A development application has been lodged for the expansion of Palm Lakes Resort at Ballina.
A development application has been lodged for the expansion of Palm Lakes Resort at Ballina. Contributed

Price rise fears as applications drag out

POTENTIAL buyers of Seniors housing in NSW may find themselves paying higher prices as retirement living operators are increasingly forced to take their developments to the Land and Environment Court to seek approval.

Palm Lake Group CEO Manuel Lang raised concerns over the impact of an increasing trend by local councils to refer planning decisions to higher courts in the wake of an 18-month, $1.5 million application process the group was forced to undertake to win approval for a planned expansion of its existing Palm Lake Ballina site.

Mr Lang said the group held a valid Site Compatibility Certificate for Seniors Housing from the NSW State Government's Planning and Environment Department to add 156 new homes to its existing 304 homes at its Palm Lake Resort Ballina retirement village which has operating since 2005.

With that certificate and the Ballina Local Environmental Plan nominating the land in its Future Urban Growth Area, Palm Lake Group had been confident a development consent was imminent when it lodged its development application in 2018.

The original development application, for 156 dwellings, went out for public comment from July 11 to August 10, 2018. It generated 15 submissions with people raising a variety of concerns ranging from practical to environmental.

Over the next 18 months the application was updated five times, with approval finally granted on October 4 for the last iteration of the plan, which features the staged construction of 75 serviced self-care dwellings at North Creek Rd in Ballina.

Palm Lake Group's legal counsel in the case, Oakley partner Aaron Gadiel, said the group was not alone in facing prolonged development approval processes.

"In the last 12 months, we've seen a greater need to take Seniors housing and boarding houses to the Land and Environment Court on appeal," Mr Gadiel said.

"The good news is that the court has a proven ability to grapple with these issues - even when a very large number of complex issues are in dispute.

"In this case, Ballina Shire Council raised so many issues that a 113-page judgement was required. Nonetheless, the complexity of the matter did not prevent a development consent being granted."

Palm Lake Group senior town planner Suzanne Jensen said it was disappointing the group needed to go to such an expensive and time-consuming extent to see this "logical" development application over the line.

"There appears to be a growing trend among New South Wales local councils unwilling to make hard decisions and ultimately leaving it to the court to decide," Ms Jensen said.

"This costs both the applicant and council significant money that would not otherwise be required if the application were able to take the normal course of assessment.

"Ultimately, these unnecessary costs and delays financially impact ratepayers and the end users - when supply is affected, so too are prices. With project hold-ups like this, there are also knock-on effects on the local construction industry."

Property Council of Australia's executive director of retirement living Ben Myers said increasing regulatory complexity in NSW was having a slowing effect on the supply of Seniors housing.

Mr Myers said while approval challenges made it more difficult for operators to plan their building pipelines in NSW and the uncertainty of proposals made it more difficult to secure finance there, operators would start to look at opportunities in other states, with less complex and costly processes, in order to expand their businesses.

He said while there was much debate across the country around the best ways to develop future cities and accommodate an aging population, Seniors housing was one of the options that needed to be considered, especially given Australia's population of over 65s would double by 2040.

More information on the work the Retirement Living Council is doing in this space can be found online at: www.retirementliving.org.au

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