Imbil property owner Owen Tregoning lost a Planning and Environment Court case with Gympie council this year.
Imbil property owner Owen Tregoning lost a Planning and Environment Court case with Gympie council this year. Renee Albrecht

Gympie council court actions have quadrupled: letter

LETTER:

IT HAS seemed to me that the Gympie Regional Council has lost touch with the people who employ them and pay the bills.

I came across the electronic record of cases involving the council in the Planning and Environment Court and this shows that my idea was correct.

Cases in this court are either started by the council enforcing some aspect of planning law or started by someone disagreeing with an action or decision of council.

In the four years before 2016 there was about three cases a year.

In 2016, there were 13 cases and this seems to continue as there are three cases so far this year.

What is the reason for this increase of four times?

Has an outbreak of lawlessness come upon us that council needs to attack?

They initiated five cases in 2016.

Owen Tregoning fighting Council about his property at Imbil.
Owen Tregoning fighting Council about his property at Imbil. Renee Albrecht

Why are people appealing against the planning decisions of council?

I suggest that it is because the council simply does not listen to the people.

It takes no notice when people try to tell the council of problems with petitions, phone calls presentations and objections.

Because they completely dismiss what the people say, they get things wrong and appeals are made to correct the bad planning.

Reg Lawler
Reg Lawler Greg Miller

Of course developers may appeal too but this doesn't happen much as council normally gives them what they want.

As one councillor said, " I don't represent the people and I don't want to take sides. I am impartial."

If the councillor doesn't represent the people and if they can't rely on him, why do we pay him?

There will always be a need for enforcement action from time to time but it is noticeable that the big developers can do as they please and flout the law.

Effectively there is not one law for all as far as this council is concerned.

Reg Lawler outside council chambers in Mary St.
Reg Lawler outside council chambers in Mary St. Craig Warhurst

There will always be people who appeal because they disagree with a decision of council but why is there such a lot of appeals and enforcement now?

Perhaps council is trying to boost our local legal industry - a litigation led recovery for Gympie?

These actions cost the council a very large amount of money.

I recall that they wasted around a million dollars supporting the development of a city on the sands of the Inskip Peninsula.

Perhaps this is a new attempt to turbo-charge our legal industry?

Well - no.

They spent the million on a Brisbane solicitor and over the last four years they have spent all their money on solicitors in Maroochydore and Brisbane - nothing in Gympie on the record.

The P & E Courts are in Brisbane and Maroochydore so the absence of Gympie lawyers is explained until you see that they have employed Brisbane solicitors to go to Maroochydore and Maroochydore solicitors to go to Brisbane.

Why not Gympie solicitors to go to Maroochydore (or Brisbane)?

Court cases are expensive and generally a waste of everyone's money.

Most times they would not be necessary if councillors listened to their constituents and enforced planning law evenly so that the community respected and abided by the law.

I'd like to know what the council spent on legal services last year.

But will they tell us? 

REG LAWLER,

DAGUN.

Editor's Note: The following is the response to questions concerning the cost of legal actions and the increase in the number of cases.

Council takes very seriously its responsibility to protect the health, safety and amenity of its citizens. Council also has a responsibility to uphold its Planning Scheme and Local Laws where these are disregarded to the detriment of the community and those who are operating within the law.

Applicants have a legal right to challenge council's decision in circumstances where they are unhappy with the outcome, however if the court upholds council's decision those applicants may likely be required to pay a proportion of council's legal costs.

From 2009-2015, a total of 21 planning matters were lodged with the Planning and Environment Court.

In 2016 a total of nine matters were lodged with the Planning and Environment Court.

Of the nine matters:

Six were finalised upholding council's decision

Of those six, three were the result of an appeal against the applicant by a submitter who opposed the development. Council was only involved as a second respondent

The remaining three matters resulted in the court requiring that the appellant pay a proportion of council's legal costs (up to 95% of council's costs in one instance).

Three matters remain current, including two of the appeals lodged by submitters.

In 2016, the council spent $213,000 on legal matters in the Planning and Environment Court.

Of this total council expects to recoup about $120,000 where the court has ordered appellants to pay a proportion of council's legal expenses.

Mayor Mick Curran also said the increase in lodged matters with the court in 2016 could be due to the council receiving more development applications in that period.

"Everyone has a right to challenge the decision of council on projects through the Planning and Environment Court,” he said.

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