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Palerang’s ‘Tea Party’ Moment?

By Maria Taylor

Appalling, intimidating, aggressive, boorish, hideous behavior –– these were some of the descriptors by Palerang councillors and observers of the gallery performance at the 5 September council meeting by people demanding renaming of the rural residential areas of Palerang, currently drafted as  E4 (environmental living) in the Palerang Local Environment Plan (PLEP).

Several of these people addressed council more formally and claimed they were speaking for the majority of Bywong residents, a claim repeated by Bungendore-based Councillor Mark Schweikert on their behalf. “The Bywong community has mobilized,” he asserted as he put a motion to fold Bywong properties over 12 hectares in size into the R5 zone. This zone is currently drafted to suit large lots and subdivision on the outskirts of Bungendore and Braidwood.

The audience erupted as councillors, particularly Peter Marshall and Belinda Hogarth-Boyd, questioned the premise behind the proposed switch and possible impact on both zones and also questioned the propriety of attempting to make such policy changes ‘on the fly’.

“As we were debating, people were standing, yelling, booing, shaking their fists at us. It was even hard to speak without getting yelled over the top of,” said Hogarth-Boyd who later abstained from voting under those circumstances.

“I would characterize it as aggressive and I know some councillors were intimidated,” commented Councillor Garth Morrison.

“They were saying they represented everyone in Bywong,” agreed Braidwood journalist Alex Rea. “Pete Harrison (chairing the meeting) attempted to say there were others with different views and he just got shouted and booed down,” she said. ”It was the worst council meeting I have attended in nine years of covering local council”.

All agreed that Mayor Peter Harrison bent over backwards to allow people their right to have a say but some questioned whether he should have shut the meeting down.

Anti-E3 opens the door; OK for the “latte sippers” but not for the rest

Councillor Paul Cockram started the night’s LEP motions by bowing to pressure from eastern Palerang graziers who were against an E3 (environmental management) zone or RU2 (rural landscape) zone on any part of their land. Cockram said “everyone” in eastern Palerang was against the zones.

(E3 is often described as a buffer zone between  reserves and farmland or it harbours threatened ecological communities. It still allows agricultural and residential uses. RU2 is for less prime agricultural with other farming landscape values. Zoning signals to buyers and developers the land use, its capacity and amenity for existing residents).

Councillors Schweikert and Graham said the E3 and E4 zones were all about adding more regulation onto country people and, said Graham, stifling their creativity. ” It’s OK for the city latte sippers”, said Schweikert, “but E3 and E4 don’t suit Palerang”.

There is agreement mistakes were made in mapping some eastern Palerang properties, but the question was: should the zone disappear across the board? Councillors Marshall and Hogarth-Boyd objected to the ad hoc decision-making without maps or evidence and noted the chance of unintended consequences. In the end the motion passed 5-2 to drop E3 and RU2. (Much applause from the audience).

The decision now affects all of Palerang including areas around Captains Flat in western Palerang,  Hogarth-Boyd said later. They all became RU1 general agriculture overnight. Intensive agriculture like poultry or piggery farms are allowed in RU1 as is open cut mining.

Schweikert’s motion to drop E4 first in Bywong (then amended to all of Palerang) was what the crowd from western Palerang had come for. Its debate and eventual narrow defeat caused most of the uproar and aggression. Vocal resistance even greeted a successful motion by Marshall to fix a mistake and restore ‘extensive agriculture’ (making grazing explicit) to E4 permitted uses. That oversight had motivated at least half the anti-E4 submissions to council, said Marshall.

Mayor Pete Harrison was equally taken aback by “the abuse against anyone who made a pro E4 statement” on the night. He might have been used to it, having been a prime target in meetings and by hate mail for explaining ‘why E4’ in recent months. “Leave us alone” is the theme, (but we would like to dictate what our community thinks).

After that night, the impression left with non-aligned councillors who spoke to the Bulletin is that some people seem to fear or dislike the ‘E’ word, but have no convincing evidence of what negative impact E4 could or would have on the ground and are wrong about some LEP planning matters. The demanding behavior was not a good substitute.

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A bit of context

The last council had a majority of farming and business interests and over years of deliberation came up with the zone placements in the PLEP. These were backed by the NSW planning department which has signed off on the Palerang draft. Neighbouring Queanbeyan, which has a new LEP in place, zoned its rural residential portions of Carwoola and Royalla as E4 and sections of E3. They report no protest or real estate agent concerns.

The draft PLEP still awaits a staff report that analyses community submissions. Formal council consideration of the report and possible changes will now happen on October 17.

Those who value due process, civil public discussion, and who support the PLEP in its current form on environmental zones might want to attend or make a statement.

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