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There's a big new telco tower at Curl Curl Lagoon - how did that happen? (Dec 20)

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Who approved the tower?

The tower and its ground enclosure were built by Optus with the support of Council.

Optus’s development application (DA2020/0661) for the facility was approved by Council on 14 October 2020. The facility comprises a 27.5m tower with floodlights & 4G panel antennas and an adjacent 2.9m high equipment enclosure on the ground.

The structure is almost identical to one proposed by Optus for the south side of the Lagoon in 2017 which Council comprehensively refused.

Following that rejection, Optus met with Council on several occasions trying to develop a design that Council could support. In April 2020 Optus submitted another DA.

Although this new design carried over almost all of the original faults including non-compliance with the WLEP and JFP POM and was expected to be met with strong opposition from the community, Optus proceeded with the normal approval process confident the DA would be approved. Word was that the DA 'would have to be approved'.

While a development of this type in this location is prohibited under the WLEP, the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP Infrastructure) which prevails over the WLEP confers on the Council the right to consider – but not an obligation to allow -such a development.

Community submissions during the notification period numbered 390, with 376 being opposed.

All of the objections that Council raised in its refusal of the 2017 application could equally have been used to refuse this application were Council – as the consent authority - so minded. If refused, Optus may have chosen to take the matter to the LEC. However, Council’s Assessment Report failed to call out those same issues this time.

Council’s Local Planning Panel conducted public hearings of this DA on 7th and again on 14th of October 2020. At the conclusion of the second meeting the Panel determined the application be approved. One feature of the panel process for this DA was that the panel did not include a member in the role of Community Representative as is normal in NBLPP hearings.

What was CCLF's position on the tower proposal?

The Association exists to uphold its constitutional objects which include taking up 'matters affecting the welfare and beauty of the lagoon system'. We recognise that John Fisher Park exists to meet a wide range of community needs and expectations. Lagoon Friends expects that those areas of the Park that are in a natural state and are valued by the community for that reason will be protected against the incursion of infrastructure such as telco towers and ground sheds. Such elements are totally out of place in the sensitive riparian zone of any Lagoon anywhere. We expect the integrity of the natural environmental assets and areas in the Park - limited as they are - to be preserved and protected.

We feel that constructing the tower and ground sheds right on the bank of the Lagoon demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the natural environment and the efforts of countless local people over 40 years to improve and protect it.

What did CCLF do to oppose construction of the tower?

During the approval process CCLF made several written and oral representations to Council opposing the tower. We used our website, social media channels and noticeboards to inform members and the public of the consequences of the tower being approved and urged them to make their own submissions according to their point of view. We ran (how many) letter box drops to local residents and one direct e-mail out to our members. We also successfully encouraged our parliamentary representatives to write to Council about the unsuitability of the location proposed for the tower and seeking a better outcome. Like hundreds of local residents, we also did all these same things for the 2017 DA.

We did not object to the application on the grounds of EMR risk because the protection of public health is not an article in our Constitution.

After approval was granted, CCLF wrote to Council’s Executive Manager Development Assessment formally complaining about the lack of procedural fairness extended to the community following the Panel’s failure to include a Community Representative member during the hearing and determination of this DA.

We sought and obtained informal advice and guidance from legal practitioners amongst our membership and the local community on what practical and constructive action we could take to stop or delay construction of the tower.

What else could we have done to stop the tower?

Requested mediation as provided for under the DA process.

Organised a public on-site protest.

Campaigned locally to encourage Optus customers to switch to Telstra which has achieved a strong 4G signal in Curl Curl without requiring a tower on the bank of the Lagoon.

Engaged a solicitor to explore our options.

What is CCLF’s position on the tower now?

The tower and ground shed is a permanent major blight on the visual amenity of Curl Curl Lagoon.

What lesson has CCLF learned from this campaign?

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