Werri Beach residents furious with million-dollar ‘soul crime’

The Werri headland development.

The Werri headland development.

A “huge mansion” development on North Werri Headland has been lambasted as a “soul crime”. 

The development, near the Kiama-Gerringong Coastal Track, was approved by council staff in 2010 and is currently being built, albeit in a modified form to what was originally proposed. 

Development applications were lodged in 2010, 2015 and 2016. The first DA considered was for a development described as “construction of single dwelling plus access driveway”.

The second was for development described as “new dwelling house, garage and swimming pool” to be erected generally in the same location as the structures proposed by the 2010 DA.

The last application was for a “secondary dwelling and pool” in a site removed a short distance from the primary dwelling house.

The property was sold in 2015 for $4.7 million. 

The 2015 DA was lodged on behalf of the new owner of the land, Jeffrey William Simpson.

The three DAs were determined by staff delegation. 

In December, Kiama council resolved to employ an environmental solicitor to conduct a forensic review of the process and legal compliance for these DAs.

“The review has shown all the processes and procedures have been followed,” council’s environmental services director Phil Costello said.  

However, Werri Beach artist George Gittoes called the “huge mansion for the super rich” a “soul crime”.

“This area in Gerringong was enjoyed by visitors and sacred to local Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years,” he wrote on Facebook. 

He also queried why residents weren’t more extensively consulted. 

“It ruins the area… it’s an eyesore. Locals were told it was going to be a small family home worth $262,000. (Instead) it’s gigantic, with an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

Indigenous Australian Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth of Sydney is one of Mr Gittoes’ artistic collaborators. He questioned whether the indigenous community had been sufficiently consulted. 

“If this was a spiritual Bora ground, the building on top of the hill should not be here,” he said. “This is a place very special to the Wodi Wodi people and the Aboriginal people that lived in this particular region.”

NOT PLEASED: Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth and artist George Gittoes have expressed their anger regarding the approval of the residential development on Werri Headland. Picture: Robert Peet

NOT PLEASED: Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth and artist George Gittoes have expressed their anger regarding the approval of the residential development on Werri Headland. Picture: Robert Peet

Paul Knight, Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council’s interim CEO said, “most headland areas along the coast are likely to have greater cultural significance to the Aboriginal communities, as these areas, were usually gathering places”. 

“The Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council strongly encourages any developer and certifying authority for developments, where the breaking of ground is likely to occur, to undertake an appropriate Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment,” he said. 

COUNCILLOR EXPRESSES DISAPPOINTMENT

Kiama councillor Neil Reilly said he was “disappointed to have found out about this development by seeing it go up on the headland”.

Cr Reilly also said staff having delegated authority “and not realising it was of such significance to the community” was concerning. 

“The DP number, which is how we identity lots was also incorrect, so it was absolutely impossible for anybody, let alone a councilor to see this (was the site),” he said. 

“I’m concerned that this should never happen again. We have cut back the delegated authority to staff to reduce the chances of this happening again.

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do to knock the thing down or get it moved… The proponent really hasn’t done anything wrong. All they’ve done is submit a development application and the development application was approved to proceed.”

Last December, Kiama councillors resolved that council limit the delegated authority of council officers, and that any development more than $2M or with more than three submissions come before council.

Kiama council’s environmental services director Phil Costello said, “that land has had a similar zoning and land use for decades, if not tens of decades”. 

“It’s always had a dwelling entitlement – that’s not something that’s just popped up recently,” he said. 

“I think some of the statements made about the indigenous interest in the land, I think they’re a little bit off the mark. We’ve engaged the indigenous community throughout all these planning reviews and the like, they’ve been part of the general community (consultation). There’s also an Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System database which registers sites of significance, and it’s not registered on that database.”

Illawarra Mercury