Sweetwater Action Group Incorporated v Minister for Planning & Huntlee Holdings Pty Ltd
On 9 February 2009 the Minister for Planning approved a Concept Plan for the new Huntlee Town Centre in the Lower Hunter. The Concept Plan approval was to facilitate an area to house over 20,000 people at North Rothbury, despite the site being ranked last under the Department of Planning's assessment of 91 possible development sites in the Lower Hunter Valley.
EDO NSW acted for the Sweetwater Action Group Incorporated (SWAG) a group of concerned residents who challenged the Concept Plan approval and related rezoning of the site.
In 2006 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and a Deed of Agreement were signed by Hardie Holdings Pty Ltd and the Minister for Planning in relation to the Huntlee site, under which the Minister agreed to facilitate development for residential and commercial purposes. In exchange, Hardie Holdings Pty Ltd was to dedicate 876 hectares of land for a conservation reserve, raising issues about bias in the decision making process and the consideration of irrelevant matters. Also, North Rothbury is the only place where the critically endangered plant, Persoonia pauciflora is found. SWAG was concerned that the Minister had not considered the precautionary principle and biodiversity principle in assessing the development. There were also concerns about the appropriateness of locating a large new population in an area that is not well serviced by public transport or other facilities.
Given the existence of an MOU and Deed between the developer and the Minister for Planning, the case raised similar issues to those raised in the Catherine Hill Bay/Gwandalan case.
On 19 October 2009, the Land and Environment Court declared that the Concept Plan approval and related rezoning of the site were invalid and of no effect, and ordered that these decisions be quashed. The Minister for Planning and Huntlee Holdings Pty Ltd consented to these declarations and orders, in light of the decision by Justice Lloyd in the Catherine Hill Bay / Gwandalan case (see below). The Court also ordered that the Minister for Planning and Huntlee Holdings Pty Ltd pay SWAG's legal costs.
EDO NSW acknowledges and thanks Dr Kristina Stern, Stephen Lloyd and Houda Younan of Counsel for their assistance in the case.