14 February 2023

'Sly and underhanded': Councillor speaks out over Turvey Park rezoning

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Cr Amelia Parkins

Councillor Amelia Parkins. Photo: Chris Roe.

Charles Sturt University’s former campus in Turvey Park is on track to be transformed into an 89-lot housing development, despite strong objections from a Wagga councillor.

Councillors voted on Monday to approve an application from Signature Care Holdings to rezone the large, underutilised site near the city centre from Educational Establishment to General Residential.

While acknowledging the urgent need for more housing, Councillor Amelia Parkins spoke out about a perceived lack of community consultation.

“We’re not basing our decisions on any sound policy because we don’t have any, but worse is the way we’re treating our residents and ratepayers,” she declared after grilling council staff over their approach to informing residents.

“The whole process feels sly and underhanded and, without at least a minimum of facilitating some sort of community participation, I can’t support the proposal.”

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Cr Parkins later reflected that her language may have been “emotive” but felt that the potential impacts on heritage, education, aged care and housing density needed to be examined.

“If I thought about it more, I wouldn’t have used that language, but my biggest concern is the apparent lack of community consultation,” she said.

“I was basing it on anecdotal evidence of people in the community that needed to be made aware of the planning proposal.”

Cr Parkins said the purpose of the report was to decide on the outcomes of community feedback and she was disappointed by the lack of explanation from council staff when it was revealed that they had received no submissions after 28 days of public exhibition.

“If the council doesn’t have a community participation plan or something equivalent, which we’re required to have under the Environmental Planning Assessment Act, and they can’t demonstrate to me that they’ve complied with those rules, something has gone wrong,” she said.

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Following Cr Parkins’ impassioned argument at Monday’s meeting, Councillor Tim Koschel said he had been swayed and proposed they defer the decision.

While some agreed that there were legitimate concerns, the motion was voted down.

“I expected that,” Cr Parkins conceded.

“There is a lot of pressure on the council and anyone in the industry to provide more houses.”

But she added that she feared the city could be “doing housing wrong” and lacked a clear housing strategy or guidelines.

“I think at the moment, everything we do is reactive, reacting to developers’ planning proposals and applications, and at the moment, we don’t have the planning or strategic thinking to back it up,” she explained.

“I would like us to remove ourselves from what we’ve been doing for years and look at what we need as a community and what we want.

“I would like to demonstrate that we’ve got a vision for the future of Wagga, and then we’re doing what we need to with our planning documents to make sure that that vision is realised.”

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