Tensions remain as Sandon Point plan adopted

The Sandon Point tent embassy in March, 2014.
The Sandon Point tent embassy in March, 2014.

After four years of planning, Wollongong council has officially adopted its controversial management plan for Sandon Point, with councillors playing down the division that still exists between residents of the area.

At Monday night's meeting, most councillors highlighted the cooperation and inclusiveness of the plan, despite dozens of submissions from residents that showed the long-held tensions - mostly over the Sandon Point tent embassy - have not abated.

Councillors voted 6-4 to accept the plans, and also highlighted the importance of an agreement from five Aboriginal community groups to participate in future discussions about the site.

The Sandon Point development.

The Sandon Point development.

"One of the exciting things about this is that the five Aboriginal groups have come together, and this has been a remarkable achievement," Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said.

"It is just one more moment in the process of continuing respect of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters as well as those who live in that precinct."

In public submissions lodged to protest the final stage of the plans, residents of the Sandon Point and McCauley's Beach housing estates near the tent embassy said it was "an eyesore", which is "embarrassing because it looks like a tip".

They also raised concerns about safety and said there should be no residential accommodation on the site, instead suggesting a kiosk or another building be established to mark the area's heritage.

Urging councillors to support the plan, despite these divisive views, Greens councillor George Takacs said it was vital Aboriginal people had control over their land.

"My preference would be to say that the area of land that is an Aboriginal place should be managed solely by the Aboriginal community, but the current legislative arrangements in this state does not allow for that," he said.

"So having a joint management agreement between the council and those five Aboriginal groups is, I think, the only compromise we can support."

Councillor Chris Conner said the agreement was "historic", but noted the plan would be "a document we will work from, rather than have nothing in place".

"Let's work together to lift the bar," he said.

Ann Martin acknowledged the plan had not been "an easy matter" to resolve, but said she was "excited to be working with five different Aboriginal groups to resolve the future security of SPATE and other issues that are long outstanding issues".

"I'd like to make it clear to those residents that perhaps aren't happy with the position we have taken tonight, that we haven't taken your positions lightly - we understand your positions and you've also invested in this community," she said.

"But we sometimes have to err on the side of history and I think this is one of those times."

But Liberal councillor John Dorahy echoed Sandon Point residents' concerns about "illegal vegetation" and cars using the pathway, saying he was "horrified" to see a vehicle pulling up near the entry to the Aboriginal site when he visited it last year. He also said he believed the tent embassy was not the best way to highlight "Aboriginal heritage in a meaningful manner".

His fellow Liberal councillors, Michelle Blicavs and Bede Crasnich agreed more needed to be done to address concerns about safety and vegetation, and suggested more concrete future plans for the tent embassy be in place before the plan of management was adopted. Along with independent councillor Greg Petty, the Liberal councillors supported an amendment to simply "note" the plan of management until further agreement was reached, but this was voted down 6-4.