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Mayor in Stoush with Planning Minister

Nov 21, 2023

Hawkesbury Mayor Sarah McMahon has gagged debate on development in the region by refusing to table a letter from Planning and Public Space Minister Paul Scully to council about development on flood plains.

Scully wrote to the Mayor as part of the Minns government efforts to increase the supply of higher density housing across the Sydney basin. He asked the Mayor to table the letter at the next council meeting so all councillors understood the government’s plans.

“I write to you regarding the need to allow for more housing in our low and medium density zones across New South Wales to help increase supply and diversity of homes we are delivering in our suburbs,” Scully wrote.

“We are asking councils to review their local policy settings and approaches in the interests of housing supply. I ask you to identify existing well-located areas where terraces, small unit blocks or well-designed mid-rise apartments can be permitted.

“Research consistently shows that there is unmet demand for additional small apartment and low-rise multi-dwelling housing options as well as purpose-built rental and affordable and social housing.

“With this in mind, the Department will be realigning its resources to support councils in these initiatives and is developing a tool kit to help councils and state agencies deliver the outcomes we need. Councils shouldn’t wait for this work to happen, rather I am asking you to begin work identifying locations and permitting more low and mid-rise homes immediately.

“I would also request that this letter be tabled at your next council meeting so that councillors are clear about the State government’s intentions on behalf of the people of NSW to deliver more low and mid-rise homes, while reminding them of their duty during election periods.”

Instead, Cr McMahon has unilaterally written to the minister what one councillor described as a “letter with a strident and unhelpful tone” without any input from other council members. The main purpose of the Mayor’s letter is to seek clarity on the government’s plans for development on flood plains around the Nepean Hawkesbury.

McMahon withholds information from fellow councillors

“I understand your letter to me dated 30 October 2023 may have been a standard letter that was sent to all Councils in NSW, but given that the day before, you and your department have now alluded to major possible changes to planning instruments and guidelines for the Hawkesbury community due to findings in recent flood plain studies and evacuation modelling, I am seeking clarification given the conflicting messages provided,” Cr McMahon wrote in response.

Cr Nathan Zamprogno told the Hawkesbury Post: “We do need more clarity, but don’t know if the letter meets that. The letter is disappointing in its wording, which is confusing and because of the strident and unhelpful tone.”

 “Her communication with the Minister should have been by way of a Mayoral Minute with input from the chamber.” He added that councillors were not sent a copy of the letter from the minister, only the Mayor’s reply

In a surprise addition, the Mayor has threatened the government that no development in the Hawkesbury should proceed without the new Richmond and Grose Vale bridges. 

“In terms of residential development, any housing sites in the Hawkesbury that are not on the floodplain would demand that improved evacuation routes and vital infrastructure, such nas the planned Richmond Duplication Bridge and the Grose River Crossing, are built before any additional housing could even be considered,” she wrote

“Even then, there is an appetite in our community for limited residential development, given the constraints of flood and bushfire in our area.”

Yet at this evening’s council meeting, councilors will consider changes to planning regulations that will allow a controversial sub-division by the Mayor’s domestic partner, property developer Matthew Bennett in Kurrajong. Bennett is also proceeding with another development at Kurrajong and the Hawkesbury Post understands that he and his business partner Stephen He are planning a third development nearby.

You can read the full letters below.

Paul Scully Minister for Planning- Letter :

Councillor McMahon – Letter :

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