MAYOR Jennifer Whitney has responded to criticism about a perceived lack of communication over Council’s draft town planning scheme by saying the community was consulted and informed.
Cr Whitney claims the town plan was on her radar from the election of 2012 and she also denies the proposed eight storey changes for Waterson Way are in any way intertwined with Chinatown.
“The land they’re purchasing already had a DA on it – the Chinese are not driving any of these things,” she said.
It was February 2014 when Council initially began boardroom discussions about the sale of land on Waterson Way with the tender going out in August 2014.
By then Cr Whitney had already travelled to China, the Chinese Australia Entrepreneurs Association Inc (CAEAI) had declared their interest in establishing a casino, Buddhist temple and Chinatown in Airlie Beach and the casino licence bid had been launched and failed.
Earlier in April, Council had resolved to develop a single planning scheme to replace the Bowen Shire Planning Scheme of 2008 and Whitsunday Shire Planning Scheme of 2009 and at the end of August Council officially received the Airlie Beach Structure Plan, prepared by PLACE Design Group.
The report was placed on Council’s website followed by version one of a draft planning scheme in early November.
In February 2015, Council surveyed 380 local residents by telephone about the draft planning scheme and formed an “Industry Reference Group”, which met monthly to discuss the plan. At the time Council said community workshops would be held in townships across the region in April but this week Cr Whitney admitted that didn’t occur.
“There may have been workshops done with individual groups but workshops with the community – I can hand on heart say no,” she said.
Nonetheless, Cr Whitney says Council “went above and beyond” the community engagement it was required to do, officially unveiling its draft plan in August and opening public consultation until October 2.
A report on page 4 of the Whitsunday Times, August 20 edition, which specified eight storeys was planned for Waterson Way, said Council would conduct face-to-face consultation with the community at markets and libraries. Public meetings were then held in September, at which time Council came under fire for its “lack of consultation”.
“We’ve gone out with the lot – they haven’t read it,” Cr Whitney argued this week. “It doesn’t matter how we do it… it will never be enough in some people’s minds and that’s why we extended it for two weeks so it did allow the community to have further input.”
Cr Whitney pointed out there were just as many people supporting the draft and “coming up with a solution” as there were fighting it.
As for accusations about favouring the Chinatown development, Cr Whitney said she had always declared an interest in agenda items surrounding Waterson Way because of her trip to China in December 2013.
“While we were in China most of the flights and accommodation were paid for by the Chinese. I believe that created a perceived conflict of interest, so right from the start I have not been in any of the voting or decisions,” she said, adding “the next person that says I’m in their pocket will be sued.”