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Updated: Residents 'shocked' but developer 'excited' by approval of Heathcote Hall development

Update

Residents are shocked by the approval of the controversial Heathcote Hall development, while the developer is elated.

Sydney South Planning Panel approved the development application (DA) with conditions on Friday afternoon by a vote of 3-2.

Councillors Steve Simpson and Jack Boyd voted against the DA, saying the only unique part of the proposal that was in the public interest was the restoration of the old mansion.

They were outvoted by the state government appointed members of the panel, comprising the chair Professor Helen Lochhead, Professor Nicole Gurran and Bruce McDonald.

The project includes refurbishment and restoration of the 1887 mansion and gardens and construction of 35 townhouses and 20 apartments in two buildings, with basement parking.

Residents received the panel's verdict in stunned silence, while representatives of the developer Fuzortinn clapped.

Save Heathcote East, Barbara Koppe said, "The community is shocked".

"Given both councillors on the committee opposed the development we now call on our councillors to have our case taken to the Land and Environment Court as a matter of urgency," she said.

Another campaign leader Phil Taggart said "We proved the system is broken...This decision was made five years ago at the pre-DA meeting.

"We are getting a legal opinion and costings for an appeal. It looks possible the panel breached basic legal obligations."

Fuzortinn director Robert Orth said, "We are very excited - it has been a long road".

"We were naturally delighted with the outcome and sincerely believe that the resulting restoration of Heathcote Hall, its surrounding gardens and the development will ultimately be something that not only ourselves but both the local and greater community will be very proud of," he said.

Asked about rumours Fuzortinn would sell the site if DA approval was granted, Mr Orth said, "At the moment we are not selling".

An appeal to the Land and Environment Court would be a costly and difficult exercise.

Mayor Carmelo Pesce said the chances of the council lodging an appeal were "very slim" because planning staff recommended the development be approved even though councillors unanimously opposed the project.

In addition, he was advised an appeal could only be based on an alleged technical breach of the process, not on the merits of the decision.

"I would say there is a 99.9 per cent chance the advice from our legal department is we would lose," he said.

"It could cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars to fight and that's ratepayers' money that could provide two playgrounds or a number of kilometres of footpaths."

This would leave residents having to find grounds for an appeal and the necessary funds.

Announcing the decision, Professor Lockhead said the panel found the DA satisfied the provisions of the shire's local environmental plan (LEP) for the E2 environmental zone and extensive amendments to the original plans had addressed issues satisfactorily.

"The Heritage Council of NSW and the Rural Fire Service have issued general terms of approval, which are imposed as conditions of consent," she said.

Professor Lockhead said the development would not significantly impact on the natural environment, surrounding homes or road system.

The panel stipulated an occupation certificate could not be issued to any element of the residential development until the restoration and completion of Heathcote Hall and surrounds was completed.

Dissenting from the majority view, the two councillors on the panel said they believed the DA was "not in the public interest; does not conform with the character and desired future locality of the East Heathcote area; and does not demonstrate that the application would not have significant adverse effect on the amenity of the surrounding area".

"We consider that approval of the application would establish an undesirable precedent that would fundamentally change the character of the surrounding area, which is zoned E4 Environmental Living," they said.

"In our opinion, the application does not minimise or mitigate (and in fact may increase) the well documented risks put forward when developing the zoning for this area."

Save Heathcote East member Barbara Koppe said the Heathcote Rural Fire Service branch clearly objected to the development because of the bushfire risk and evacuation issues.

"However, the head office of the NSW Rural Fire Service has ignored this," she said.

Ms Koppe said, in 1993, the Department of Planning rejected a smaller development in East Heathcote because of the bushfire and evacuation risks to the community.

"In the last 26 years, we have seen a substantial increase in population density, a major bushfire with mass evacuation and more recently a number of bush fire and evacuation alerts," she said.

Ms Koppe said East Heathcote was one square kilometre, surrounded by thousands of acres of Royal National Park on three sides and the railway on the fourth side.

"It has one evacuation road for hundreds of residents in an aged care facility and thousands of residents including children in three schools," she said.

Ms Koppe said the area had been threatened by bushfires many times and as recently as two weeks ago by an out-of-control fire in Royal National Park at Loftus.

Earlier

Residents have lost their three-year battle to stop the Heathcote Hall development.

Sydney South Planning Panel approved the proposal on Friday afternoon by a vote of 3-2.

Sutherland Shire councillors Steve Simpson and Jack Boyd voted against the development application, saying the only part of the proposal that was in the public interest was the restoration of the old mansion.

They were outvoted by the state government appointed members of the panel, comprising the chair Professor Helen Lochhead, Professor Nicole Gurran and Bruce McDonald.

Professor Lockhead said the panel found the development application (DA) satisfied the provisions of the shire's local environmental plan (LEP) for the E2 environmental zone and extensive amendments to the original plans had addressed issues satisfactorily.

The decision was greeted with silence by the large number of residents in the public gallery.

Leaders of the campaign to stop the development said afterwards they would consider an appeal to the Land and Environment Court, but the estimated cost of $100,000 could be prohibitive.

The project will include refurbishment and restoration of the 1887 mansion and construction of 35 townhouses and 20 apartments, with extensive landscaping, in the grounds of the 4.5 hectare estate.

More to come