Town plan meetings held behind closed doors
OF THE six groups invited to meet with Whitsunday Regional Council over its draft town plan this week, only three decided to take the offer up.
The Whitsunday Ratepayers As- sociation, Whitsunday Coast Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the Body Corporates of Golden Orchid Drive attended their scheduled depositions at the council chambers in Proserpine on Tuesday, while the Whitsunday Regional Residents Association, Save Our Foreshore and Fight for Airlie groups did not.
Members of the latter three groups did however gather outside the council building, bearing signs that read ‘Sneaky Council’ and ‘High Rise, Airlie Dies’.
WRRA president Ross Newell, whose association was only invited at the eleventh hour, said this was a process that should have been open to the whole community.
“Selective consultation does not always achieve the best outcome,” he said.
“WHY the rush?” was a common question asked by members of all three groups who declined the Whitsunday Regional Council’s invitation to “present” on the draft town plan at individual meetings on Tuesday.
Save Our Foreshore president Suzette Pelt said the invitation to a closed meeting extended late last week, “allowed” just three people from each group to attend, with “all of 10 minutes each to make our case”.
She said the timing of the invitations left the groups with less than three working days to canvass the current views of their memberships and prepare documentation.
“Once again we are sensing the council steamroller at work which perpetuates the community’s perception – real or not – that council has set their minds on a particular outcome and will not change from that position,” she said.
Mayor Jennifer Whitney denied this was the case saying the development of council’s proposed draft planning scheme was ongoing, with submissions yet to be formally presented and decided upon.
She said the six local community groups had been invited to talk over their specific concerns about building heights with councillors and members of the executive management team.
“As a collective, councillors were of the view that this would be an appropriate forum for us to discuss their concerns further,” she said.
But Ms Pelt said council hadn’t explained what in- fluence, if any, these sessions would have on the formal submissions to the draft scheme already made.
“What exactly is the point of these sessions? What does ‘to help support a positive outcome’ actually mean?” she asked.
“Council cannot substitute a closed and hastily convened meeting with some community groups for a proper, open and transparent community consultation process.”
Ms Pelt also noted the sale of land on Waterson Way to Whitsunday Chinatown In- vestment Pty Ltd, “an integral part of the building heights debacle”, was on the agenda for the council meeting the very next day.
Fight for Airlie member Roger Down, who referred council to the Crime and Corruption Commission over its handling of the deal, said too many questions remained unanswered.
“Examine the facts, do not rush. Let the people vote in March 2016. Remember, once the concrete is poured it is very hard to reverse without legal ramifications. After all we are meant to be a democratic society,” he said.
Meanwhile Margaret Shaw, who did attend one of the meetings as a member of the Whitsunday Ratepayers Association, said she thought “council were interested in our opinions”.
“I appreciated the opportunity to have input to the discussion without confrontation, something I believe has been missing on previous occasions over the years,” she said.
Ms Shaw said the WRA had submitted against high rise buildings on the foreshore, agreed with eight storeys on the land bounded by Waterson Way and thought the Port of Airlie precinct should be limited to the height of the existing Boathouse building.
Cr Whitney said she was pleased at least three of the groups had taken Tuesday’s opportunity up, with council’s planning and environment department expected to present a report for the council meeting of November 25.
FIGHTING FOR AIRLIE: Bob Morton, Jonathan Peter, Joey Prowse, Eric Oliver, Roger Down, Michelle Lynes, Shauna O'Shannessy and Rogin Taylor, campaign outside the Whitsunday Regional Council offices where deputations about the draft town planning scheme were held this week.