Bega Valley Shire councillor Robyn Bain delivered a staunch defence of council staff at Thursday night’s Bega Valley Shire Farmers and Landowners Group forum, telling attendees to “give them a break”.
“Council staff are people too,” Cr Bain said.
“They do their best in the constraints that they have. They are human beings just like the whole lot of us. They’re trying to do their best.
“If you want something to happen that’s positive, it’s a good idea not to attack people.”
Cr Bain’s rebuke came after Eden Realty owner Glenn Brunette accused council staff of misleading councillors and delivering “misinformation” when it came to subjects of land availability and the 2013 Local Environmental Plan.
Cr Bain said details concerning environmental and rural zoning had been poorly communicated with the public and that council needed to do better, but implored landowners to be informed.
“You do have a council that has turned up. We do take things on board,” she said.
Cr Bain’s sentiments were echoed by mayor Kristy McBain and councillor Russell Fitzpatrick as the forum entered its second hour at the Merimbula RSL.
“If there’s a problem, if people are willing to come to council in a group we can discuss it,” Cr Kristy McBain said.
“We want to make sure people can develop on their land. It is not only their land, it might be their livelihood.”
She said council wanted to discuss how it could be more proactive to achieve the best results for the community.
“We have to stop being reactive to state government planning regimes and start being more proactive and start saying, ‘our shire needs this instead’,” Cr Kristy McBain said
“We are not the north coast. We don’t need additional environmental overlays. We need something else down here because we’re different.
“We’re not anywhere else, we’re the Bega Valley.”
The mayor said she had written to the Minister for Crown Lands regarding land releases, while noting discussions had taken place at council on Wednesday regarding growth strategies in the shire.
More than 90 people – including the organisers and councillors McBain, Bain, Fitzpatrick and Mitchell Nadin – attended the meeting.
The forum was very much a repeat of the first forum at Club Sapphire in August as five speakers addressed the audience before opening the discussion to the floor.
Mr Brunette spoke for more than 20 minutes about topics ranging from environmental zoning to land supply issues in Eden.
Boydtown Pty Ltd managing director Bruce Lyon spoke about historic land issues with his property in Boydtown and council’s communication of the 2013 LEP to the community.
His comments came despite fellow speaker Myall Stevens, a senior urban planner for engineering consultant group Jacobs, telling the audience that council “did go through the right legislative requirements in terms of how they notified everybody”.
“They put it on public exhibition, they put in it in the paper, they ran a whole bunch of community groups . . . which is pretty normal practice,” Mr Stevens said.
“But what they didn’t do . . . is send letters to anybody that their zoning was changing drastically.”
As the forum entered its second hour attendees spoke about their own personal circumstances with their properties.
Kiah resident Scott Henson spoke of the development and clearing constraints on his land, saying he was unaware of the zoning when he first bought it.
The public discourse threatened to descend into a farce when the topics of immigration and kangaroo culling were aired, before Cr Bain made her speech defending council staff.
Boydtown Pty Ltd director Mike Milliken put the question back on the councillors in the room, asking how the mayor would feel if her property had been halved in value.
“Council did these changes. I’m not blaming anyone, but it’s council who did it to these landowners,” Mr Milliken said.
The meeting concluded with the formation of a nine-person working group that would meet with council.
Mr Lyon asked Cr Kristy McBain what the working group’s charter should be.
“That’s up to you,” Cr McBain said.