PORT Macquarie-Hastings Council has responded to an investigation by ABC's Four Corners into the Obeid family's focus on coastal developments and a link made to a Pacific Drive proposal in which council is selling a parcel of land.
The development, by Laurus Projects, was listed among coastal developments allegedly linked back to the Obeid family.
Four Corners investigated over four months whether members of corrupt politician Eddie Obeid's family may have secretly backed controversial coastal property developments, including at the seaside town of Hawks Nest and in Port Macquarie.
The report which aired on Monday night (November 8) raised questions about whether the Obeid family has interests in coastal developments, particularly on Aboriginal-owned land.
Leric Group Pty Ltd's sole director, Merwin 'Memo' Ibrahim, was named as a "key figure" in the Obeids' coastal property interests, and a long-standing family friend, with multiple links to developments backed by the Obeid family.
But Mr Ibrahim told the ABC that he had never been in business with any members of the Obeid family.
Gerard and Eddie Obeid junior did not respond to questions put to them by the program.
Laurus Projects, the developer of a project Four Corners alleged the brothers had backed, told Four Corners that the Obeid family had no involvement in their Port Macquarie development.
That project is a $23.5 million apartment development with 68 units proposed for a key site at Pacific Drive near Windmill Hill.
Gerard Obeid lives next door.
Sydney-based Laurus Projects is the applicant for the development.
The development application seeks approval for the demolition of buildings and construction of a residential flat building and associated parking, driveway, services, drainage and landscaping.
There would also be a consolidation of allotments and subsequent strata subdivision.
The sale of a parcel of land owned by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and linked to the proposed DA for the site, came under scrutiny by Four Corners.
The council decision to sell the land at 10-16 Pacific Drive to Pacific Drive Pty Ltd was made in a confidential session at a meeting in March 2017. The land owned by council makes up a portion of the proposed development's site.
Council issued a statement in response to the Four Corners report and statements made about the land sale.
"The parcel of land fronting 10-16 Pacific Drive comprises 1600 sq metres that had originally been identified for future road widening of Pacific Drive," council said.
"In 2017, it was determined that the land was not required for the purposes of the road widening. Councillors subsequently resolved to enter into a negotiation for its sale with adjoining property owners."
Council said the decision to sell the land was considered by councillors at the 15 March 2017 ordinary meeting of council as a confidential item in accordance with Section 10A of the Local Government Act, 1993 as it contained information that would, if disclosed, confer a commercial advantage on a person with whom the council is conducting (or proposes to conduct) business.
"It is usual for commercial decisions to be made in a closed meeting of council, rather than an open meeting of council and the resolution from that part of the meeting to be made public," council said in response to concerns the land sale was dealt with behind closed doors.
Council also said it was usual practice to sell surplus land to adjoining property owners, especially if the land is no longer required for its original purpose.
"The resolution to sell the land to neighbouring properties was recognised as an appropriate proposition, as it did not have any other suitable use," council said.
"It was considered appropriate as council would no longer be required to maintain the land, and income from the sale would deliver public benefit."
Port News has asked council if the land was valued and how much it has been sold for.
Council has confirmed that contracts have been exchanged and a deposit paid pending completion.
Council said two parties have taken up the sale offer.
It said under the contract, final settlement on the land is subject to, and conditional upon, the proposed project for the site obtaining development consent.
Council says it has "removed any conflict" by referring the proposed development for assessment to an independent third party.
This independent assessor will prepare a report, either recommending approval or refusal of the development application, which will be presented to the NSW Northern Regional Planning Panel for determination.
Mayor Peta Pinson, who was not part of the elected council body at the time of the decision to sell the land, says she wants to ensure full council transparency on this matter.
"Do I have concerns - you betcha I do. I will be asking some serious questions of how this decision was made, what was the information provided to councillors to make this decision and is there anything in that decision making process that the community needs to be concerned about.
"I want to ensure that our community is given transparent and factual information in relation to this deal. The only way that will be provided in through an a external investigation to ensure council has followed process. If council has not followed due process, then the relevant authorities need to be made aware of this."
Cr Pinson said while development and growth in a region cannot be held back, it must reflect the character of a place and be in the best interests of the community.
Deputy mayor Lisa Intemann said she has concerns about what is essentially the sale of public land and advised that she will be asking council to seek some legal advice and explore its options, one of which she says, could potentially be withdrawing the offer of sale.
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