No Christmas Joy for Non-urban Owners
At the pre-Christmas Council meeting, a further thirteen North Arm Cove non-urban lots were acquired by Council in lieu of outstanding rates. As part of the same Council meeting, the newly elected Council in effect confirmed the practices regarding non-urban land that were followed by the old Great Lakes Council: Wait until desperate and disillusioned owners give up and then resume their property. The relevant extract taken from the Agenda papers is copied below.
The NSW Government uses the term "paper subdivisions" in reference to these non-urban lots. The current policies of Government and Council only serve to paper over the cracks of what is clearly a seriously broken system. As the agenda extract notes, some 10-15 of these lots are acquired each year. That is so many hopes and dreams being dashed every year.
Isn't it time that Government and Council put their heads together and came up with a viable solution to the non-urban land issue?
Extract from agenda for MidCoast Council meeting 20 December 2017
Section 570 of the Local Government Act, 1993 and Clause 129 of the Local Government (General) Regulation, 2005 provide a mechanism whereby a property owner can request that Council accept the transfer of their land to Council as payment for rates, charges or accrued interest.
Section 570 states that:
“A Council may accept a transfer of the land in respect of which rates or charges are or accrued interest is due and payable in full satisfaction of the rates, charges or accrued interest.”
Clause 129 provides that:
"A request to the council for the acceptance of a transfer of land under section 570 of the Act in payment of rates, charges or accrued interest must be in writing, be signed by each owner or person having an interest in the land concerned and contain the following information
(a) title particulars and the rate assessment number of the land,
(b) particulars of any mortgage, charge, lien or other encumbrance affecting the land."
The former Great Lakes Council received around 10-15 applications per year from ratepayers wishing to transfer their land to Council as payment for rates, charges or accrued interest. This is an unusual situation and has arisen as a result of specific constraints attached to a certain class of land found within the former Great Lakes area. This class of land is commonly known as 'non-urban' land and generally is land that is in a rural or environmental zone under the Great Lakes Local Environmental Plan 2014 that has an area of less than the minimum 40 hectares required for a dwelling entitlement.
The former Great Lakes Council area had a large number of these lots which were found in the North Arm Cove, Pindimar, Bundabah, Carrington, The Branch and Hamilton Village localities.
Non-urban lands in North Arm Cove are generally heavily vegetated areas with little or no constructed infrastructure or services to support development. Many of the roads were not dedicated as public roads at the time the subdivision was registered and they remain in private ownership, outside of Council's care and control.
Council has previously considered future settlement opportunities in these areas during the preparation of the Tea Gardens/ Hawks Nest Conservation and Development Strategy in 2003 and the State Government’s Mid-North Coast Regional Strategy in 2009. Neither of these documents identified areas of non-urban land as being suitable for future urban growth. As a result of these strategies Council has no plans for rezoning such lands in the foreseeable future. The State Government has also concluded that all future urban growth in the south-eastern part of the Council area shall be concentrated around Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest in order to make use of the existing developable land, services and infrastructure.
Despite these restrictions on the development potential of these lots the Local Government Act requires that Council must levy rates on all land irrespective of whether it can be built on. Furthermore the land does not fall within the various categories of land that are exempt from rates and charges under the Act.
This has led to a situation whereby ratepayers after many years of ownership (in many cases) and with no reasonable expectation of being able to build on their land in the future and limited opportunities to sell the land, approach Council seeking to transfer the land to Council in payment of rates, charges and accrued interest.
As mentioned above Council generally receives around 10-15 applications per year. These applications are reported to Council for consideration in the Closed part of the meeting. This is because the business or report relates to a matter that concerns the personal hardship of a resident or ratepayer. The Act has a general presumption that these matters will be considered in the Closed section of the meeting (Section 10A (2) (b)).
Should Council decide to accept the application the details are referred to Council's Solicitors who act for both Council and the ratepayer. The legal fees usually amount to approximately $1,000 and the process takes around 8 weeks to complete. Council does budget for the legal fees associated with these transfers and for the rates, charges and accrued interest that is to be paid at settlement as well as for the future rates that will be levied on the land. As part of the resolution accepting the transfer Council generally classifies the land as 'operational' land.