A WEEK AND SOME EVENINGS.  The Army will continue to use the complex 90 day per year.
 
Also as the result of increased ranges and usage, car parking has been increased.
A car park for 180 CARS is to be provided.
 
Traffic through our village will therefore be further increased.
Recent traffic studies by Wingecarribee Shire Council show a 40% increase in traffic through Hill Top village will occur if the development goes ahead.  
 
 

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Subject: Update - 20 July
 
LETTERBOX DROP
 
We are currently conducting a letterbox drop to all northern villages of the Southern Highlands.  The flyers include an information handout, a membership form, an expression of interest in displaying corflute signs (for Hill Top only at this stage), and the Commission of Inquiry Petition.  The priority is the petition so please complete as soon as possible and return to our box in the Hill Top Village Store or our post office box.
 
LOCAL PUBLICITY
 
Our next appearance:
- Southern Highlands Country Market at Moss Vale this Sunday 22nd July. 
Available will be more information on the development, membership forms to join our association, and the petition for the Commission of Inquiry.
We hope to see you there!

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Subject: Update - 22 June
 
$2MILLION EAR-MARKED FOR DEVELOPMENT BY STATE GOVERNMENT 
 
The State Government has included $2million in their 2007-08 budget for the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Facility.  This is half the original budget which backs up suggestions by the Minister of Sport & Recreation that they will build 2 new ranges now and 2 more ranges in the near future.  The development has not been scaled down only the full building works will be scheduled over the next couple of years.  This still begs the question - why build any ranges at all when these facilities already exist within the region?
 
PETITION FOR COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
 
In light of the suspicious grounds this project has taken, that is, the lack of community consultation and the fast tracking of this major development, we will demand a Commission of Inquiry into this fiasco.
Petitions have been drafted and will be available soon at nearby locations.  Keep an eye on this space for those locations.
 
LOCAL PUBLICITY
 
Our next appearanaces:
- Hill Top Village Store on Sunday 24 June
- Mittagong Markets on Saturday 30 June
Available will be more information on the development, membership forms to join our association, and the petition for the Commission of Inquiry.
We hope to see you there!
 

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Subject: Update - 10 June
 
DEVELOPMENT NOT APPROVED
 
There is still the misconception in our community that the development has already been approved.  Shooters have been told it has been approved and have conducted an earth turning ceremony in celebration.
 
It is important to remember - THE DEVELOPMENT HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED!!!
 
The Development Application has not even been released.  If we all ban together to fight this development we can stop it.
 
OPPOSITION CAUSES DELAYS
 
Our opposition to the development and the hundreds of letters we have sent to the various Ministers is having an effect.  GHD, the development group, have admitted they are 4-5 months behind in their schedule.  So thank you and congratulations to everyone that has supported us so far. 
 
LOCAL PUBLICITY
 
To continue to gain membership for our organisation and inform the pubilc we are manning stalls at the various local markets.  If you would like to visit us for a chat, the next market we will be appearing at is the Mittagong Markets on Saturday, 16 June.  See you there!
 

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Subject: Update - 14 May
 
PUBLIC MEETING - SUNDAY 6 MAY
 
Our organisation held a meeting to discuss issues which will result from the development and ways in which we can oppose the proposal.
 

Further, the following motion was put forward at the meeting and was passed unanimously - "This meeting fully supports the Hill Top Resident’s Action Group in their efforts to prevent the problems that would likely be created; if the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Facility is built at Hill Top."

 

Thank you to the following speakers for their attendance and knowledge on:
  • Julie Cook - Discussed the proposal, and the deception & misinformation used to progress the development so far
  • Marbecc Webb - Discussed gun noise disturbances & read a statement by John Crook of Gun Control Australia donating financial support
  • Sylvia Hale, Greens Party - Discussed the problem with the current planning legislation
  • Keith Muir, Colong Foundation for Wilderness - Discussed the land zoned conservation in 1991, and the lack of studies conducted when the site was selected and the bill passed through Parliament in 2006.
  • Patrick Webb - Discussed lead contamination and the devastation of the land
  • Paul Newell, Environmental Scientist - Discussed the threatened species in the area and how they're affected by loud noises, & the breakdown of lead and copper in the soil
  • Gerry Watt, Narooma Residents' Action Group - Discussed the regional shooting facility proposed for their community, and how the development was stopped
  • Nick Campbell-Jones, Deputy Mayor of Wingecarribee Shire Council - Offered Councils support, use of a ranger & noise testing equipment, and motion to be passed in Council to oppose the development.

All in all it was a very successful meeting and the launch of our official campaign to oppose a large scale development that offers no benefits to our community but a degradation of amenities to the families living in Hill Top, Colo Vale and Balmoral.

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Subject: Update - 4 April
 
REQUEST TO HAVE THE DEVELOPMENT HANDLED LOCALLY
 
Thank you to members of our community who have sent letters to the General Manager of Wingecarribee Shire Council and the Regional Planning Director requesting that the development be handed over by the state to the local authorities.  Unfortunately, the matter has to be classed as a State Significant Site (under Part 3A of the Act) as a number of clubs are amalgamating into the 1 club.  So the matter will be decided by the Minister of Plannings office.
 
PUBLIC MEETING
 
The group are continuing with other actions including holding a public meeting to inform residents about the proposal and its implications when the plans are released to the public.  Stay tuned for more information.
 
OTHER ACTIONS
 
We still have a number of other government and authority groups to contact regarding other aspects of the proposal.  More information will follow with regards to actions the community can take to help this cause.
 
 

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Subject: Update - 14 March
 
ACTION PLAN
 
An Action Plan has been created and distributed to the members of our group.  We have asked for volunteers for some of these points.
 
LETTERBOX DROP
 
A flyer has been drafted and will be delivered to all residents of Hill Top and local businesses to inform people of this proposal.
 

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Subject: Update - 5 March

MEETING WITH PAUL STEPHENSON, INDEPENDENT

Despite it being election month, Paul was kind enough to donate some of his time to meet with our members on Sat 3 March to discuss the proposal.  The meeting was very informative and Paul has offered his assistance in helping us in our goal of stopping this proposal, and has provided us with some guidance in this matter.

GHD

GHD, the development group responsible for putting this proposal together, has sent a response to a couple of our members.  In essence, Sports & Recreation have applied for this project to be considered a Part 3A (a Major Project, handled by the Minister of Planning's office).  If this is granted then full community consultation will occur.

Further, there has been a second round of noise testing but the details from GHD are non-existent.

SURVEY & STATE ELECTION CANDIDATES

We have been sending out surveys to all the candidates running in this month's State election to guage their views on this matter.  The results are listed under the sub-heading "Support from Election Candidates".

SURVEY & LOCAL COUNCIL

We have also been sending the survey to members of the Wingecarribee Council but they have declined to participate.