The district of Mount Barker is characterised by picturesque countryside, bustling townships and sleepy hamlets. Partly because of its location, in the Mount Lofty Ranges and only 30 minutes away from Adelaide, the district is one of the fastest growing in Australia. This has created major tensions between the need to retain the advantages of a rural setting and the productivity of prime agricultural land with the pressures for more housing within commuting distance of the city.
The Mount Barker and District Residents’ Association Inc aims to preserve, promote and further develop the historical, social, cultural and environmental features of the Mt Barker district, its townships and settlements. The Association provides an open and public forum for all residents to express their views and concerns on issues relating to their community. The Association believes in integrated planning, active consultation, communication and engagement between all stakeholders within the district. Full accountability and transparent decision making is crucial to ensure the district grows and develops to meet the needs of all the community.
The Association was established in 1991 when several concerned residents formed a small group to discuss issues of concern within their community. Local artist Donald Richardson, Esme Watson and others created the first official association Constitution. This group established the framework objectives which are still in use today:
- To provide a forum for residents of the Mount Barker District to express their views and interests on matters relating to the physical and social environment of Mount Barker District.
- To be concerned with preserving and promoting desirable historical, social, environmental and cultural features of the District.
- To review those activities and policies of public, statutory and private organisation which affect the District.
- To support and cooperate with other organisations whose aims and activities are compatible with those of the Association.
- To represent the views and interests of the residents of the District before public, statutory and private organisations on matters which affect the residents of the District.
In 2010 Mount Barker, Littlehampton and Nairne were the subject of a Ministerial Development Plan Amendment (MDPA) under the SA Development Act 1993. (Act). This MDPA was to re-zone some 1300 hectares of the best agricultural land for housing. Despite the vigorous opposition of both the community and the local Council, this was approved by the SA State Government (Gazetted 16 December 2010). The MDPA was initiated before even the draft 30 Year Plan was published in 2009 as a result of approaches to the Government by developers (The Mount Barker Consortium), who owned much of the land which was subsequently re-zoned residential. These developers publicly donated some $2m into the Labor party’s funds (SA and federal) as per this link:
Minister Holloway was approached by the above ‘landowners ‘, who were in fact developers, and initiated his MDPA before May 2009 as announced in his letter to Mount Barker Council dated 19 May 2009. Connor Holmes, the planning consultants representing the developers, were asked by the Minister to survey Mount Barker and recommend appropriate land to be rezoned in the MDPA. In Parliament, the Minister defended this obvious conflict of interest. The results of this survey were not made public.
In July 2009, the draft 30 Year Plan was issued, with a significant portion of land shown south and east of Mount Barker to be rezoned for development. No explanation was provide as to how this land was chosen. In 2009, the Mount Barker Coalition for Sustainable Communities was formed to specifically oppose the proposed rampant expansion. This group arranged the largest public rally ever held in Mount Barker which was held in the Mount Barker Town Hall in November 2009 which the Minister attended.
In December 2009, some members of this group met with Minister Holloway and amongst other things argued for a reduction in Mount Barker’s growth target – then 20,000, together of course with a commensurate reduction in the land to be rezoned. In the subsequent final 30 Year Plan, Minister Holloway reduced the people target to 15,600, but without any reduction in land! In February 2010, the 30 Year Plan was adopted by the Government. The land to be rezoned south and east of Mount Barker was essentially the same as the draft 30 Year Plan. The 90+ submissions from the Mount Barker area to the draft 30 Year Plan (5 times per capita any other region) all said no to this land – and were ignored.
In June 2010, the MDPA for Mount Barker was released for comment and the area to be rezoned was practically identical to the 30 YP – 50% of which was owned by the developers. The MDPA document was of poor quality, riddled with errors and contained a key unfinished technical report on the land. There was no sign in it of any other land options being considered. The Coalition for Sustainable Communities – as well as the Mount Barker & District Residents’ Association, continued to agitate for change. The Coalition arranged a ‘Development Drive By’ in July 2010 where hundreds toured the boundary of the land to be developed. Another group, Stop Urban Sprawl (SUS), sprang up and organised a walk to Adelaide with speeches in Victoria Square. SUS also organised a second ‘Development Drive By’ with new supporters and attendees in November.
The Development Policy Advisory Committee (DPAC) ‘consultation’ process for written submissions was carried out between 10 June and 4 August 2010. An unprecedented 543 written submissions were sent in to the MDPA and many hundreds of letters were written to the local The Courier newspaper. Approximately 520 of the MDPA submissions were from the general public which were almost unanimously against. Approximately 12 developers were in favour. 520 written submissions to the MDPA were seemingly ignored. DPAC then held a Public Meeting for the verbal submissions which took an unprecedented 5 evenings as there were 130 people who indicated they wished to be heard. The depth of feeling, research and the level of preparation, as with written submissions, was extraordinary. DPAC’s report (advice) to the Minister was published only in part (minus attachments) – despite the Minister saying it would be published. Then later the whole report was made available through the District Council of Mt Barker (DCMB) website.
DPAC’s analysis of submissions was in general comprehensive, but failed to point out the detail of how the MDPA was inconsistent with the 30 YP – as many submitters reported. The DPAC report did mention this in passing, but without any detail on the important incompatibilities (like growth population and dwellings were wrong in the MDPA). The community feedback on the MDPA was then ignored except for bushfire risk concerns where some changes were recommended to the MDPA by DPAC which were taken up by the Minister. The Peramangk people delivered a passionate presentation based on a written submission defending the land against such use and claiming their rights to enjoy the land, as stated in the Letters Patent for the declaration of SA as a State by King Edward of England. The Peramangk people too were ignored.
The Minister approved his own MDPA on 16 December 2010 and it was gazetted. The ERD Committee of Parliament met twice: 27 January and 4 February 2011 to review the MDPA. The Mount Barker Council and a number of local action groups presented on the 27 January but were told at point of presentation that their presentations were not required. The ERD Committee then required each group to justify itself including details of membership and did not permit any presentation other than that of the Mount Barker Council. Department of Planning & Local Government presented on 4 February with no such constraints. The three non- Labor members on the committee voted against the MDPA so the vote was split 3:3 but the Labor Chair made a casting vote to approve it.
Thus, some nine developers have won the right to make billions of dollars out of developing 1300 hectares of the best farm land against the wishes of the local Council and the community (including many prestigious State planning and environmental people). It looks very much as if the developers have, at some time early in 2009 or late 2008, asked for their land to be rezoned residential, having already contributed some $2m to the Labor Party, and their consultant suggested the land for re-zoning without any Council or public knowledge or input. This alleged donation was not denied by Government.
The SA Government won a new award designated the ‘Disgrace’ award from the Australian Civic Trust in 2011- a special category specifically for the Mount Barker MDPA as it was so bad. Mount Barker’s development saga is a blow for democracy in our State. Unfortunately the Development Act does not require particular detail to be in an MDPA; it does not require any standard of professionalism or accuracy in an MDPA; nor that DPAC’s advice be competent/accurate, or in fact that the Minister need take any notice of it. This Act forbids any action on the basis of an MDPA being incorrect in terms of the State’s Planning regulations and so the many discrepancies between it and the 30 Year Plan could not be attacked through the Court.
The matter is high-profile and one of many similar DPA’s which will happen as the State Government implements its growth at any cost plans.
Chairperson: Di VanEck
PO Box 494 Mt Barker SA 5251