Fears for council officer's safety as land meeting erupts

Councillor Greg Petty.
Councillor Greg Petty.

Wollongong councillor Greg Petty escorted a council staffer out of a rowdy meeting in Helensburgh this week, citing fears for the woman's safety.

Another woman also asked for an escort to her car after being followed into the hallway by a person with opposing views.

The Mercury has been told Wednesday's Neighbourhood Forum 1 meeting descended into an uncivilised affair as talk of the controversial 7(d) lands issue again inflamed the opposing passions of Helensburgh's pro-development landholders and those seeking continued environmental protection to prohibit new construction.

The meeting of about 45 people included a female officer from Wollongong City Council, sent to take notes for council.

Minutes taken by forum co-convener Warwick Erwin record Cr Petty escorting the officer out of the Helensburgh Community Centre at 8.25pm after others "became very vocal".

He told the Mercury he acted out of concern for the staffer's safety.

"The meeting was no longer orderly and was quite heated. I said to the officer, 'I will take the responsibility for you leaving the meeting'."

Meeting convener Neville Bussa admitted the meeting was heated and included "some abuse" between those who attended.

"The meeting was under reasonable control [until] the previous convener got up and tried to take over the meeting," he said.

Those at the meeting were voting on whether the forum should give support to a development application by the owners of Walker St excavation and demolition business Blackwell Bros Building and Landscape Supplies.

Former chair Pauline Lacelles-Smith said she objected to the vote because it was not the role of the forum to support or object to development applications.

She said she left the meeting after being called a liar.

She said she was followed into the hall and confronted, and planned to report the incident to police.

A dispute over the protection of sensitive Hacking River catchment lands in Wollongong's north has carried on for decades.