Councillors defy minister
THE State Government could soon strip Ballina Shire Council of its planning authority because it will not proceed with rezoning of land at Skennars Head owned by the Stewart family.
The Stewarts own land on both sides of The Coast Road.
On the western side, plans have been in the pipeline since 2005 for a residential development.
The rezoning of the land has not occurred because councillors want the Stewarts to dedicate land on the eastern side of the road to the council.
The Stewarts have, on numerous occasions, rejected this request.
Part of the eastern land - including the Sharpes Beach car park area - is already leased to the council.
The State Government has now sided with the landowners and urged the council to proceed with the rezoning of the western land or it will intervene.
The council's strategic services group manager, Steve Barnier, told councillors he had been verbally informed by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure that the Government intended to "call in" the request.
Despite this, councillors are standing by their decision to only rezone the land if the Stewarts dedicate the eastern land to the council.
However Cr Peter Moore, at the last council meeting, said it was time to proceed with the rezoning.
"I don't think it's fair or appropriate to tell the landowner what to do with their most treasured piece of land," he said.
Cr Alan Brown agreed, and said the council was trying to "hold the Stewarts to ransom".
"They own it (the land) and they have got the right to do what they want," he said.
Mr Barnier said the council would now write to the department to explain the situation.
"The minister could instruct the council to finalise the technical studies and exhibit the draft plan, or the department could take it out of council's hands completely," he said.