NO CONFIDENCE! Residents rebel as developers take over Gold Coast Council

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Residents passed a vote of no confidence in the Gold Coast Council under Mayor Tom Tate last week (Image via facebook/saveourspit)

A secretive committee of unelected developers has been given the job of rewriting the City plan and reviewing development applications on the Gold Coast.

The Mayoral Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) does not issue agendas, keep minutes or even publish where its meetings will be held.

It allegedly provides a direct line for developers to the Mayor and, according to Councillor Peter Young, has been told by Council Planning Chair Councillor Cameron Caldwell to “approve all applications".

So heard a group of around 200 concerned ‒ and often angry ‒ Gold Coast residents at a community meeting held in Broadbeach last week (26/10/17).

The meeting included a keynote address by Councillor Young, who was recently featured as a whistleblower in an ABC Four Corners exposé on corruption in the Gold Coast City Council. It also included speeches from the leaders of 17 community groups, from one end of the Gold Coast to the other.

It ended with unanimous votes of no-confidence in the Council and in favour of the Council being sacked by the State Government, and an administrator appointed.

As IA has reported extensively, the Gold Coast Council under controversial developer Mayor Tom Tate has been plagued with allegations of cronyism, mismanagement and corruption. As well as the Four Corners exposé, the Mayor recently suffered an adverse finding from a Crime and Corruption Commission inquiry into developer donations, and was fortunate to escape prosecution under the Electoral Act. Crime and Corruption Commissioner Alan MacSporran described Mayor Tate’s behaviour as “appalling”.

Many local residents appear to have had enough of being walked over by developers and their proxies. As in the Four Corners investigation, virtually all of the issues raised in the meeting related to the Council’s pro-developer policies under the current Mayor, which has seen the 2015 City Plan for Australia’s sixth biggest city “shredded” in the rush to approve major projects.

One of the speakers at the event, architect Philip Follent, representing the Tugun Progress Association, summed up the mood in the room:

“…the City Plan and its interpretation have been suppressed under that broken record mantra of a ‘have a go’ spirit — which is being interpreted as ‘do what you want, just promise jobs’.”

Organised by GECKO, the Gold Coast and Hinterland Environmental Council, with the help of local activist group Save our Spit, many of the issues raised concerned the way unsustainable development was degrading the environment of the City and its wildlife. Rampant habitat and species loss ‒ including an alarming decline in koala numbers ‒ the destruction of parks, greenspace, iconic natural features, cherished landmarks and dismay at radical increases in urban density were all concerns voiced repeatedly at the meeting.

Possibly the most sensational revelations aired, however, concerned Mayor Tom Tate’s secretive developer constituted Committee.

MTAC takeover

Experienced surveyor and 60-year Gold Coast resident John Burns gave an outline of this little-known, but extremely powerful, body at the meeting.

A 2013 Council press release, Burns said, announced the specialist planning and advisory group of councillors, development consultants and developers – who devised the current City plan – was to be disbanded when the current plan came into being — which it did last year.

A further Council document has changed this to allow the group to gave input into further amendments to the City plan, apparently on an ongoing basis.

Said Burns:

"The 2017 revamped mayoral committee – MTAC it is called – will still meet and has been meeting monthly since February this year."

The MTAC committee is made up of the chair of the City Planning Committee, the deputy mayor and the mayor, along with eight unelected developers, most of whom are members of the developer peak body — the Urban Development Institute of Australia.

Burns claimed these eight members were working “on behalf of developers”:

“Members of the UDI consumer bodies are the go-to people for developers and the building fraternity when they want to get developments through Council. One of the unelected has been on the Committee since 2013 and is from a company that has represented ASF casino consortium — a direct line to the mayor.

The activities of the group, said Burns, were concealed from the public on the orders of the Council:

“By Council agreement, no minutes are kept of these meetings. Only notes and recommendations are supposed to be kept. With no minutes and no apparent agenda kept of these meetings, and no meeting time or place to be found, meeting recommendations don't show up in the Council meeting records.”

There was no way of knowing where the MTAC records are kept, how proposed planning changes are introduced into the Council Planning department, how much and under what terms the unelected members are engaged, nor even where their funding comes from, said Burns.

MTAC was set up by the Mayor to help developers undermine the City plan for financial gain, he said:

“The 2015 City Plan, passed in 2016, is now being shredded by the recommendations of this unelected, select developer lobby group. This chosen MTAC group are enshrining sidesteps to the city plan and a measurable financial gain for the development industry.”

Councillor Peter Young, speaking at the community meeting (Image by author)

Councillor Peter Young said he went to an MTAC meeting with other councillors earlier this year and received the cold shoulder:

“I was looked at with some discontent, you might say, from some of the developers there.” 

Councillor Young said someone there asked a question

…about the ability for developers to submit applications, and would they be assessed and would they get approvals if they are put in under the superseded planning scheme — a factor that was mentioned in regard to the Burleigh Golf Course issue.

Councillor Caldwell, who is the chairman of the Committee, looked at all of the planners in the room and he said: ‘You will approve all of these applications that come through.’

Councillor Peter Young, again, speaking at the community meeting (Image by author)

This development-at-all-costs attitude is the “the mantra and the mindset and the ethos of the Gold Coast City Council at this point in time,” said Councillor Young.

The looks of discontent became concerted after the meeting, said Young, when councillors were told they were no longer welcome at meetings of this unelected Council Committee.

“Subsequent to the meeting, councillors, including myself, received advice that we were no longer to attend the MTAC meetings. That we weren't welcome and we weren't invited.”

Councillor Young said this directive came from the Mayor’s office and was later withdrawn:

That position was later clarified. In fact, that direction had come from the Mayor's chief of staff. He had instructed the head of the Development Department in the Council that we weren’t welcomed at those meetings.

That has been modified, because they are in fact a Committee that is report to Council. Although, as it's been noted, there are no minutes of any of their meetings or deliberations.”

Independent Australia was the only media organisation to attend this event. A full report will be published in the near future. A report on the likely extinction of koalas, mentioned at this meeting, may be read HERE. You can read a transcript of the event HERE or listen to the entire meeting via a podcast HERE.

You can also follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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