Developers hoping to add 600 new dwellings as part of Ironbark Ridge extension

PEACE & QUIET: Ironbark Ridge resident Fred Baker is hoping the open land behind his property won't be filled with smaller, 'gutter to gutter' housing.
PEACE & QUIET: Ironbark Ridge resident Fred Baker is hoping the open land behind his property won't be filled with smaller, 'gutter to gutter' housing.

IRONBARK Ridge is one of the most picturesque suburbs in Muswellbrook, but a planning proposal could pave way for a development which would see the landscape of the area vastly differ.

A potential rezoning of land that could allow for a mixture of 600 'R5' Large Lot Residential and 'R1' General Residential developments is currently before Muswellbrook Shire Council (MSC).

If approved, this would mean medium density housing, as seen in Eastbrook Links, would be able to extend to the fence line of current residents on Ironbark Road who had previously invested in the property due to its serenity.

However, as with any major project, there has been a lot of opposition to the plans and council have received many negative submissions.

Ultimately it is MSC who will make the final decision on the proposal, but general manager Fiona Plesman was keen to make it clear the actual plan belongs solely to the land owners.

"Our planning department receives a development application, which it has for Ironbark Ridge, and they then have to assess it against the regulations, they are going through that process now," she stated.

"The officers, the planning and development assessors, they'll make a recommendation based on Development Control Plans and the Local Environment Plan (LEP).

"They'll say to councillors 'this application meets all the requirements', or 'it doesn't meet some of these' based on whatever they find they'll say it is ready for approval or it isn't."

Another point the GM made was that a public forum would be held directly before the allocated council meeting if enough community members wish to make a comment about the proposal.

One resident who will certainly consider that option is Kriston 'Fred' Baker, who is part of a 40 to 50 strong group that have expressed their concerns.

He claims the 28 days they were given to respond was not adequate given the amount of time spent on the planning proposal.

Several extensions had been requested by MSC for a Gateway Determination, although they have said regular procedure was followed and the proposal paperwork was only officially presented to them this year.

Mr Baker said those affected would have appreciated more communication though, indicating they may have been forgotten in some of the discussions regarding the plans.

"We're just asking for a little bit of consideration here because a lot of their documents talk about future residents, but what about the existing residents," he questioned.

"People spent three quarters of a million dollars plus on building these homes and land, and yet we've basically got no say on what comes in behind us."

However, he revealed the local community isn't opposed to more homes being built, so long as they fit the aesthetic style already established in the area.

The suburb is currently restricted to 'E3' living, and Mr Baker said if rezoning has to done then the community would only want R5 lots to be added.

"We're open to the opportunity to actually grow Ironbark Ridge, in the essence that Ironbark Ridge is," he said.

"Mirror the existing residents, with large rural blocks if anything."

He's adamant the amount of houses being built is unnecessary and doesn't match the trends of population growth, and is also calling for an explanation as to why other areas ready for redevelopment without rezoning aren't being built on first.

Ms Plesman was quick to point out that it was the developers' choice, and council's role in this circumstance is simply to support or reject proposals and development applications.

Albeit she did explain the way they come to that decision is far from simple, with councillors looking at subjects such as traffic control, retail and education through the process - which are all issues Mr Baker also raised.

He specifically mentioned a notoriously busy intersection as a challenge that would need to be overcome, even citing a comment from Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) made in 2014.

"It [the RMS] does not support any development of lots 101 and 103 prior to the upgrade of the New England Highway/Bimbadeen Dr intersection," revealed a letter from the organisation.

The biggest question, however, is about whether Muswellbrook has the population to justify new dwellings being proposed.

According to Ms Plesman, there are good arguments for both cases.

"Some people believe that there's a shortage of housing in Muswellbrook, other people don't," she said.

"The developer who has put in this application has definitely said 'oh, Muswellbrook needs more housing'... but I can quite honestly say I have no idea which way that will go with the councillors."

Again looking to reassure the public of MSC's intentions, or lack there of in this case, she stated they had identified no set target for housing in their new Local Environmental Plan, which will be submitted to the Department of Planning in 2020.

This LEP will likely be a talking point in any discussions between them and land owners in Ironbark Ridge, as it will look to ratify some of the comments made in the 2009 version of the document, which used words such as 'prohibited' when it came to installing R1 lots.

The fluctuation of housing demand based on the mining industry is another topic central to the debate, with events like the closure of Liddell Power Station in 2023 providing doubt to some as to why more houses are required.