Moderator. We come now to the "Case Studies" session of the forum. Our first speaker is Neil deNett who is the Chair of the combined Residents/Precincts of Sutherland Shire. What he has to say about "Bundeena/Maianbar: a unique locality" is extremely relevant to the problems raised by PlanFirst and its "localities planning".

Neil deNett

It is 55 years since I dragged my feet through the sand on Hordern’s Beach, listened to the waves breaking on the beach and pondered whether this rare and beautiful place would stay the same forever? Or walked under the towering and silent angophoras in the park opposite the service station and marvelled at how long they must have been there.

My association with Bundeena began in 1945. My parents rented a holiday fibro shack at Jibbon, next door to the Martins in Neil street. There was no power, no water, no garbage service and no sanitary service. It was dad’s weekly job to bury the pan. I think the only car was Bernie Forster’s A-model Ford. Lamberth Walk was just that. A walking track.

The houses then were mostly fibro, with just a few weather-board ones that provided some variety. They were small, single storey and hardly noticed in amongst the trees. From the 1920s to the 50s Bundeena was primarily a holiday village, a retreat for the working man and his family, who were content to just go fishing and bushwalking.

How things change but remain the same! Now, after a period of housing a more permanent resident population, there is a trend back to holiday houses, but this time for the wealthy. Just look at real estate prices for Bundeena.

One might well ask, why do people now want such big houses? The numbers per household are going down and the size of houses is going up! The foreshore of Bundeena is changing from modest fibro cottages to large and imposing two-storey dwellings.

Over time I had many thoughts about how to protect Bundeena from excessive development, primarily that which would be out of place for a village in a national park. The first formal steps were taken in March 1989 when a group of like-minded residents formed a sub-committee of Bundeena Progress Association to explore ways of protecting Bundeena. It’s task was "to research the feasibility of protecting Bundeena from over-development or whatever may threaten it’s character – perhaps by having it declared a unique area". A whole range of ideas were canvassed, such as a heritage listing for the whole town, declaring it a unique area (don’t ask me what that means), introducing building controls, and finally, drawing up a new LEP for Bundeena. This last one was really the only way to achieve what we wanted to do. That is, a legal planning instrument that had a good chance of support by the majority of residents, the Council and of course, the Minister for Planning.

There were two over-riding factors which we decided were essential to any successful conclusion. They were the support of the local residents for a plan for Bundeena and working cooperatively with Council during the whole process. We believed the two should work together; then, when decision time arrived, adoption of the plan would be a formality.

Our first step was to survey the residents. We distributed an orange leaflet titled "Bundeena Is at Risk", and asked for comment. It was a simple one-page handout designed to grab attention (we hoped). There was a reasonable response, with five issues standing out:

There was nothing startling in all these and I suspect that a similar result would be more than likely received from many parts of the Shire today.

In July 1989 we had our first meeting with Council officers to discuss what approach should be taken to get the process rolling. It was a good meeting (Mike Fursland was there) and amongst many ideas tossed around were a new LEP for Bundeena and a tree preserving code.

In a follow-up letter from Council in August a qualification was introduced in regard to considering an LEP; namely, the need for some action that would justify pursuing an LEP or DCP for Bundeena. We realised that Council did not want to spend money when there was no perceived threat, and as yet there was no strong push from the community. Clearly, this was not to be the start of our grand plan. We were too early and there was not enough support. We would have to wait for another day.

There was a lesson here. All parties need to be involved at the beginning of a process, not half way through. That message was not readily appreciated in 1989.

Three years later we made enquiries about a place called Pearl Beach. We’d heard that the residents had prepared their own management plan. We sought the help of Clr Ian Swords, the Shire President at that time, and he responded with a very detailed letter on their proposal. The plan had been prepared for the local Progress Association by a planning consultant. I believe the cost was $20,000. It had addressed all environmental aspects and statutory controls and made many recommendations. It was an excellent document, but there was no Council input. Gosford City Council did not concur with the report and did not proceed with the recommendation to prepare a LEP for this area.

The sorry Pearl Beach experience reinforced our commitment to include all parties in the preparation of a plan – vital to ensuring a successful conclusion.

Clr Swords suggested that we might address some of the policy issues in Bundeena through the preparation and adoption of some development guidelines, particularly planting and drainage matters.

These ideas and the ones mentioned earlier were gratefully received, but we wanted more, a lot more. We wanted more than protection of trees or control of drainage. We wanted a whole plan, complete in every detail, a plan that would serve the whole community and the whole locality: a locality plan for Bundeena.

In August 1994, we had the breakthrough we were looking for. A senior planner, Kerry Bedford, was in Bundeena and I explained our thoughts about the future direction of Bundeena to her. She agreed in principle with our proposal to prepare a plan and shortly after we had a letter from her inviting us to join with Council with the goal of preparing an overall plan for future development. We were on the way at last.

After numerous discussions, Council wrote to us in May 1995 to say that our project would be included in the 1995/1996 program and, if adopted by Council, resources could be allocated in July. We had in mind our own idea of compiling a document of background information which would be a useful start for the process and would show Council that we were serious.

We titled the document Environmental and Social Study – Bundeena and Maianbar – background papers for Sutherland Shire Council Development Control Plan.

As we did not have the means to contact every resident we opted for a novel method of obtaining the information we needed. We sent every organisation in Bundeena-Maianbar a list of subjects (or add your own) and asked them to select one or more and send their responses to us. This colourful document [holds it up] was the result and we were very pleased with it. All of the compiling and indexing was done by Miriam Verbeek, and Council printed it for us.

The Council/Resident Working Party held its first meeting on the 22 May 1997. You could be excused for thinking that we were now over the hump and a smooth path lay ahead… Wrong. The worst was yet to come.

The meetings laboured on for over 3 years. It must rate as one of the most exhaustive studies of an area ever undertaken. There were often lively clashes between different factions, and the meeting had to be adjourned while the protagonists sorted it out. We did not quite reach duelling, but we came close.

Feelings in the community ran just as high. The first draft of the DCP was exhibited during August-October 1999 after distribution of the most exhaustive survey ever of all residents of Bundeena and Maianbar. The survey and survey results ran to 60 pages.

Unsigned leaflets were thick in letterboxes. Disgruntled residents called their own public meeting to vent their anger. I sat through their meeting and took extensive notes. Even though many of the complaints were ill-informed, people’s grievances need to be addressed.

I will read out a few examples of comments expressed in handouts and at the public meeting:

[Note. Prices have since doubled]

Council staff held a public meeting in December 1999, chaired by a facilitator, and it was quite productive. About 200 residents attended and had the opportunity to speak. There was an excellent record of comments and these were considered and acted on by the working party.

The final draft was exhibited in November-December 2000. It pretty well tidied up all of the valid contentious issues.

The plan was adopted by Council on the 30 April 2001 – unanimously!

On some occasions meetings went through to midnight. One member of the working party had a baby during the time. Two members sold up and left Bundeena. Near the end David Haylock (Council planner in charge) had a heart attack (cause unknown).

Finally. Did we achieve what we set out to do some 12 years earlier? Mostly. Why only mostly? Because there’s one difficult area we couldn’t really address – the proliferation of large private dwellings. We couldn’t come to an agreement with the community on how to control that problem.