Hornsby Shire Council Csr Quarry Site Acquisition

About this Item
SubjectsLand; Hornsby Shire Council; Rates
SpeakersHopwood Mrs Judy
BusinessPrivate Members Statements

Page: 19877

    Mrs JUDY HOPWOOD (Hornsby) [9.01 p.m.]: I am compelled to speak tonight about a very serious matter that has concerned residents of Hornsby shire for some months, that is, the acquisition by Hornsby Shire Council of Hornsby quarry, which was owned and operated by CSR. This acquisition has produced a litany of correspondence and meetings seeking some form of explanation as to how council was forced to purchase the land, how the price was arrived at and why ratepayers are now being charged increased rates to pay for it. I do not doubt that this issue has been difficult for council, but it is accountable to ratepayers and must be transparent in its actions.

    The legislation under which Hornsby Shire Council was obliged to purchase the land is the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991. After examination of the history and chronology of events surrounding the acquisition, I brought the matter to the attention of both the upper House committee inquiring into the Office of the Valuer General and the Ombudsman's review of the Valuer General, and sent information to the ICAC so that certain allegations can be investigated. I have also approached the Auditor-General, who has informed me that his office is unable to examine the history and processes associated with CSR and the forced purchase by Hornsby Shire Council. The upper House committee has informed me that it cannot examine specific cases and the Ombudsman is also unable to pursue the matter. I subsequently called on the Minister to amend legislation to prevent a public body from being in a similar position in the future. I have also made representations on behalf of concerned residents to the Minister for Local Government.

    Currently, council awaits legal preparation so that documents can be passed on to the Department of Local Government for the purposes of a review of the process. The Minister for Local Government recently attended a meeting in the electorate, called by Labor councillors and a Labor member of the Legislative Council. At that meeting it was reported that the Minister said the State Government would investigate how and why the Hornsby Shire Council spent $26 million buying a "useless, unstable piece of land", as stated in the Sydney Morning Herald of 11 October 2005. I have some reservations about the Department of Local Government looking into the matter. Local residents want an external, unbiased assessment of the entire process.

    Many of my constituents have taken an intense interest in this issue, some opposing the initial plan by council to place high-rise developments on the perimeter of the area under question; some merely asking questions such as why council was ill prepared financially to acquire the land or whether it borrowed the money legally. One constituent in particular, Bogumil Eichstaedt of Hornsby, stated that he was directly involved when he paid increased rates to pay for the debt. In his letter dated 27 September 2005 he stated:
    Re: Questions on validity of acquisition of CSR Quarry site in Hornsby.

    I am writing this letter to express my concerns that I might suffer increase of Council rates unjustly because acquisition of CSR Quarry site in Hornsby might have been done by a person without power to acquire the land and without due consent of my elected representatives to the Local Government …

    NSW Government Gazette No. 189of 25 October 2002 published a Notice of Compulsory Acquisition of Land signed by the General Manager of Hornsby Shire Council. The land in question was CSR Quarry site in Hornsby. Further to this notice more than $25 million of Hornsby Council money went into [the] hands of CSR Limited and the ratepayers, including myself, were burdened with 5.3% special rate increase for the next 10 years.

    Because [of] the actual acquisition of CSR Quarry site seems to be different to the due process specified by the relevant Acts of NSW Parliament, I have the following questions:

    • Did [the] General Manager have the authority to sign the Notice of Compulsory Acquisition and to submit it for publication in the NSW Government Gazette?

    • Is the Acquisition of CSR Quarry Site in Hornsby void because it was done by a person without power to acquire the land?

    I understand that due process of land acquisition by the Council requires that a decision to acquire land must be made by resolution of the Council at a Council meeting. Local Government Act protects my rights against arbitrary action of Council's administration by provisions of section 377 that this decision cannot be delegated.

    CSR Quarry site in Hornsby was allegedly acquired by the Hornsby Council as authority of the NSW State without resolution of the Council. Hence my concern that Councillors elected to represent my interest might have been excluded from the process.

    I am also concerned that Council's administration acquired not only the land but also an operational quarry, which continued to be operational for more than six months after acquisition and became [a] liability for the Shire when it was finally abandoned without decommissioning, stabilisation of faces and rehabilitation of the site.

    There are currently more questions than answers. If Hornsby Shire Council has nothing to be concerned about relating to the process associated with the acquisition, then the council should welcome a public inquiry into the matter.