In a shock decision two days before Christmas, a planning panel has approved further consideration of 450 homes at Lizard Rock.

The decision announced today (Friday, 23 December) by the Sydney North Planning Panel has stunned local members of Parliament, only one of whom was willing to go on the record this afternoon.

Member for Davidson Jonathan O’Dea reiterated his opposition to the proposal by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) to subdivide and develop up to nine bushland sites on the Northern Beaches, the first of which is near Lizard Rock at Morgan Road, Belrose.

Lizard Rock currently sits within the Davidson electorate, but will move into Wakehurst following a boundary redistribution that takes effect at the 2023 NSW Election.

The MLALC became one of the largest private landowners on the Northern Beaches after successfully claiming native title on Crown land. Using rights gained under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, they were able to successfully lay claim to freehold ownership of multiple Crown land sites, including at Frenchs Forest, Belrose and Oxford Falls.

MLALC lands - Lizard Rock

Most Northern Beaches residents were only made aware of the issue in March 2022 when the MLALC prepared a plan to rezone the land for residential housing. Residents who attended a Department of Planning consultation event at the time were informed by NSW Department of Planning, Director North District Brendan Metcalfe that the land was not bushland reserve as they had believed.

“It is not a bushland reserve, it is private land. It is their [MLALC] land,” said Mr Metcalfe at the time.

The effect of today’s shock decision by the Sydney North Planning Panel is that instead of the proposal being knocked on the head, as most had assumed, it will now proceed to the next stage of planning.

The decision apparently took the NSW Government by surprise, with senior NSW Government sources contacted by the Northern Beaches Advocate unable to go on the record about the decision, but clearly upset.

They were at pains to point out the decision does not green light any development, but conceded the panel had been expected to rule against the proposal due to lack of infrastructure, environmental concerns and bushfire risks. Risks posed by bushfire were given as the main reason for the scrapping of the Ingleside Place Plan.

Around 50 people at Opala Reserve, Belrose

In the approval document seen by the Northern Beaches Advocate, the panel identified bushfire risk as a ‘significant issue’ but accepted the argument the risk could be ‘properly managed and mitigated’.

In a decision that has observers extremely concerned, the panel determined that the proposal should proceed to the next stage of consideration known as a ‘Gateway determination’.

“The Panel determined that the Proposal had also demonstrated Site Specific Merit and should proceed to Gateway with the following qualifications:

  • The number of dwellings is to be capped at 450;
  • 10% Affordable Housing is to be provided;
  • The final zoning arrangement and boundaries are to be resolved to maximise the retention of important biodiversity values; and
  • A site specific DCP, to guide future development to deliver on the objectives and intended outcomes of the Proposal, is to be finalised in consultation with Council and the Department of Planning and Environment before exhibition of the Planning Proposal,” wrote the panel.

Northern Beaches Council has 42 days to accept a first right of refusal to step into the role of Planning Proposal Authority. It is not clear if Council will choose to take up this role but should it not do so, the planning panel has indicated it will assume that role.

Further complicating matters is the timing of any final determination, which will not occur prior to the NSW Election in March 2023. Having moved much of the decision-making process away from politicians hands, the Liberal Government now finds itself unable to intervene and neutralise what is likely to become an election issue.

Michael Regan

Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan (image above), who has been widely tipped to nominate for the seat of Wakehurst for the NSW Election, hit out at the proposal this afternoon on social media.

“On the same day the State Government announces we are going to aim for a target of 70 percent Net Zero Emissions by 2035 (and pats itself on the back), they sneak in ‘oh and by the way, we have approved the next steps on Lizard Rock here on the Beaches’.

“[I am] Not sure how clearing 45+ football fields of native bush will help achieve that target. Or how permitting Seniors Living in a known bushfire area is smart for that matter. Have we not learned anything from recent bushfires?

“I have asked the CEO [of Northern Beaches Council] to explore legal options. I will also call for an Extraordinary Meeting of Council in the new year as we have been given a 42-day deadline to agree to be the proposal’s authority.

“I am not often critical of Government and always work with them. This decision however is a disgrace. It’s beyond poor planning. We knocked back Ingleside for similar reasons,” said Mayor Regan.

Cr Kristyn Glanville talking to a crowd

Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville (image above), who has been a vocal opponent of the planning proposal by the MLALC, said it was not certain Northern Beaches Council would participate in the process.

“Council may take the position it wants to distance itself. Why waste Council’s time, Department’s time, community’s time and the metro’s [MLALC] time on such a lemon of a proposal.

“I am concerned this process is not something any other developer can do, the land council can require economic self-determination be considered through the process.

“It is a very challenging puzzle to unpick because it is true the land was given to the MLALC for economic self-development. We are compounding wrongs upon wrongs by clearing very good quality bushland when there are alternatives,” declared Cr Glanville.

Detailed information about the planning proposal from the MLALC and the determination made by the Sydney North Planning Panel are available at the NSW Government website.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

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