The appropriateness of a closed meeting between councillors and Wakefield Park representatives last week has been called into question.
The meeting, which was part of a broader closed council briefing session, occurred on Thursday, a day before Mayor Bob Kirk released an alternative motion to conditionally approve the motor racing circuit's development application.
That motion was not ultimately put forward at Tuesday night's six-hour long extraordinary meeting to debate the facility's $5.5 million plans for additional infrastructure and formalisation of a noise management framework. Nearby residents previously objected to that framework and did so again during open forum on Tuesday.
Landowner Robert France said the alternative motion "looked like it had been put together in a hurry, a hastily copy and pasted document, in secret meetings with the proponent, to which residents were neither invited nor consulted."
"It certainly hasn't had the benefit of public exhibition and thorough consideration that must be afforded to such important issues," he told the meeting.
Mr France said he couldn't work from home due to the noise when Wakefield Park was operating. Cr Kirk's motion would mean 162 days of levels over 35 decibels. The mayor contacted residents about his alternative, suggesting they could plan their lives around a colour-coded operating regime that set out various noise limits on a days per year basis. This would be notified on the circuit's website in advance.
Mr France questioned whether affected people should just leave home on those days.
"I think we call that loss of amenity," he said.
"...It's no better than the original DA, and because it hasn't had due process it belongs in the bin. Please put it there now.
"With all the executive pressure to find a workable solution, I'm sure council staff will have bent over backwards to work with and help Wakefield put in an appropriate DA. Wakefield ignored their sound advice, at their own peril. And now they cry foul."
Briefing session for 'clarification'
While the motion wasn't formally put and councillors adjourned the meeting for more information, sentiment was moving towards conditional approval, rather than the refusal that staff recommended.
Cr Kirk told The Post that Wakefield Park operations manager and representatives were invited to Thursday's briefing session to answer councillors' questions.
"We didn't have any conversation with them and asked them to leave (following our questions) so we could talk," he said.
"It was just a clarification process and my motion was the sum of all representations made about Wakefield Park. I sent it to all submitters to get it out there that there would be an alternative."
The mayor said the document was also sent to Wakefield Park representatives who came back with further recommendations but he informed them that it wasn't for negotiation. Rather, if they wanted changes, they would need to speak during open forum.
Asked whether planning staff attended the briefing session, Cr Kirk said council officials were coming and going throughout the session, which included other topics. Mr Chapman said it was just councillors in the briefing but he had conversations with general manager Warwick Bennett and planning director Scott Martin during the week. The briefing session also helped councillors understand technical noise data, Mr Chapman said.
If the DA had been approved, councillors rather than council planners would have had to sign off on it because the latter had recommended refusal.
Cr Kirk said the same opportunity to meet in a briefing session was not afforded to residents because it was an opportunity for councillors to better understand what Wakefield was proposing.
Councillors hold the closed briefing sessions each fortnight, or when required. The NSW Local Government department encourages them for information gathering on the condition they are not decision-making forums.
Before Tuesday's meeting, Mr Chapman said he was happy that Cr Kirk had come on board with the alternative motion.
"We believe it's (the DA) 80 per cent there but 20pc needs to be sharpened up to make it viable for us in other areas," he said.
"...I've provided the councillors with notes so when they go into the meeting they can either adopt them or at least discuss them."
He told The Post that the colour-coded system had been discussed before and Wakefield saw it as a "workable solution."
It generated discussion at the meeting, with Cr Sam Rowland proposing changes that drew gasps and laughter from Wakefield supporters in the gallery.
Mr Chapman rejected residents' claims the raceway hadn't provided their noise data to them, saying it had been given to the council. However neighbours said the operator had initially refused to provide these figures and were only supplied after they forced the issue.
Tuesday's meeting heard that Wakefield's predictive noise readings at residents, undertaken by Dr Renzo Tonin, carried copyright and the council could therefore not distribute them. Cr Andrew Banfield described this as "ridiculous."
One of the clauses in Cr Kirk's motion stated that noise from Wakefield Park be made publicly available on the owner's website.
After the meeting, owner of one of the closest homes, Jane Reardon, who also spoke during open forum, said she was pleased with councillors' discussion.
"We're at 'half-way house' between the original recommendation (refusal) and the alternative," she said.
"The issues councillors raised are exactly what we're talking about so I'm pleased."
She said neighbours never wanted to shut down Wakefield Park but they had refused to release the noise data for their home until recently.
"For them to say it has been provided is disingenuous to say the least," Mrs Reardon said.
Tuesday's meeting was adjourned until July 13 at the council chambers. The original report will be considered, along with a supplementary one recommending conditional approval.
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