Cr Howes takes on council, and wins
By ANDY PARKS
CONTROVERSIAL Ballina councillor Margaret Howes has taken her own council to court, winning the right to build an access road to her property at Empire Vale.
Cr Howes had submitted a development application to build an access road on land which is designated as a council road reserve. A neighbour, Jack Elliott and his family, have been growing sugar cane on the land for 20 to 30 years. According to Cr Howes, the council wanted to rent the land to him so he could continue to grow cane.
"He's a squatter. He's grown rent free on that road reserve and paid nothing for it for 30 years," she said.
Two staff reports recommended Cr Howes be allowed to build the road, but a majority of councillors objected, saying she could upgrade an existing service road.
But Cr Howes said the service road was in a flood-prone area and she wanted to build on the higher ground. She took the matter to the NSW Land and Environment Court and on Monday, Commissioner Murrell delivered a ruling stating Cr Howes was entitled to build the road and that the effect on the person growing sugar cane was 'irrelevant'.
Ballina mayor Phillip Silver said: "Unfortunately we had a situation where Ms Howes was insistent on creating a road access to her property that resulted in the termination of part of her neighbour's cane-growing activities. From council's perspective, this was an important principle across the shire, in that there are%many areas where people need to work together to%ensure the land is used in a%co-operative fashion."
Cr Silver also expressed concern that public money had been spent on the case, but stressed it was Cr Howes, not the council, who initiated the court action.
Ballina council general manager Paul Hickey estimated the case would cost about $30,000.
"It's a shame they're wasting ratepayers' money taking me to court and not spending it properly on things like the late-night summer bus for kids," Cr Howes said yesterday. "They couldn't find $6500 for that a few months ago."
Cr Howes has had a number of run-ins with the council over her Empire Vale properties in recent months. First it was the airstrip she built without a development application; and then it was the council investigating her over whether she had complied with other development consents.
When The Northern Star% visited yesterday, council staff were investigating whether a staged rehabilitation had been done in accordance with the consent.
"With the airstrip they were just niggling me, but this other issue is likely to go to court," Cr Howes said. "I've had enough of it. I'm going to take them on every time now."