David vs Goliath: The small town community group vying to save their coastal paradise

Chris Thompson, General Manager of Nambucca Valley Council is presented with the 160 page response to Ingenia’s DA by Briony Magoffin of the Scotts Head Community Group.

IT is the David and Goliath battle that pitches a $1.7 billion-dollar company against a sleepy surf village of 1000.

It was December 2021 when word of Ingenia’s plan for an over 55’s lifestyle community in Scotts Head reached the ears of locals.

Ten months on and the Scotts Head community continues to rally against the development – and is showing no signs of slowing down.

On Monday 29 August, two days before public exhibition closed on the Development Application, the Scotts Head Community Group Inc formally handed a 160-page response into Council Chambers – the result of months of community collaboration and hard work.

“Our campaign against the proposal that Ingenia have, has been going for about eight months,” said James Ledger, Scotts Head Community Group Inc.

“In December we originally saw the plan for about 100 homes in Scotts Head.

“At the times there was no concrete plan, no DA lodged, but from that point we set about garnering support in the community.

“We have been engaging the community, harnessing the passion of the community and pointing it in the right direction, all the while maintaining level-headed and rational conversation with key stakeholders like Ingenia and Council.

“That led to the formation of the Save Scotts Head website, a Facebook page, an Instagram page, a survey and a series of fundraising campaigns so we could respond to the eventual DA as expertly as we could.”

Applicants Sungenia Development PTY Limited eventually lodged DA 233/2022 on 15 July, seeking approval to develop a ‘Caravan Park including 255 long term sites, 2 short term sites and associated facilities’.

“When the DA landed it wasn’t the 100 homes that was originally suggested in December, or even the 200 homes that was discussed when Ingenia came to Scotts Head for their community consultation,” said Mr Ledger.

“In fact the DA was for 255 homes.”

Immediately the Community Group questioned the legitimacy of characterising the development as a ’caravan park’.

“The DA was not for a lifestyle community as expected, it is for a caravan park with 255 ‘moveable’ dwellings on it, and two sites for caravans.

“Those dwellings are pretty immoveable, with garages on them, built into the side of the slope.

“These aren’t static caravans – they are houses.

“You have to ask yourself – when is a caravan park not a caravan park?”

Due to the size and complexity of the proposal, Nambucca Valley Council extended the public exhibition period to allow community members appropriate time to respond, a decision which Mr Ledger has praised.

“The standard exhibition period is 28 days and they extended it to 44.

“That was great, as it is a $45,000,000 investment right outside the village.

“It needed the effort and it needed the time to respond properly.”

In total, Council received well over 300 submissions from the community regarding the proposal.

Once the DA was made available, the Scotts Head community quickly sprung into action, hiring town planning consultants, hydrologists and social impact assessment experts to help develop their response.

“Our approach has always been to fight fire with fire.

“Ingenia is a $1.7 billion listed ASX company.

“They have seventeen of these sites across NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

“They know how to do this.

“While it is great to play the underdog, we have always said we have got to get the experts in.

“That’s how we win this.”

Of the seventeen Ingenia lifestyle sites on the Australian east coast, the nearest two are in South West Rocks and Woolgoolga.

“In both those communities, the Ingenia developments are much smaller, but the host towns are way larger than Scotts Head,” Mr Ledger said.

According to 2021 census data, South West Rocks has a population of around 4,600 people, while the estimated resident population for Woolgoolga is 6,145.

Scotts Head had a 2021 population of 994.

The South West Rocks development includes just 110 dwellings, 145 fewer than the proposal for Scotts Head.

“South West Rocks is many times larger than Scotts Head, so the impact it will have in that community is way less.”

Alongside the 255 dwellings, the DA proposes the development of 641 car parking spots.

“There are more car parking spaces on the proposal than there are houses in Scotts Head, which is around 599.”

Locals have expressed concerns that the approval of the development could lead to sudden and unmanageable population growth within the Village.

The Social Impact Assessment, compiled in June by Umweld Environmental and Social Consultants and submitted alongside the DA, predicted that “the change in population may range from 319 to 561 new residents in the locality over an approximate 10-year period”.

“Given proposed staging of construction for the Project, such an increase would be unlikely to occur all at once, however would incrementally increase as the project develops and dwellings are constructed,” the report states.

The proposed increase in resident population of between 319-561 residents constitutes a 35.5-62.4 percent increase in population based on 2016 census figures population figures (ABS, 2016).

This is a large change, considering the population of Scotts Head increased by 14 percent between the 2006 (789) and 2016 (899) census, a large growth compared to the 3.1 percent increase in population in the Nambucca Valley LGA between 2006 (18,633) and 2016 (19,212).

“The population has doubled in size over 40 years, that’s the data – and this proposal would add another 500 again overnight.

“This would have a major impact on the community.

“This is one of the last places left like this on the NSW east coast that has been really protected.”

Mr Ledger wants to make it clear that he and others opposing the proposal are not “anti-development”, but rather seeking sustainable solutions for development moving forward.

“We are not against development.

“We are, however, against inappropriate development.

“We acknowledge the town will change, it is changing and has changed over the last two and a half years during Covid.

“It is the speed and the impact of the change that concerns the community,” Mr Ledger said.

Another thing on the mind of many locals is the issue of rates.

In Ingenia Lifestyle communities, residents own their homes but do not own the land.

Instead, they lease the land on which the home is located, and do not pay council rates or stamp duty.

Therefore much of the cost of mitigating impacts arising from the development, such as increased pressure on roads and sewage systems, may have to be picked up by existing ratepayers.

“The road here is getting hammered by the rains we have had this year, it is absolutely potholed and in need of work.

“We don’t have a lot of pavements here in Scotts Head so there is a pedestrian challenge there.

“All these issues which need addressing, won’t be directly addressed by those living in the Ingenia lifestyle community, as they won’t pay individual rates.

“Everyone else across the Valley will pay for it.”

Rates on the proposed development would be levied by Council and paid by Ingenia as the landowner.

According to an Ingenia statement, “As a long-term owner and operator of communities, Ingenia invests in infrastructure and services.

“As well as paying rates as the landowner, we provide our own garbage collection and maintain internal roads, infrastructure, community facilities and internal green space at no cost to council,” the statement reads.

Amongst a host of community concerns, locals also fear the development does little to solve the dire need for affordable housing in the area, with the greater Mid North Coast languishing in the grips of a housing crisis.

The Umwelt Social Impact Assessment states, “While the provision of an additional 255 dwellings does not directly address the affordable housing issue for those in younger age-groups within the population, it does provide a range of alternate housing and accommodation options for individuals or couples in the older age-group (over 55 years), who may be considering downsizing their properties and moving either within or into the LGA from other areas.

“There is obviously also potential for current residents within Scotts Head to also move into the village if desired.”

The Social Impact Assessment outlines the top five concerns for stakeholders as Roads and Traffic, Access to health services, Village Access and Parking, Demand on public utilities and bushfire risk.

Ingenia have stated that as a result from concerns arising during the consultation and assessment period, that they have sought to address issues such as:

  • Continuing dialogue to seek an increase in the capacity of local medical services, including the provision of a consulting facility on site
  • The provision of a community bus to reduce impacts and improve connectivity between Scotts Head and Macksville
  • Improving emergency access arrangements to and from the site
  • Enhanced biodiversity outcomes on adjoining land.

With so many potential issues raised by the community ahead of the DA lodgement, Mr Ledger admitted he was disappointed in Ingenia’s efforts for genuine community consultation.

“I was expecting more from a $2 billion ASX listed company in terms of consultation, especially when talking about a $45,000,000 investment just outside of town.

“The community engagement was one event on a rainy Saturday and they claimed to have spoken to 150 people.
“The consultation was woeful if I’m honest.”

An Ingenia Communities spokesperson told News Of The Area, “Ingenia has undertaken extensive community engagement in relation to its proposal to establish a new, quality lifestyle community in Scotts Head.

“This included hosting a Community Engagement Day, meeting with local stakeholders and community representatives, establishing an Online Community Consultation Hub and undertaking a Social Impact Assessment – and we look forward to further feedback as part of the recent exhibition period.”

The spokesperson said Ingenia had also undertaken “an extensive suite of technical studies in support of the DA, including biodiversity, traffic, water, sewage, bushfire, social and Aboriginal cultural heritage assessments”, saying the proposal placed a premium on “environmental and sustainability outcomes”.

“As long-term owners and operators, Ingenia is always committed to creating lifestyle communities that reflect the character of the local communities in which we operate and support housing affordability.”

Mr Ledger extended praise to Nambucca Valley Council for their support throughout the process.

“We would like to thank Council, they have played a very straight bat.

“The guidance they have offered us as a community group has been very helpful.

“It is the single largest investment into the LGA that there has ever been, and they are applying the required diligence.

“We are still intrigued to see where they stand.”

More to come.


Leave a Reply