A NEW development proposed for Campbelltown's Scenic Hills may have deadly consequences for the area's heritage and environment, angry opponents say.
But Catholic Cemeteries Board trust chairman Leo McLeay said a proposal to build a 136,000-plot cemetery in Varroville would solve a dire need for local burial space.
The trust will lodge a rezoning application for the 113-hectare site with Campbelltown Council, followed by a development application for the five-stage plan, spanning almost 100 years.
Depending on the outcome of the applications, the trust will then buy the land from its current owners, the Cornish Group, for $15 million.
The first stage of the plan for the cemetery, which will cater for all denominations, includes the construction of two chapels, an office, a condolence room, workshop and landscaping.
Currently the area is zoned for environmental protection — which does not allow any commercial development to occur there.
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Members of the Scenic Hills Association said the rezoning would open the door for more development applications to be lodged for Scenic Hills.
Spokeswoman Jacqui Kirkby said the fact a rezoning application was needed was a clear indication that it wasn't an appropriate land use.
She said the area's current zoning was designed to protect the Scenic Hills from projects such as this one.
Mr McLeay said the trust would follow all proper planning procedures and conduct extensive community consultation.He said some advice to the trust had suggested a cemetery could be approved under the current zoning — but they planned to apply for the rezoning to be on the "safe side".
He said the proposed cemetery, Macarthur Memorial Park, would be the best option for the site, where developers had previously proposed to build housing and a business park, with 35 per cent of it to be used as public parkland for the first 60 years.
The plans include 37 hectares of parkland connected by walking tracks, lakes surrounded by boardwalks, a sculpture park and botanical garden.
The trust held a media briefing last week during which Campbelltown Liberal MP Bryan Doyle and Wollongong diocese Catholic Bishop Peter Ingham spoke in support of the plan.
But Macquarie Fields Labor MP Andrew McDonald said despite being the actual state MP responsible for the site he wasn't consulted about the plan or invited to the briefing session.
"It's been a conspiracy of silence throughout the planning process — the Catholic Trust needs to be more transparent," he said.
Campbelltown councillors appear to be divided.
Cr Meg Oates (Labor) said approving a rezoning could open the doors for all sorts of commercial ventures.
"I have been working to protect the Scenic Hills for more than 26 years; it was one of the ALP's election promises," Cr Oates said. "The Scenic Hills are sacrosanct — the zoning is there to protect them."
Labor councillor Rudi Kolkman said Macarthur needs a new cemetery. "But I am concerned about the 1.5-metre-high memorial headstones and the crypts proposed for the site. If it was a straight-out lawn cemetery I would have fewer qualms."
Cr Paul Lake (independent) said he thought the idea was a feasible proposal for the area, better than previous proposals of housing and a business park.
"They're looking to create parkland and keep it green," Cr Lake said.
Councillor Fred Borg (independent) said the proposal could be the best way of preserving the open landscape of the hills.
"If it goes ahead [designated parkland] would immediately be protected and this would be the most peaceful thing you could have there," Cr Borg said.
Cr Bob Thompson (Liberal) said he was in two minds about whether the cemetery plan should go ahead.
‘‘We need to protect the Scenic Hills, they shouldn’t be touched,’’ Cr Thompson said.
‘‘But we do need a cemetery in the Campbelltown area.’’
He said while he had only attended one briefing at this stage, he was reluctant to support the development.
‘‘Who knows how big it will get in 20 years time, there are already two chapels proposed, so there could be cars coming in and out all the time and there shouldn’t be vaults on the Scenic Hills.
‘‘I think it’s just the wrong spot for it.’’
Anoulack Chanthivong (Labor) said councillors had only had one briefing session on the cemetery proposal and it was too early to make a comment on the plan.
“Councillors have to assess each development application which is lodged on its own merit and we are yet to see all of the formal documentation for this project,” Cr Chanthivong said.