The future of a parcel of western Newcastle bushland at the centre of one of the state's longest running rezoning battles now rests with the State Government's planners.
The Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) paved the way for 505 Minmi Road, Fletcher to be assessed under the State Government's Gateway rezoning process earlier this week.
The 26-hectare area of bushland was first identified as being potentially suitable for housing in the early 2000s. But it has since become a battlefront between those seeking to preserve the region's biodiversity and those pushing to open up more land for housing.
Newcastle councillors rejected a recommendation from council officers late last year to allow a subdivision application for the site to proceed. It was the fourth rejection of an application to rezone the land since 2012.
The council instead voted to maintain the existing zoning as E4 Environmental Living.
The council also wrote to Environment Minister Matt Kean requesting that he consider including it into the National Parks estate.
But the land's owner Kingston 505 Minmi Road Pty Ltd instead pushed for its application to be determined by the gateway process.
Company director Peter Durbin said the JRPP's decision was a positive development but acknowledged the process was far from over.
"Our view is we should be providing housing that is affordable for our kids and we want to contribute to land that can be used for housing in Newcastle," he said.
"The parcel of land is already surrounded by housing. We are dedicating a significant portion of our land to conservation."
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A previous Gateway assessment of the project was rejected. It is likely the latest assessment will take at least 12 months.
Newcastle Deputy Mayor Declan Clausen described the JRPP decision as exceptionally disappointing.
"While the JRPP's decision acknowledges that they did not endorse the developer's subdivision plans on numerous grounds (specifically noting that they didn't endorse the proposed lot layout and location, lot sizes and subdivision layout), they believed that it had 'merit' and could still proceed to the next stage in the NSW Government Gateway rezoning process," he said.
"This site has significant environmental value as part of the Green Corridor, which is reflected in its current environmental conservation zoning. This status is recognised by local residents, conservation groups, and by the elected council."
Green Corridor Coalition spokesman Brian Purdue said a report supporting the site's rezoning "had so many errors in it that it was unbelievable".
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