18 December 2023

'Bittersweet' victory for advocacy group as NSW Court rules Bungendore High School development invalid

| Claire Fenwicke
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Bungendore High School sign

Bungendore High School students have spent the year learning in demountables at the public school, but it’s unclear what the court decision will mean for them. Photo: Bungendore High School Facebook.

A court has ruled the development consent for Bungendore High School invalid, leaving the site’s future up in the air.

The NSW Land and Environment Court issued its verdict on 13 December, declaring consent had never been sought in the development application process.

Activist group Save Bungendore Park Inc had taken the NSW Minister for Education and Minister for Planning to court over the school’s site after development consent was granted on 24 January 2023 to build the new high school.

Save Bungendore Park Inc representative Stuart Gregory said the court’s decision was “bittersweet”.

“We regret so much time has been wasted fighting us when [the government] could have been doing the right thing,” he said.

“No one wanted this to have played out the way it did.”

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In her reasons, NSW Land and Environment Court Judge Dr Sarah Pritchard SC determined seeking consent from the Minister for Land and Water (who administers the Crown and Land Management Act) was a “jurisdictional prerequisite to the exercise of the function to determine the development application”.

“The second respondent [Minister for Planning] did not obtain consent from the Minister administering the CLM Act to carry out development on certain parts of the land the subject of the development application, being dedicated Crown land,” Judge Pritchard wrote.

“Clause 49 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (NSW) did not remove the need for consent from the minister administering the CLM Act.

“Accordingly, the development consent is invalid.”

Judge Pritchard determined the failure to obtain consent was not a “technical breach” and thus also decided not to use the court’s discretion to make an order of conditional validity of the development consent.

Mr Gregory understood this meant the high school’s development application was “dead in the water”.

“It’s a decision, quite frankly, we’re not surprised about at all,” he said.

The respondents have also been ordered to pay Save Bungendore Park Inc’s legal costs.

Mr Gregory said the money used in this fight had been raised through donations and that the group planned on paying back as much money as possible once their lawyers’ bills had been settled.

The government could choose to appeal the decision.

It also has the option to try to submit a new development application for the same site and to seek approval from the appropriate minister.

Mr Gregory said it was “entirely possible” the group would fight such a decision.

“Let’s hope they cut their losses and stop wasting time,” he said.

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The school site saga has a long history.

The Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) originally objected to the plan when the development application was lodged on 10 September 2021 and declared a state-significant development by the NSW Government.

An amended state significant development application for the high school was exhibited again between 20 September and 10 October 2022, which included an amended layout and design of school buildings, amended transport and parking arrangements, removal of community facilities, removal of fencing around Mick Sherd Oval, removal of timber bollards near the War Memorial, replacement of electronic school sign with a static sign within the boundary of the school, amended waste collection arrangement and relocation of waste storage area, and amended tree and landscaping scheme.

An assessment report was published by the Department of Planning and Environment in January 2023, which concluded the issues raised and potential impacts of the project were “acceptable” and could be mitigated through “recommended conditions of consent”.

“Consequently, the Department recommends that the application be approved, subject to conditions,” the report noted.

Future Bungendore High School students are now in limbo after starting their school year in demountables.

Site establishment works for the permanent school began in March; however, no major work has progressed.

Labor had promised a potential independent review into the site selection process if it won government and if Steve Whan won the seat of Monaro – which he did.

Mr Whan, Minister for Education Prue Car and Minister for Planning Paul Scully have all been contacted for comment.

Region has also approached QPRC for comment.

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I hope this “Residents Action Group” is happy with stopping the kids get a first class educational facility.
Thank Heaven’s I don’t live near the City Of “Residents Action Groups” Canberra, that they spill over into my community and bring their whinging ways with them.

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