The fear of legal action in the Land and Environment Court has some Maitland City councillors approving developments to which they are opposed.
Aberglasslyn resident Angus Webster, who will be affected by a development application to split two lots in his street into four, has accused councillors of running scared of developers.
“They’re opposed to these developments but they’re scared of the Land and Environment Court,” Mr Webster, of Diamond Circuit, said.
Council signed off on the Diamond Circuit subdivision on Tuesday night; this comes on top of the approval last month of an additional four lots at Largs under controversial Section 96 laws.
But the council’s planning executive manager Bernie Mortomore denied council was scared.
“No, we’re not scared,” Mr Mortomore said. “In terms of whether we have grown scared or wary, the answer is no, but we would rather avoid going to court if possible.
“The lawyers do very well out of court work and we don’t necessarily want to give them our ratepayers' money.”
The row over Diamond Circuit erupted at the council meeting on Tuesday night when Cr Ken Wethered asked if council would be subject to legal action if the application was denied.
Council general manager David Evans answered, yes, “if the applicant chose to pursue it”.
“Based on that, I move the motion,” Cr Wethered said.
“I feel hamstrung by the rules and regulations, but at the end of the day we have lost more than we have won, which has cost council dearly.”
Mr Webster said the council had ignored substantial evidence that the additional lots would be detrimental to residents and the environment.
“I’m pretty upset and appalled by what I saw the other night [at the council meeting],” Mr Webster told the Mercury on Thursday.
Living directly opposite the subject lots meant that more cars would be present in the narrow street, where children were forced to play.
Cr Steve Procter seconded the motion to split 3252square metres into four lots ranging from 609sq m to 1020sq m.
“A lot of councillors don’t agree with these subdivisions,” Cr Procter said.
“[But] we know, in the interests of council, we can’t oppose this.”
Councillors Loretta Baker, Philip Penfold, Peter Garnham, Bob Geoghegan and Lisa Tierney also voted in favour of the DA.
Councillors Arch Humphery, Ray Fairweather, Stephen Mudd, Paul Casey and Henry Meskauskas went on the record as being opposed.
“To use the argument that it would go to court doesn’t hold any water,” Cr Meskauskas said.
“Time and time again we’ve been to court and this is a big, big change.”
Cr Mudd said squeezing additional lots into housing estates after the fact corrupted people’s dreams.
“If we don’t stop this it is going to happen time and time again,” Cr Mudd said.
“When people buy a home it’s their castle and they don’t anticipate this.”
Mr Mortomore said council was about addressing the application from a dispassionate position.
“We need to look at the legislation and whether the application addresses it, on a case-by-case basis,” Mr Mortomore said.
“We have to ask if there are grounds to deny an application and sometimes the answer is no.
“Sometimes when objections are made it is just that they don’t want it to happen.”
“In terms of whether it is possible to defend the matter in court, I guess there is no answer but it’s a matter of asking ‘How strong are our arguments?’.
“I think that is what the councillors are really asking.”
Council’s legal costs for 2011/12 amounted to $165,000, but were only $17,000 for the preceding two financial years.