South Burnett mayor Keith Campbell checking on progress at the Memerambi Estate earlier this week

March 15, 2017

South Burnett Mayor Keith Campbell has rejected a call by One Nation’s Queensland leader Steve Dickson for an inquiry into Memerambi Estate.

He said the issue was solved last September when the last of the troubled housing development’s missing road and drainage infrastructure was built.

The Mayor was responding to a whistlestop visit by Mr Dickson on Tuesday to talk to three aggrieved Memerambi Estate property owners who met with a Channel 9 news crew at the estate.

On Tuesday night, Channel 9 News broadcast a report where Memerambi owners Debra and Graham Schultz said they didn’t have the money to complete their house, and wanted compensation for investing in the failed development.

“I’d like to be compensated and walk away from this place,” Mrs Schultz told reporter Tessa Hardy.

Another owner, Glenn Pearce, said he was concerned he may lose his house because he cannot afford to pay an extra charge on his rates.

“Somebody’s stuffed up,” Mr Dickson told Channel 9.

“How the hell did this ever happen? We’ve got 53-odd houses here partially built in a paddock, and this is supposed to be okay?”

Channel 9 said One Nation was calling for an investigation into what went wrong.

Mayor Keith Campbell said the main thing that had gone wrong was Mr Dickson didn’t appear to have researched the issue before calling for an inquiry.

“As far as I’m concerned this issue was solved by the previous Council when they voted to build the missing infrastructure so owners could move into their homes and get them ready to live in,” the Mayor said.

“The estate is built on an historical sub-division that was drawn up by the State Government around 1910.

“The estate’s original developer exploited a hole in the law that allowed him to legally build and sell homes before he’d built the infrastructure to support them, which is the rule that applies to modern sub-divisions.

“Council was legally powerless to stop this.

“But when the developer went into liquidation, everyone who’d invested in this estate was at risk of losing everything they’d put in.”

Mayor Campbell said the Council could have chosen to take no action if it wished.

Instead, it declared the Estate a benefitted area. It then borrowed the $2.1 million needed to build the missing infrastructure on a long-term, low-interest Treasury loan.

Owners would then pay back their average $37,000 share of the costs over 10 years.

The last pieces of infrastructure were finished last September, allowing owners to access their houses and begin bringing them up to standard.

“I was at Memerambi Estate on Monday to look at how it’s progressing, and things seem to be going pretty well,” the Mayor said.

“Fifty-two property owners have come to an arrangement to pay back their share of the infrastructure costs over 10 years, and another six have paid their share in full. That only leaves nine property owners who’ve yet to come to an agreement.

“A local builder told me he’s already brought 12 of the partially built houses up to full completion, and he has another five or six he expects to be working on soon after he builds fences and puts down turf. I also understand several of the properties are now being rented.”

The Mayor said while he was sorry to hear that two of the property owners had run into financial difficulties, they were still better off than they would have been if they’d had to write off all their investment.

“A partially built house on a modern estate is still an asset that has value. A partially built house on an estate with no infrastructure that no one can live in has no value at all.”

The Mayor said the Council had been taken to the Planning and Environment Court twice over the estate – once by a small group of owners who wanted to see South Burnett ratepayers pay for the missing roads and drainage, and a second time by the developer.

In both cases the court ruled in favour of the Council.

Since then, Council had petitioned the State Government to plug the legal loophole exploited by the estate’s developer to ensure there was no repeat of the situation, which has now been done.

“Fixing Memerambi Estate hasn’t cost South Burnett ratepayers any money, and property owners on the estate have been saved from losing all their investment,” the Mayor said.

“Yes, they will lose a bit. But people lose money on their investments in the stock market or property or other things every day. That’s why the first rule of investing is ‘buyer beware’.

“However, I strenuously defend everything the Council has done to contribute to rescuing this development.

“We could have walked away. But instead we chose to give these property owners the chance to redeem their property purchase.

“Yes, it has cost them more than they expected. But they will have a home they can live in, rent or sell.”

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