A blow-out in processing times means it’s unlikely any decision will be made on the contentious Gnarabup five-star resort and associated village plan until the very end of next year at the earliest. A public briefing on the Luke Saraceni-led project last week heard interlocking planning and environmental reviews had slowed the process previously blasted by protesters as a State Government-led “fast track”. The project aims to build a lavish resort and facilities on the Gnarabup headland while developing a de facto new village centre for the hamlet across three lots earmarked for tourism. Shire planning and regulatory services manager Matt Cuthbert last week told councillors and residents the development was already three months behind its expected next milestone. The site was currently subject to a WA-based Environmental Protection Authority review as well as a Federal Government review. “Even if the environmental review did conclude in the middle of next year,” Mr Cuthbert said, “you won’t be expecting a (final SDAU) decision out of that until the end of next year.” The effects on birdlife, most notably the region’s endangered hooded plover, was expected to factor into the Federal considerations, Mr Cuthbert said. Furthermore, a Shire of Augusta-Margaret River scheme amendment — itself now also a victim of the process — sought to clarify zoning expectations around the Saraceni-owned lots amid concerns at residential homes and apartments potentially being established within the tourism locality. The environmental reviews had also stymied the Shire’s progress on Amendment 70 which sought to clarify the four lots’ “future development” zoning as “tourism” instead. However, Amendment 70 was introduced before work progressed on the Shire’s overhaul of its Local Planning Scheme, and therefore required further work to add it to the new guidelines, which were not yet adopted. Amendment 70 had also triggered the need for an environmental review. However, WAPC had paused that requirement pending the existing EPA review, which might be considered sufficient. All eyes were on the WA Planning Commission and its new State Development Assessment Unit, introduced during the pandemic for items of key tourism significance, and which have sole authority in the final decision. That authority included having “due regard” for existing planning frameworks, despite — like at the Adrian Fini-led Smiths Beach project, subject to the same process — concerns the SDAU could also override town planning schemes. Protest group Preserve Gnarabup has opposed the Saraceni project on a broad front of environmental and bushfire-risk concerns, exacerbated by the development’s potential to add hundreds of new full-time residents to the coast. That move comes despite the Department of Fire and Emergency Services closing down Wallcliffe Fire Services Brigade’s standalone one-truck Prevelly fire shed, while also opposing the resort bid due to fire safety concerns. A Preserve Gnarabup spokeswoman told the Times the group hoped the Shire’s role in permissions around use of Crown land would be upheld during the SDAU process. It was against planning frameworks to allow the developer to clear and include Shire-controlled reserves to make its bushfire safety measures stack up, the group said. Among previous concerns which saw the Shire tell the WAPC it could not make a determination on the project for lack of clarity on key points, bushfire safety was a prime issue. It remained unclear to what degree the SDAU legislation allowed the authority to override other requirements. “It allows them to downplay some of those rules,” Mr Cuthbert said. Saracen Property Group did not respond to Times inquiries.