Sekisui warns new appeal to cost jobs, ‘significant’ delays
Sekisui House has warned of "significant" local job losses and delays while Development Watch embarks on a second community-funded court appeal over Sunshine Coast Council's approval of the Yaroomba Beach development.
Project director Evan Aldridge told the Daily construction on the mixed-use hotel, residential and retail development was set to begin early 2021, but the Notice of Appeal lodged in July to the Supreme Court of Queensland would push back the start date and delay applications for operational works to commence on site.
He said a revised program would not be available until the new appeal process was finalised.
Development Watch president Lynette Saxton told the Daily they expected the Supreme Court appeal would cost about $100,000 and they'd sought public donations to help foot the bill.
Sunshine Coast Council approved the mixed-use project - including a five-star hotel, 740 residential dwellings and retail uses - more than two years ago on council officers' recommendation.
In May this year, the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland upheld council's decision, rejecting an appeal by Development Watch and co-appellants Sunshine Coast Environment Council (SCEC).
SH Coolum (Sekisui House) and Sunshine Coast Council were respondents.
Development Watch had fundraised the $400,000 legal costs associated with this case.
Ms Saxton said privacy laws dictated they could not reveal the names of individual donors, but said a full audit was done at the end of 2019 and was presented to members at an AGM in March this year.
Ms Saxton said the grounds for the appeal related to "Planning Scheme conflicts and community expectation".
Mr Aldridge noted that Development Watch would also have to pay the respondents' costs if the appeal was unsuccessful.
Mr Aldridge said the Planning and Environment Court had already ruled there was no substantiate evidence provided by Development Watch to back up any of their grounds of appeal.
He said the group's decision to "further delay" the project with the latest court action was "depriving hundreds of Sunshine Coast residents and small businesses of immediate opportunities".
"The groups' self-interest is unfortunately ahead of 400 construction jobs per year that could happen right now and many hundreds more in the hotel and retail employment once the project is complete," Mr Aldridge said.
"Many local residents, local businesses, industry and commerce associations have supported the Yaroomba Beach project over the past five years because they see the benefits this project can bring.
"Yaroomba Beach will be a catalyst project for the Sunshine Coast as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, but delays brought on by a frivolous appeal are costly for everyone concerned."
Mr Aldridge said council's decision recognised significant benefits to the Sunshine Coast including:
- 400 equivalent full-time jobs per year during construction
- 355 equivalent full-time jobs ongoing in the hotel, retail and maintenance industries
- The attraction of 85,000 new visitors per year to the Sunshine Coast through the
- creation of the first five-star hotel on the Sunshine Coast in more than 30 years, with
- much needed conference facilities
- The injection of $108 million per annum into the local economy to support small and
- medium businesses
- The creation of public parks, pathways, lifesaving amenities and reinstated lifeguard
- patrols to the adjoining Yaroomba Beach.
Liaison officer Narelle McCarthy represented Sunshine Coast Environment Council during the Planning and Environment Court proceedings, but she confirmed while they supported the upcoming proceedings, they would not be party to them.
Ms Saxton had urged Sunshine Coast Council to not be an active party to the new proceedings.
"It is correct to say that the council, as the decision maker, is obliged to be a party to the appeal, both in the Planning and Environment Court and the Court of Appeal, but it is not bound to be an active party where there is a well resourced developer willing and able to resist Development Watch's case," Ms Saxton said.
On July 28, Sunshine Coast mayor Mark Jamieson responded to news Development Watch had lodged the notice of intention. He told media:
"I understand the decision by the judge is being challenged by points of law. I don't know what those points of law are so it's difficult to comment.
"Council made its majority democratic decision, recommended by the professional officers of council.
"Court has found in favour of that decision. Those who want to challenge it further, that's for them to work out."
Cr Jamieson said projects such as Sekisui would be "important for the Coast in the future".
"That's why a majority of councillors supported it in the first place, the fact of the matter is we live in a democratic country and sometimes people do have recourse but ultimately that would be a matter for court to resolve," he said.
He said those challenging would need to be "financially assured" they would be able to cover costs in the instance they are unsuccessful.
In response to the Notice of Intention, Sunshine Coast planning lawyer Andrew Davis accused Development Watch of being a "menace" to Sunshine Coast ratepayers, and cost them "millions".
He noted Development Watch had sued council five times, and each time their case had failed.
"The Sekisui appeal would have cost millions to defend. The appeal was bound to fail. Sunshine Coast ratepayers footed the bill," Mr Davis said.
"The Sekisui appeal took 12 days to hear in Court with no fewer than three QCs (Queens Counsels), four barristers, at least four solicitors and a score of expert witnesses.
"Development Watch has cost Sunshine Coast ratepayers millions and millions of dollars."
The Daily has asked several times for the Sunshine Coast Council to disclose the court costs associated with the Sekisui appeal, but they have remained silent.
Mr Davis made headlines in 2012 when he donated $5000 to Brett Winkler's campaign to ensure the then-mayoral candidate, now sitting mayor, Mark Jamieson was represented on Mr Winkler's how to vote cards, a payment Cr Jamieson said he had never authorised.
In response to Mr Davis' comments, Ms Saxton said while Development Watch had "lost some court cases", the group believed the effort was warranted as in some cases it resulted in changes to development approvals.
"Of course, as a volunteer community group we never have the funding that a developer and council have, particularly when they work together as co-respondents, which lessens our chances of success," she said.
"We have supported Council in just as many if not more court appeals as their co-respondent."
Ms Saxton said Development Watch was a not-for-profit, nonpartisan volunteer community group formed almost 15 years ago.
She said it advocates for "respect for the primacy of the Planning Scheme, and had lodged a 52-page submission during public consultation for the document.
She said it had a "combined membership/database" of about 600 "largely members of the local community".
Mr Aldridge accused Development Watch of using "alarmist language" and misleading statements during their campaign, including that the development posed a "significant risk" to the endangered nesting loggerhead turtle population.
Mr Aldridge said the Planning and Environment Court found:
- The proposed development would not pose an unacceptable risk to the endangered
- loggerhead turtle and it complies with the relevant assessment benchmarks.
- The Sunshine Coast records about 4 per cent of all turtle nests for the South Pacific
- stock of loggerhead turtles, averaging about 62 nests per year.
- Yaroomba Beach recorded fewer than two nests per year on average.
- The majority (70%) of loggerhead nests on the Sunshine Coast were recorded
- south of the Maroochy River with the most prominent beaches being Buddina and Shelley Beaches. Both locations adjoin existing urban development and are subject to artificial light.
"All five principal grounds of appeal that Development Watch and associated activist organisations raised during the appeal were found to be without substance," Mr Aldridge said.
"Despite the negative slogans of an 'intensive high-rise development' the court found the proposed mix of land uses favoured approval and would satisfactorily address the planning scheme's intention for a tourism focus area. In fact court documents showed there will be less building floor area developed when compared to the previous approval over the site.
"Despite Development Watch proposing there was not an economic need and the development would hinder the refurbishment of the Palmer Coolum Resort, the court determined there was a clear need for the proposed development, by meeting the latent unsatisfied demand for a five star resort in the locality and providing a variety of residential accommodation proximate to the beach.
"Despite stunts and alarmist claims of traffic grid lock, the court confirmed the transport infrastructure would operate in a safe and efficient manner to prevent unacceptable off-site impacts. Further, the proposed intersection upgrades (to David Low Way) would result in net benefits to the community.
"Despite misleading statements on the visual impact, the court found the proposed development was consistent with the intended character for the locality.
"The court found the proposed development and building design respected the scale and character of surrounding areas and vegetation and protected the natural vegetated character of the coastal foreshore and fore dunes."