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Planning angst strikes a chord with community groups

Green Ban activist Jack Mundey has described the current Labor administration as the worst this state has seen since the Askin Government of the mid-'70s reports Alex McDonald in City News of 23 October 2008.

Speaking at a rally in Hyde Park last Sunday, Mr Mundey was cheered by a crowd of almost 1000 people, made up largely of community groups from as far a field as Ballina, Mullimbimby and Tweed Heads. They came to protest against over development and to call for the scrapping of part 3A of the planning laws, which gives the Planning Minister the ability to fast track contentious developments.

"Let this be the rebirth of resident action groups throughout NSW," Mr Mundey said.

Although Kristina Keneally replaced Frank Sartor as Planning Minister more than a month ago, banners still showed plenty of anger towards the previous minister. A "Not happy Nathan" placard showed the crowd's contempt for the Rees Labor Government.

Upper House MP Sylvia Hale of the Greens was more direct in her attack: "Communities in this state are fed up with Labor," she said.

Dave Matthews from Friends of Eveleigh said his community group was yet to receive a response from the new Planning Minister.

"She won't respond to our letters," he said. "They don't care about heritage at the site, they just want the land."

Paul Power from Friends of Callan Park said Sydney's University's plan for that site was conceived with "ridiculously little" community consultation. Powers said he now felt "disgusted and embarrassed" to be a lifelong Labor voter. He described Callan Park as the "Centennial Park of the inner-west, a beautiful serene place" and a totally inappropriate location for a university campus.

The leader of Friends of Currawong, Shane Withington, invited the various community groups to attend the rally, after having fielded about 2000 emails.

"I've been staggered by the response and the frustration of these people who've been denied any say in what happens in their community," Mr Withington said. "They're frustrated and they're very angry.

"We've got Sydney groups fighting massive inappropriate developments in their suburbs, rural groups fighting mining which is poisoning local rivers, another group fighting a mining company which wants to take over the entire village, another is fighting the construction of an unnecessary dam, while others are fighting for heritage values and to save bushland and wildlife.

"There's no doubt NSW planning laws have failed. The response to our call for support for the rally proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt."

Perhaps the most telling speaker of the day came from Hilltop in the Southern Highlands, where a $6 million 100 hectare rifle range has been fast tracked without any community consultation. The land is a migration zone for native gliders and koalas.

"The rot clearly did not leave a month a go with the previous planning minister," the speaker said. "[Ms Keneally] may have come in as fresh blood, but she still carries the Labor genes."

President of AIH – an Australia-wide group of local heritage societies – Andrew Woodhouse said the rally was a watershed moment for a constituency fed up with the state government's "pro-developer planning regime".

Mr Woodhouse said: "It's no concidence people are simultaneously, giving this government a two-fingered salute in local by-elections."

Photo: A protester vents frustration at the march