Scores of Helensburgh residents turned out for two public hearings this week, airing diverse and emotional opinions on a long-running attempt to rezone 1556 hectares of environmentally sensitive land.
The hearings were a chance for the Southern Joint Regional Planning Panel, which has been tasked with assessing a controversial rezoning proposal from Wollongong City Council, to hear environmentalists’ and landowners’ views on the plan.
The council decision to earmark most of the land, formerly known as 7D lands, for environmental conservation was made last July, and regarded as the solution to a debate that has lasted for more than 30 years.
However, in February NSW Planning decided the panel had to step in because of a competing proposal from companies and residents who own hundreds of hectares of the affected land.
According to panel chairwoman Pam Allen, about 60 people spoke at the two meetings, held on Tuesday and Wednesday.
‘‘There was a lot of emotion because people have a lot of their own livelihood invested – whether you want to protect the biodiversity and the natural woodlands, or you’ve owned a property for 45 years and you want to build a house on it,’’ she said.
Ms Allen said the meetings were valuable for panel members, who will consider all views presented before making their decision.
‘‘There’s a long history to this issue and there’s obviously quite divergent views so I think it was essential for the panel to directly engage with the community, who have got a number of concerns,’’ she said.
‘‘People spoke about their particular issues and their submissions that they had previously made and we’ve now got to go away and look at what’s been said and what’s been done and written in the past, and come to some views and advice to the minister.’’
The panel will also consider nearly 60,000 submissions, including online surveys, which were made to the council in 2013.
Ms Allen said the panel hoped to produce a report and forward it to Planning Minister Pru Goward in the next couple of months.
Ms Goward will then decide whether either of the proposals should proceed, or whether further amendments are required.