Report recommends no camp extension

An independent review has recommended that the proposed extension to the Cobar Mining Camp would not be in the public’s interest.

A report to Cobar Shire Council by independent planner Robert Bisley, from City Plan in Newcastle, recommends Council does not endorse the application by Rovest Holdings P/L to build an additional 20 units at the camp to increase the accommodation to cater for 199 occupants.

“After consideration of the proposed development against Section 4.15(1) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and the relevant planning framework, the proposal is considered not suitable for the site and not in the public interest,” Mr Bisley reported.

“After a thorough assessment of the application, this report recommends Cobar Shire Council refuse the application as it is not consistent with the objects of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.”

Mr Bisley’s extensive 22 page report examined local environment, planning and social impacts of the project and also took into consideration Cobar’s and the Far West’s strategic plans.

Since Rovost Holdings lodged the development application in August 2019, which proposed to increase the accommodation at the village from 30 units to 50 units (an increase of 119 to 199 occupants), Council has given the submission much consideration.

Following a community consultation on the proposed development, Council received 67 written submissions against the development along with a petition of 1,950 signatures while just two written submissions were received in favour of the expansion going ahead.

The issues raised in the submissions included: negative social impacts; village residents not integrating with the local community; existing vacant housing stock not being used; criticism of the applicant’s wastewater report and water storage; support for residential mining over Fly In/Fly Out and Drive In/Drive Out mining rosters; the project not contributing to community facilities and infrastructure; and that it was not family-friendly.

After receiving public feedback, council requested additional information from the applicant and also called for external referrals.

Mr Bisley concurred that while the application met a number of State Environment Planning policies it failed to meet the vision of the Draft Cobar Local Strategic Plan that emphasises “utilising current housing stock before any future applicant for temporary accommodation outside of town will be favourited”.

While the applicant successfully answered traffic concerns, proved the site could be adequately serviced (water, electricity and waste), and could mitigate bushfire impacts and the build would not have any further environmental impacts on the site, Mr Bisley disagreed with the applicant that it would have “a positive economic impact on the local area”.

“The applicant’s economic assessment did not consider the economic impacts on the Cobar housing market. The applicant also identifies that there will be a short-term economic benefit from the application,” Mr Bisley wrote in his report.

He said it would further weaken the local housing market and, with the camp offering entertainment, food and drink, workers won’t need to visit local establishments frequently and contribute to the local economy.

“The assessment finds that the application will have neither a positive or negative social impact on the local community. The assessment recognises that this application is not tied to the need to expansion or requirement of any mine and the employee requirements of mines will proceed regardless of a decision on this application,” Mr Bisley said.

“If the application was to not proceed, mine workers would explore alternate accommodation arrangements, including the opportunity to settle within existing unoccupied dwellings.”