The way has been cleared for James Packer’s Crown Limited to commence construction of its $570 million third hotel at its Burswood casino complex within weeks after a Supreme Court challenge to the project failed.
A bid by 105 residents of the nearby Burswood Peninsula apartment and townhouse development to challenge Gaming Minister Terry Waldron’s power to issue planning approval over the project was today thrown out by Justice Andrew Beech.
Justice Beech ruled the 1985 Casino Agreement Act exempted the entire area defined as the “resort lands” – including the casino site and the former golf course – from the State’s usual planning laws, giving the Gaming Minister sole power to consent to development proposals on the peninsula.
“The merits in planning terms or otherwise of the Minister’s decision to consent to the third hotel development is not a question for the court,” Justice Beech said in a written decision.
“The question is whether, when the Casino Act and the Agreement are properly construed … development approval is needed under the generally applicable planning regime … or whether consent to a development was required to be obtained from the Minister and no one else.
“Parliament has chosen, and the parties (the Government and Crown) have agreed, that the site will not be subject to the generally applicable planning and development regime, but will have a different regime.
“The Minister has given consent to the development and (Crown) is entitled to rely on that consent to carry out the development.”
Justice Beech reserved a decision on costs but lead plaintiff Neil Kidd believes the residents have spent more than $300,000 on the challenge to date.
“The decision today basically gives the Premier and the Minister carte blanche to do whatever they like in front of us, and on the entire peninsula,” he said.
“All we wanted was the same planning rights that every other citizen – including the Premier and the Minister – enjoy in this State.”
“From our point of view, nothing has changed. We went into this thing with a one-man band making decisions on the land in front of us. Today we’ve got exactly what we started with, we’re just a bit poorer for the experience.
“This is not about views, this is about us trying to sleep at night. Under this decision, the Minister can continue to put development across the front of us at random, at will. He’s the decision-maker.”
Premier Colin Barnett said the Government was “satisfied” with the outcome and the case had “highlighted the difficulty of interpreting old legislation”.
“In approving the Crown Towers Hotel development, the Government acted within what it understood was the appropriate and relevant terms of the Casino Agreement Act,” he said.
“The court’s decision has dismissed the challenges. Crown is now free to continue to develop the Crown Towers project.
“The Government is pleased that this project can proceed and deliver significant employment, economic benefit and accommodation capacity for WA.”
Attempts to contact Crown chief executive Barry Felstead for comment were unsuccessful.
Significant preparatory works have already been done on the site and it is understood Brookfield Multiplex is ready to commence construction within weeks.
Under the development agreement with the State, Crown had agreed to commence construction by the end of March.