The small communities
of Hill Top and surrounding villages in the Southern Highlands are rallying against a decision
by the Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, to by-pass local planning laws and clear the way for a mega shooting range complex
at their back door.
latest move in the approval process is to gazette new regulations enabling him to circumvent limitations on his powers which
he only introduced last July.
shooting complex is just 1.6 kms from the nearest homes, 3.5 kms from the main street of Hill Top, and about 4 kms from the
local school. With up to 250 shooters using six ranges, which will be open seven days and some nights, locals believe the
peaceful rural atmosphere will be shattered by the sound of constant gunfire.
Yet the only consultation with the community has been two “information sheets” placed in letter
boxes over the last 12 months which have failed to allay locals’ fears about safety, noise, lead contamination of pristine
streams, threats to wildlife, bushfires and over-crowding of unsuitable roads.
Using special legislation,
the State Government has excised 1,000 hectares of native bush from a State Conservation Area and leased it to seven private
shooting clubs to develop the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Complex. There is $5.2 million of taxpayers money being
spent on the complex as part of a deal between the State Government and the Shooters Party several years ago.
A single 800 metre
rifle range has existed on the site since 1986, despite the land never being zoned for the purpose. But last year the Department
of Sport and Recreation submitted a planning application for a new complex with additional facilities and hours of operation:
- Another rifle range
- Another pistol range
- A shotgun range
- Clubhouse with amenities
- New infrastructure including a gravel access road, generator, water storage
and car park for 75 cars.
- A complex to operate seven days a week
- The Army to use the complex at their discretion.
In August 2007 the size of the proposal was significantly increased to add:
· An additional rifle/pistol range
· An indoor air pistol range
· Enlargement of one pistol range to 90 shooting
· A doubling of car parking spaces to 180.
· Expected peak use by 250 shooters
· 6.5metre tall building
· Extensive clearing
· Shooting at night.
Hill Top Residents
Action Group (HTRAG) representative Julie Cook said the group was not opposed to shooting as a recreation, but the development
of such a large complex so close to homes and schools on conservation land was totally inappropriate.
are 750 homes within 5 kms of the existing range and even with the current limited use the sound of gunfire is distressing.
The Development Application confirms that if this mega complex goes ahead there will be gunshots ringing out every day and
some nights. It will be like living in a war zone.”
She said documents
obtained by HTRAG showed that the Unsworth Government had overridden Wingecarribee Council’s zoning to push through
approval for the original small range in 1986.
Even then, the
National Parks and Wildlife Service had objected, telling the Council in a letter that its concerns included erosion of pristine areas; rocky outcrops on the site were important
for wildlife; poor access; closeness to a popular bushwalking track and “extreme concern” that the site was a
high fire risk. NPWS suggested more suitable sites.
The land is zoned
1 (a) Rural which prohibits recreational use such as a shooting range. To by-pass the Wingecarribee Council, Mr Sartor deemed
it to be a Major Project of State Significance, therefore making himself the consent authority, and paving the way for development
Sartor introduced new planning regulations in July this year which prevent him from approving a development which is already
prohibited by the local council’s zoning. HTRAG’s lawyers pointed this out to Mr Sartor in October, and on 16
November the regulations were quietly amended in the Government Gazette to allow the Minister to still consider any rezoning
for a development contrary to Council zoning if
the planning process had started before July, 2007. (The shooting complex was first proposed in 2006.)
An Environmental Assessment of the complex is due to be released soon for public comment, but the Action Group
says it is a totally inappropriate site and should be abandoned now. “Once
again Mr Sartor is riding roughshod over small communities. He has performed some incredible legislative gymnastics to pave
the way for this project to go ahead while the local community has been ignored. We are calling on the Government to abandon
this inappropriate development and find an alternative suitable site for the shooting complex,” Ms Cook said.