Eco facility gets vetoed

By Rhys Williams

Plans for a proposed $10m ‘eco-tourism’ facility to be built in Corowa have been unanimously rejected by a planning panel.

The Western Regional Planning Panel (WRPP) made the determination on Thursday during a hearing at Federation Council in front of an estimated 60 people.

The WRPP concluded that the ‘Warrawidgee Island Conservation Resort’ posed a potential environmental and safety risk and did not comply with the Corowa Local Environment Plan (CLEP) - a decision that triggered a loud applause in the council chambers.

Planning consultants Ben Fryer and Warwick Horsfall spoke on behalf of Warrawidgee Pty Ltd, who were devising the eco-tourism resort.

The proponents of the development were met with firm questions from the panellists regarding water, sewerage and fire safety amid other concerns.

Among five speakers that made submissions to the panel against the proposal was Robert Pearce, who has fought the development from its outset over a year ago.

Mr Pearce has lived his entire 60 years at Bongeroo – his property that neighbours the 316-hectare Warrawidgee site that backs onto Boiling Down Creek.

The applications rejection was received as such a relief for him after undertaking an arduous battle that saw him spending day and night researching and seeking out legal advice to prevent the development from moving forward.

“This would have set a precedent for similar developments to occur on the entire length of the river.

“It’s a load off our mind now. We knew we were fighting something that was wrong but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to win the battle.”

Robert sought out the professional assistance of the Environmental Defenders Office NSW (EDO) who compiled a summary report on the site and provided their evaluation of the permissibility of the proposed development.

The EDO summary outlines many fraught issues with the DA that were referenced by the panel during its hearing.

“The likes of EDO helped out so much with maximising information and resources and I think their assessment was instrumental in getting the right outcome,” Mr Pearce told the Free Press.

The assessment notably states that the Warrawidgee development does not comply with the requirements of the CLEP because it ‘is not properly characterised as an eco-tourist facility and is accordingly prohibited in the E3 Zone.’

Gordon Kirby, Ruth Fagan and Mark Grayson of WRPP cast the same doubt on the development satisfying the distinctions defined in the CLEP when they made their determination.

Brendan Dobbie, Acting Principal Solicitor for the Environmental Defenders Office NSW, said, “As public interest environmental lawyers, we were pleased to have been able to assist our client and the community in highlighting planning law issues with the proposed development. 

“The proposal was inappropriate because of its size and nature, given its close proximity to the sensitive riparian environment of the Murray River. We are very happy to have helped our client in protecting one of the best preserved reaches along the River,” he told the Free Press.

Despite not being able to be seen as favouring any side of the development during the process, Federation Council lamented their disappointment that it had to be drawn out for so long but are satisfied the right outcome was made for the local community.

“Councillors were very much aware of the application and many have spent considerable time talking with some of the people who objected to this application.  Council is pleased that its assessment report recommendation was upheld by the panel. 

“Council is disappointed that the entire process took so long to reach this, but it is not unusual for complex applications to take this long to reach a panel hearing.  Council is always reviewing processes and will investigate other means to ensure applications are dealt with as efficiently as possible.  Council is glad many took the time to attend the hearing and see firsthand the planning system at work.”