A controversial three decades old crocodile park proposal for the Great Western Highway, between Bullaburra and Wentworth Falls, is "back from the dead" and returning in a bigger scale than originally planned.
The Blue Mountains Conservation Society has called it a 'zombie DA (development application)' which was approved after legal action went all the way from the Blue Mountains council chambers to the NSW Supreme Court.
News of the development came to light after the clearing of about four hectares of land at 10 Great Western Highway on May 8.
Society members say it is based on a bitterly contested council approval from 1989, on the 11 hectare site. The plan was for a flora and fauna park with a souvenir shop and refreshment room, wildlife exhibits and a crocodile pond featuring saltwater crocodiles normally resident of northern Australia. The developer at the time agreed not to bring in crocodiles after community pressure and council sit-in protests.
Resident of Wentworth Falls, Farshad Amirbeaggi, a solicitor director with Yates Beaggi Lawyers, is acting on behalf of an unnamed developer client on the wildlife park site. He said consent for the site was activated back in 1991 and "whether people like it or not, that's the law".
Mr Amirbeaggi said the plan is for a $30 million dollar "five to six star" wildlife park development with 40 hotel rooms, which will "attract one million people per year". Talks will occur with the NSW Department of Planning to increase the size and scale of the larger 2019 Mountains tourist audience.
"A lot had changed since 1989 and it [the development] needs to be increased. Traffic experts have been engaged."
Mr Amirbeaggi said crocodiles were also back on the agenda.
"Construction will commence soon. There will be multiple species ... reptiles, koalas, wallabies ... I think the answer is yes [to crocodiles]," he said.
President of the 800-member group, Lachlan Garland, recently wrote to Blue Mountains Council about their concerns over the recent clearing and the site's future.
"We thought this development was dead and buried given the length of time when the original development approval (DA) was issued," Mr Garland said.
"However, it is now back from the dead, with the developer relying on this "zombie DA" to completely clear approximately two to four hectares of native vegetation."
Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle has labelled the development alarming.
Ms Doyle said she would be asking questions in Parliament about the matter and "after some legal advice" would "write to the relevant ministers in detail".
"Information that has come to light - covering a lengthy period of time, is highly alarming. With more recent activity, it is time some serious questions were answered," she said.
Conservation Society member, Carolyn Williams, who was a member of the Coalition of Residents for the Environment (CORE) which fought against the original park proposal, said concerns "centred on environmental impacts on nearby swamps and watercourses which run into the national park". Other concerns were "animal welfare issues, loss of native vegetation and the resulting impacts on the bushland buffer between Bullaburra and Wentworth Falls". Road safety was also a key issue specifically vehicles entering and exiting the development from the highway, she said.
Another environment activist group, The Bullaburra Township Committee, was also heavily involved in objecting to the development between the two towns.
Treasurer, Dr Will Silk, said the D/A was kept active by some works on the site in 1992, but the ten year struggle to stop it was " iconic [and] attracted national media attention and support country-wide".
Dr Silk said the world-heritage zoned, temperate rainforest and hanging swamp had recently been clear-felled and trittered and "there is now nothing living above ankle depth".
"We have the nightmare of a flora and fauna park rising once more, on a site iconic for the huge and active opposition to the original crocadarium. I can tell you that there'll be no fauna other than those in the glass cages of the original ludicrous plan - because all the native flora has been bulldozed permanently."
The Conservation Society said the 1989 development had 49 conditions attached and they believe the clearing was undertaken via a construction certificate, which may not be valid under current planning legislation.
At last night's council meeting, council was expected to approve a plan to write to NSW Planning Minister, Robert Stokes, to seek reforms of the state's planning system to look at delayed implementation of development consents.
"There is a need to provide for a sunset provision on consents to avoid unreasonable delays ... and/or a review against present standards," Cr Kevin Schreiber said in his notice of motion.
"Under the planning legislation ...once a development consent has been secured it can be implemented at any time in the future. Where there are undue delays, in this case some 30 years, that development should be required to adhere to present planning standards and the current community's expectation for development."
A council spokeswoman confirmed they were investigating the land clearing which relied on a development consent from November 23, 1989, for the flora and fauna park.
"The consent was subject to three legal proceedings, with the NSW Court of Appeal determining in 1996 in Cariste Pty Ltd v Blue Mountains City Council that the consent was secured from lapsing as the works had physically commenced. It is this circumstance that allows development to continue some 30 years later."
The spokeswoman said a construction certificate was issued by a private certifier on November 22, last year, for site clearing works only.
"Council investigations are ongoing at this time, and include determining whether the terms of the 1989 development consent issued are being complied with," she said.
The land's ownership has changed hands many times.
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