Planning code change helps Murray Bridge developer avoid legal action

EXCLUSIVE: RSL Care SA plans to re-submit an application to build a nursing home on Tumbella Drive under new planning laws which will come into effect tonight.

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Tumbella Drive residents are concerned that a changeover to new planning laws will help the developer of a controversial nursing home escape public scrutiny.

Last August, RSL Care SA won approval to build a $22 million, 72-bed aged care facility on the Murray Bridge back street.

Local residents opposed the development, arguing that yes, it would benefit the wider community, but the extra traffic on Tumbella Drive might prevent rubbish trucks or ambulances from getting to their properties.

They had intended to appeal against the approval in court.

But a changeover to new planning laws in South Australia appears to have given RSL Care a unique opportunity to bypass the residents’ concerns.

The organisation has withdrawn its original development application and will submit a new one under the new rules, which will come into effect at midnight tonight.

Why does that matter?

Under the new planning code, residents will no longer have any right to appeal a decision unless an application is classified as “restricted development”.

A state government spokesperson could not confirm it – “that information will be available on Friday” – but the draft code suggested aged care facilities would not be restricted.

Among the residents who opposed the development last year are Glanniss and Wes Taylor, Reg Biar, Jo Harris, Phil Nutt and Helen Johnston. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Residents had been prepared to fight

The residents who had been preparing to argue their case said they were disappointed their appeal would not be able to go ahead.

They had expected to be in court next week.

“We’re devastated that we (will) no longer have a say under the new planning code,” Phil Nutt said.

“Putting a commercial development in our residential neighbourhood is going to affect our amenity.

“The majority of people in this street have got caravans, and it’s very hard to get in and out; it’ll be physically impossible with cars parked up and down.”

Another resident, Jo Harris, made it clear that neither she nor her neighbours opposed the idea of Murray Bridge getting another nursing home.

“We’re supportive of another aged care facility in Murray Bridge, with the benefits it will bring to our aging population, for development and employment,” she said.

“We’re pleased a discussion is taking place to develop that piece of land.

“But it needs to be good for the business, their clients, staff and the surrounding community.”

Twenty-seven residents raised objections with the council assessment panel last August; Ms Harris expected even more would do so when it came up for discussion again.

Facility will benefit older community members, provide jobs, RSL Care SA says

RSL Care SA chief executive officer Nathan Klinge told Murray Bridge News he did not want to prejudice the Murray Bridge council’s assessment process by commenting.

However, he did provide a written statement.

“RSL Care SA is concerned that regional areas of South Australia are significantly under-serviced for residential aged care beds, which means that older locals are often required to move away from their communities in order to gain access to the high level of care they need,” he said.

“If approved by council, this new facility will be called Romani – named after a famous battle fought by the Australian Light Horse – and it will bring a significant additional capability to support Murray Bridge, not only for of our older community members but also with a range of new job and career opportunities.”

He did not indicate why RSL Care SA was re-submitting an application when it had already won approval; whether the new application would be substantially different; or whether the organisation would hold any more public meetings about the development.

State government defends planning system roll-out

The state government has defended its handling of the planning system changeover.

A spokesperson said all development applications were subject to a “full and proper” approval process, regardless of whether they were submitted under the old system or the new one.

Avenues for appeal were also available under both systems, though the spokesperson did not go into specifics.

A spokesperson from the Department for Infrastructure and Transport – responsible for planning – said they were not aware of any other cases where a developer had withdrawn an application and re-submitted it under the new rules, though they were aware it was possible to do so.

However, they suggested members of the public would find it easier to learn about local developments in future, as developers would need to put signs out the front of properties to be developed and locals would have an extra five business days to submit feedback.

Planning and Local Government Minister Vickie Chapman said the new system would make the development process easier to understand for anyone looking to build or renovate.

“South Australians will be able to lodge and track applications online, make payments, submit information and follow the progress of projects right across the state,” she said.

“The (Steven) Marshall Liberal government is committed to supporting consistent, sustainable development in a way that maintains the quality of life unique to South Australia, while continuing to drive investment and jobs.”

The new planning rules have already been in place in parts of the Murraylands outside Murray Bridge, including the Coorong district, since July 31, 2020.

  • More information: Read the new code at code.plan.sa.gov.au from Friday, or access training sessions at plan.sa.gov.au – scroll down to “getting business ready training sessions” and click on “community”.