Tim Owen calls for new negotiation on T4 levy

NOT HAPPY: Newcastle MP Tim Owen.NEWCASTLE council maintains the city was dudded. A ‘‘gobsmacked’’ Newcastle MP Tim Owen agreed, saying a new round of negotiations was the only way to turn things around.
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But yesterday’s revelations that the city could lose as much as $48million worth of developer levies on the controversial fourth coal-loader project didn’t strike the same chord with Planning Minister Pru Goward, who baulked at hosing down the fire created by her state planning department bureaucrats.

As revealed by the Newcastle Herald, state planners recommended that Port Waratah Coal Services need only pay the council $528,000 to cover the potential impacts the coal-loader would have on the city. It was a long way short of the $48million, or 1per cent of the development’s $4.8billion value, that such developments could normally attract in Newcastle.

Ms Goward was asked if she thought her department’s recommendation was fair given the size of the development and its potential impacts on the city’s air, roads and infrastructure, health and environment.

‘‘The minister will look forward to Port Waratah and the council negotiating an outcome and to hearing what the Planning Assessment Commission has to say,’’ was all a spokesman for Ms Goward would say yesterday.

Earlier, her office had argued that it had been difficult for the Department of Planning to make a recommendation on developer contributions because the council itself had not lodged any submission.

In fact, the council had warned the department on several occasions that its ‘‘Section 94A levy’’ was notably absent from the department’s draft recommendations.

As late as February this year, the council advised the department that it would seek the full $48million levy from PWCS unless an agreement was negotiated between the two parties.

‘‘There is no doubt that everyone was a bit gobsmacked when the department approved the project without some sort of [agreement] between Port Waratah and the council,’’ Mr Owen said.

‘‘I think even PWCS was surprised … But there is no doubt the company and the council need to negotiate an outcome. Port Waratah lives in this city as well and I know they want to do the right thing.

‘‘I’ll be writing a submission to the PAC myself and I’ll be saying that the contribution needs to be significantly more than what the department has recommended.’’

Council general manager Ken Gouldthorp said there were two options.

‘‘Either Port Waratah needs to come forward and enter an agreement with council or the [department’s] recommendation needs to change,’’ he said.

But Newcastle Greens councillor Michael Osborne wants PWCS to pay the full $48million levy. He said that while PWCS might point to the upgrades of Cormorant Road and expensive environmental offsets as ‘‘other benefits’’ of their project, they are requirements of the development consent and not ‘‘special gifts’’.

Despite PWCS indicating that it is happy to negotiate a final amount with the council, Cr Osborne remained doubtful.

‘‘Why would PWCS pay more now that the department has said it’s happy for them to hand over just half a million?’’ he said. ‘‘It’s ridiculous.’’

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