‘A slap in the face’: NSW state housing push set to clip Kiama’s green hills

Kiama mayor says chosen site has no support infrastructure and viable alternatives for development were overlooked

A portion of the famous rolling green hills near Kiama, on the New South Wales south coast, is under threat from a housing development, after the state government overrode Kiama municipal council zoning to allow a 440-house development.

The South Kiama project is part of a push by the Perrottet government to ease housing pressures, but the Kiama mayor, Neil Reilly, said viable alternative sites on non-rural land were ignored, including an old quarry at nearby Bombo and vacant land within Kiama’s town boundaries.

According to a statement from the office of the NSW planning minister, Anthony Roberts, the approval does not mean houses will be built on the site.

“A development control plan will need to be prepared before a development application is submitted and assessed in consultation with the community,” it said.

But Reilly said the approval was a fait accompli, and that council would do all in its power to make sure future residents could enjoy “quality of life” on the housing blocks.

The rolling green hills of Kiama were immortalised by one of Australia’s best known early poets, Henry Kendall (1839-1882), whose family’s cemetery sits in the middle of the proposed development. In his poem Kiama Revisited, he wrote how the beautiful “hills of Kiama” helped him forget his troubles.

Kiama’s Greyleigh homestead hosts guests and weddings. Co-manager Erica Warren said the poet’s famed hills would be lost as a result of a housing estate.

“I can’t see how this is possible to support. I can’t even get a park in Kiama at 8.30 on a Monday morning now, so how will Kiama cope with possibly another 1,000 cars in the area?” she said.

Reilly believed the landscape was one of the main reasons tourists visit Kiama.

The decision was a slap in the face to local government, the community and the council’s “excellent” planners, he said, adding that the council had been treated with “derision” by the state government.

“We provide essential services, really, on behalf of the state government, but when it comes to decisions in our own back yard, on planning, they override us.”

According to Reilly, the development is isolated from the main Kiama town and has no support infrastructure such as sewerage or suitable roads. The nearby Kiama high school is already at its student capacity.

A Department of Planning and Environment spokesperson said the proposed development site has been identified in Kiama council’s own planning strategies.

“It’s ideally located within the western boundary of the town, close to existing services, shops and schools. This decision has been backed by independent advice, and future plans will still be subject to rigorous scrutiny as part of the development application stage.”

According to the spokesperson, the developer would also be expected to contribute to the cost of infrastructure needed.

Some Kiama residents said the predicament had arisen because of a lack of future planning for housing stock.

Pecora Dairy co-founder, Michael Cains, a director with the Kiama and District Business Chamber, said a lack of planning was pitting government and interest groups against each other.

“I, too, have concerns about whether the site is appropriate … There has been a failure of proper planning over many decades. Without this certainty, we end up with this crazy heated cycle of developers and anti-developers; it has to change.”

Cains also believes the region needs more villas and units.

In Tuesday’s federal budget the Albanese government announced a plan to help build 1m new “affordable” homes over five years from 2024. Some of these will be located in regional areas close to major transport and working hubs. State governments would be asked to help facilitate the housing push through new zoning laws and land releases. A National Housing Accord involving governments, the construction sector and investors such as superannuation funds would underpin the plan to build the houses.

The council is completing a 20-year local housing strategy which predicts that unless the housing mix expands, people will be forced out of the area. It forecasts that couple-only households (families without children) are expected to increase from 2,900 to 3,850 by 2041.

“This household type will represent half of our family compositions (approximately 49pc). Lone person households are expected to increase by 29pc,” the strategy states.

Council strategic planning manager, Ed Paterson, said it was difficult to balance preserving the uniqueness of Kiama and providing much-needed housing stock. The area is now very attractive to sea-changers with its transport links and internet services.

The strategy will go for public consultation in November and December, with a final report to go to council mid-2023.

Meanwhile, local historian Susan Lark said she didn’t know what would become of the Kendall family cemetery.

“Unfortunately, Kiama has already lost two historic cemeteries to development,” she said, adding that historical cemeteries throughout Australia were “under threat of disappearing”.

John Ellicott

The GuardianTramp

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