More than 350 people filled Blackheath community hall to air their views about a council decision to sell the town’s old airstrip site last Thursday — but many left disappointed after Blue Mountains Mayor Daniel Myles confirmed the purpose of the meeting was to inform rather than to consult.
“This is not a consultation meeting, but I recognise it [the land sale] is a contentious issue for some residents,” Clr Myles said after requesting respect be shown during the meeting following a heated start.
Senior council staff and Councillors Myles, Chris Van der Kley and Eleanor Gibbs attended the meeting, which provided more details about the council decision to sell the site as 45 residential lots instead of a pre-approved maximum of 90 lots. Income from the sale will partly fund Springwood’s town centre project — a strategy clearly not embraced by many in the audience.
A council staff member explained the site was an existing subdivision granted consent for residential development in the 1920s, it was excess council land and after a public hearing in 1991, “in which there was some debate”, the site was permitted for residential development under Local Environment Plan 91.
The benefits of selling the land, he said, included providing land for housing, supporting schools and businesses in Blackheath, generating additional rates income of $50,000 per year and contributing to the development of community facilities in Springwood.
Anticipating selling the lots for about $176,000 each, eyebrows were raised when he said council would need to fund the provision of infrastructure and basic services to prepare the site for residential development to the tune of about $3.2 million.
“The process involves two stages,” the staff member said, “stage one involves providing sewer connections, stormwater drainage, gas, electricity and telecommunications access to the 15 consolidated lots facing Hat Hill Road, requiring a $1.2 million investment in infrastructure costs.
“A report would need to go to a council meeting prior to stage two commencing, which would provide roads and infrastructure to the remaining 30 lots, which I think is in the order of $2 million [in cost].”
When a member of the audience questioned council’s ability to sell the lots for the price it wanted, Clr Myles said: “Blue Mountains land is as rare as hen’s teeth.”
Responding to the repeated question of “why weren’t we consulted about this sale”, Clr Myles said the community had been consulted “not once, but twice”.
“The most recent was in 1991 when there was input by the community and the commissioner [at a hearing] said this land should be used for residential development.”
In response to complaints about the lack of consultation about sale proceeds going to Springwood projects, he said “we have community facilities across the Mountains that need upgrading”.
“We spent a large amount of money upgrading Blackheath Pool given there are two pools a fairly short drive away [from Blackheath].”
A council spokesperson confirmed on Monday “there is no intention to hold any further public meetings on this matter”.
“The next immediate step is to call for tenders for the design and construction of infrastructure services for stage one of the project.”
Clr Gibbs told the Gazette she was “really chuffed” at the large turnout at the meeting.
“It demonstrates the feeling in the community about the lack of consultation,” she said.