Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Nobbys Redevelopment Proposal - Submission to the Minister: 2008/4672

Approvals and Wildlife Division
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601

Dear Sir.

Nobbys Lighthouse Pty Ltd/Tourism and recreation/adjacent to Nobbys Lighthouse, Newcastle/NSW/Nobbys Headland Redevelopment Date Received: 22 Dec 2008 Reference Number: 2008/4672

The Parks and Playgrounds Movement request that the Minister for the Environment Heritage and the Arts the Hon Peter Garrett MP MA assess the development proposed at Nobbys Headland as a Controlled Action. In view of the history and misinformation in the media regarding this development previously it is important that the development proposal be transparently assessed at the Commonwealth Level.

The peak conservation bodies of NSW appreciate the action the Minister and his professional advisors in respect to the previous proposal which would have made a serious impact on Nobbys Lighthouse and its Commonwealth Heritage Values.

The current proposal whilst an improvement on the previous proposal would unnecessarily impact on the public amenity and potential National Heritage values of the Nobbys Headland which is an important Aboriginal Dreaming Site Whibayganba of great significance. This Aboriginal site was noted in Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Fieldbook 1828 and the Aboriginal story of the abode of the immensely large Kangaroo was documented and published in the Christian Herald February 1855 at the time when Whibayganba was being cut down for the erection of the Lighthouse.

Nobbys or Whibayganba 1828

Nobbys or Whibayganba from Sir Thomas Mitchell's 1828 Fieldbook

Newcastle from the Windmill (now Obelisk Hill) (1828)

Nobbys Lighthouse, a Commonwealth Heritage Place and Nobbys Headland, are part of a threatened potential National Heritage site. The headland and the convict built Macquarie Pier 1818 – 1846 are integral parts of the Coal River Precinct SHR 1674 and must because of its significance and threatened impacts be assessed at the National Level.

As can be seen from the aerial photo 1.1 Page 1 0f 17 and the Mitchell 1828 Fieldbook above, the headland is a remote site and it is an inappropriate location for a motel style development which this new project is. We ask that the Commonwealth exercise its power and responsibility to assess this development on the grounds that it impacts a Commonwealth Heritage Place, its context and heritage values.

James Johnson Newcastle’s famous lighthouse Keeper and only survivor of the Dunbar 1857 photographed at Nobbys Lighthouse 1902 Nobbys Lighthouse Newcastle NSW
(State Library of NSW)

The protection and promotion of these Commonwealth Heritage Values is absolutely essential in relation to the tourist potential of the whole Coal River Precinct and potential National Heritage site. We draw your attention to the history of the company that is proposing this development. It is a shelf company that was previously known as Jacksons on the Park Pty Ltd and The Hunter’s Ark Pty Ltd. Both these company names were used as a vehicle to promote proposals that would have alienated important public parkland and heritage places Jacksons on the Park P/L at King Edward Park and The Hunter’s Ark P/L the convict built Macquarie Pier. Public authorities should ensure that the directors of companies such as this are required to indemnify their company if they wish to make development proposal over public land.

We also bring to your attention as stated in Description of proposed action, 2.2 Context planning framework and state/local government requirements “ The governing local statutory planning control in the Newcastle City Centre LEP 2008. Site is located in Council’s Newcastle East Heritage Conservation area and located within the Coal River Precinct a State Heritage Listed site.

The former proposal (EPBC 2006/379 was assessed by relevant local and state consent authorities against applicable planning controls and guidelines. Development consent has been obtained from both Newcastle City Council and the Heritage Council for the previous scheme which was similar in many respects to this one”.

The fact that the State Heritage Council and the Newcastle City Council assessed the previous Nobbys Lighthouse P/L proposal wrongly as a Crown Development under Section 116C of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act which prevented any Assessment Authority rejecting or placing conditions on the proposal without the written approval of the applicant or the Minister means that this matter requires qualification. Because of the heritage importance of this site to the Nation it is essential that the proposal be assessed in a transparent way.

In respect to the use of the Section 116C the development has no relationship to the Newcastle Port Corporation’s operation of the Port. It was claimed that the Newcastle Port Corporation and the Nobbys Lighthouse were in some sort of consortium but we were unable to find any contractual arrangements advertised as is required in such matters. Furthermore it is not recorded that the development was contrary to the Newcastle Heritage Places Strategic Plan and Plan of Management approved June 2000 – Nobbys Headland page 86 or that the Heritage Council adopted a former proposal with conditions. The proponent rejected the conditions and resubmitted the exact same proposal as a Crown Proposal under 116C which of course was not open to rejection or the imposition of conditions of consent by either Consent Authority without written approval from the applicant. (See copy of The Herald cutting 7/2/2006 Page 4)

I note that the proponent’s referral has not informed the Commonwealth that the Coal River Precinct SHR 1674 is now subject an adopted Conservation and Cultural Tourism Management Plan 2008. The new development must address the philosophy and aims of this plan which states:

With its indigenous associations the Coal River Precinct is a true ‘birthplace’ site. Its land, buildings and subterranean remains concentrate elements of the Newcastle story from pre-history through the first hundred and fifty years of European settlement and beyond. In the beaches and the Nobbys Beach Pavilion the all-embracing questions of the Newcastle character are exemplified. It is difficult to think of another major city which can point to such a rich mix of important heritage themes in such a special landscape environment.

The plan with regard to Nobbys 5.2 states that:
Nobbys is a key contributor to the precinctual heritage. It is directly relevant to all the proposed heritage themes.

We maintain that the Commonwealth has an important role to play with respect to this significant site and the previous approvals are not applicable to this new development which should be assessed transparently as a new development.

Nobbys is a proposed Historic Site. The Movement first nominated this area as a Historic Site in 1968-9 when the Hon Tom Lewis as Minister for Lands in the NSW Government brought down the first National Parks Act. Mr Lewis was very supportive but the Maritime Services Board was opposed the proposal and it lapsed at that time. Had the area been brought under the Parks Service then it would have been the first Historic Site in Australia. Now in the new proposal we note that the Newcastle Port Corporation and Maritime NSW have abandoned the site and have no need to station personnel at the Headland and we propose that the Headland be transferred forthwith to the NSW Parks Service as is supported by the conservation movement of NSW. Please note the NSW NCC resolution below.

The 2006 Annual conference of the Nature Conservation Council resolved unanimously:

THAT the Nature Conservation Council of NSW:

(a) object to the Newcastle Port Corporation’s plans which will virtually privatise Nobbys Headland and construct buildings that adversely impact on the historic Commonwealth Heritage Listed lighthouse; and

(b) request that the NSW Government arrange the transfer of the headland and Lighthouse from the Port Corporation to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which has the statutory power to conserve the heritage character of Newcastle's distinctive headland and provide safe access for the people of NSW.

This motion clearly states the policy of this organisation.

It is important that the proposed glazed safety fence is not constructed just inside of the existing heritage wall. Glazing in this location is most inappropriate and would create a large and unnecessary maintenance problem and impact on the heritage wall. We totally approve of the proposed removal of the modern motor car garage currently alienating the Lighthouse and its historic easement for access and was used as an excuse for further alienation of the lighthouse context in the previous development proposal. The general public must be allowed to visit Nobbys Headland walk freely around the Lighthouse and its environs. As a site the area is not anymore dangerous that other sites that are higher and looking over steep cliff faces to the rocks and the sea below. Council has normal park safety fences at such places as Shepherds Hill and Bar Beach, King Edward Park Bathers Way and at Ordinance Park (Fletcher Park) these areas are much higher and more foreboding. We would favour a new simple stainless steel pipe and wire safety fence constructed beyond the weather station and in the grassed area but well away from the cliff edges.

Nobbys was always open to the public but restricted to the open area around the lighthouse within the walled area and Along the road up to the summit. It was only denied to the public completely in about the year 2000 when the former CEO of the Port Corporation Mr Glen Oakley had the electric gate constructed. There is no real reason why the headland could not be open to the public now.

With the previous proposal the whole headland was to be leased for the proposed private development. The free access to the headland was to be denied to the general public and all natural views from the headland only open exclusively to paying patrons of the motel rooms or the restaurant. A stairway to the roof of the restaurant was to be available but public use was at the pleasure of the proponent.

The proposed Lease of the Headland must be detailed and be part of the transparent assessment of this new development.

We would be pleased if you would consider the joint submission from peak environment organisations re the previous Development Proposal which is added as an attachment to this Email. It contains much relevant material including all the points on page 3 including We propose that:

We would appreciate a proper public enquiry so that evidence could be made available for all to see in an impartial way free from the extravagant media and political interference that this issue has been subjected to in Newcastle.

We thank you for the opportunity to comment on this new development which we ask be assessed as a new development and Controlled Action.

The Movement would be pleased to provide further information and evidence at the assessment stage.

Yours Sincerely

Doug Lithgow

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