An independent review into the notorious Vellar mansions in Wollongong has confirmed what residents have known for some time: construction of the buildings was illegal and a deliberate cover up took place.
Wollongong City Council's administrators — installed after the elected council was sacked in March last year — ordered the review under community pressure.
A resolution unanimously adopted by a community meeting on September 21 called for the mansions to be demolished on public safety grounds. The meeting also called on the council "to order the full remediation of the risks of land slippage, stormwater contribution to flooding, and inadequate bushfire prevention … at the expense of the property owner".
The review, released in November, noted that the "location of the dwellings is inconsistent with the Development Consent and … wholly within the 7(a) zone" — a zone in which dwelling construction is illegal. The review also says, "Given the extent of missing information … it is concluded that the missing information is the result of deliberate intervention" — a cover-up.
The 55-page review advises that "Council should seek legal advice on the prospects of both regularising the construction and the issues associated with pursuing the removal of the structures". On December 16, the administrators agreed to seek the advice, again delaying a real decision on the mansions.
Will Reynolds from Corrimal Action for the Rehabilitation of our Escarpment (CARE) is disappointed with the recommendations.
"The review doesn't go far enough", he told Green Left Weekly. "One option is to allow re-building within the original boundary but that would require significant destruction of more escarpment bushland. Another option is to approve the existing structures but that would also require land clearing to reduce bushfire risk.
"But most importantly it would set a dangerous precedent of retrospectively approving illegal construction on protected land; it would allow developers to benefit from past corrupt conduct. We still think there's a strong case for demolition as the fairest way forward for the escarpment and community", said Reynolds.
Jess Moore from the Socialist Alliance agreed: "Residents know the dangers posed by the mansions and are well aware of council's cover-up.
"The administrators should have ordered the demolition of these buildings at the developers' expense a long time ago. Delaying again such a decision only means residents continue to live in fear of flooding, land slippage or someone's kids getting hurt while playing on the site.
"It's time the administrators listened to residents and put community need before developer greed."
[For background on the issue visit http://www.greenleft.org.au/2008/760/39247.]