The State Government has played a straight bat in a stoush between protesters and developers of the Gnarabup resort. The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage declined to wade into the dispute this week between Preserve Gnarabup and the Saracen Property Group, despite having a planning officer based at the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River. Preserve Gnarabup has engaged independent contractors, shelling out $20,000 of its own money to challenge fire, traffic and planning controls at the proposed development as it and allies at the Margaret River Regional Environment Centre continue to claim the number of de facto residential units in the adjacent village proposal do not pay “due regard” to shire planning laws. Resort project manager Joel Saraceni has rejected their claims, noting the State Development Assessment Panel will be the final arbiter, once the project clears public consultation as well as a high-level Environmental Protection Authority review. The SDAU has the power to override local planning schemes, but not EPA rulings, which is what has the protest group up in arms. Preserve Gnarabup, with the Margaret River Coastal Residents Association, last week wrote to the Premier, Environment and Lands Ministers, as well as the shire council and chief executive, asking them not to give permission to clear any public land associated with firebreaks and access roads. Environment Minister Reece Whitby said WAPC would consider all factors in closely scrutinising the developer’s application. Meanwhile, the Margaret River Regional Environment Centre is claiming that there are too many unrestricted length of stay dwellings in the development, which amounted to de facto residential housing. “The application has far more ULS (49) than tourism units (31) on Lots 501 to 504 (and) ULS units make up 61.25 per cent of all the units on these four lots,” MRREC’s Tracy Skippings said. “The developer is trying to roll the two developments into one application despite the two sites being quite distinct and separate lots which share no boundaries.” Mr Saraceni countered that protesters were incorrectly interpreting planning restrictions and wrong about the use of adjacent reserves as part of the resort. “Ultimately it will be the planning authority who makes the final determination on these things,” he said. “The strategy for bushfire management does include managing some small strips of land on some of our boundaries to reduce fuel loads, however, these areas were originally part of our landholdings and given up for the purpose of bushfire and drainage management when the land was previously subdivided. “We have also already committed to the shire that the development owners (that includes ourselves and future owners) will be responsible for the costs of managing this in perpetuity.” A DPLH spokeswoman said people could comment on the project during extended consultation until March 2 after which the WA Planning Commission would make a ruling. “In addition to the EPA review, the proposal has also been referred to the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River and State regulatory authorities including the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and Department of Fire and Emergency Services,” she said.