A celebrated champion of wellbeing, the Commercial Hotel in Deepwater is in hot water over its policy allowing caravanning travellers to stay overnight on the back lawn.

Located high in the Great Dividing Range, around 140 kilometres from the coast, between Ballina and Coffs Harbour, the Deepwater resides on a comfortable, largely undeveloped two-acre lot.

After publishing a successful book on mental health, Just One Reason, Stuart O’Neil and family bought Deepwater’s popular pub. It wasn’t long before the local’s local was ‘ready to lend an ear’ and privy to austere personal conversations from the community.

Like many pubs in country towns, Deepwater relies on the business that comes from passing travellers, who are apt to pulling up for a drink and a meal. The pub offers them no power or water, just overnight parking.

Glenn Innes Severn Council (GISC) agrees that travellers staying overnight benefits the town, and offers a comparable rest stop on the side of the New England Highway, about 10 kilometres from the hotel.

But it insists the hotel must submit a development application to become a caravan park, which is permitted under its existing zoning, and says a DA has not been received.

The town planner has sent multiple letters threatening legal action if O’Neil does not comply, and wants him to remove a sign at the front advertising beer and overnight parking.

O’Neil reports that most travellers arrive around 7pm, and are gone early in the morning. Without them it may not survive, and the town becomes another dwindling locality without a pub.

While Council is in favour of the stays, it stresses that legally the pub has to submit a DA, adding that it would be happy to work with the owners to secure consent, to “ensure that the appropriate standards” are met.

Ominously, it notes the role of council as regulators in NSW and says it may take enforcement action against any person or company that does not comply with the legislation. A spokesman offered that council was now “obligated” to take action, to ensure the hotel was complying with the relevant codes and policies.

According to the Local Environment Plan (LEP) Standard Instrument, a caravan park is defined as land with access to communal amenities used for caravans and other movable dwellings, excluding farm stay accommodation.

Furthermore, the State Environmental Planning Policy 2021 prohibits land within an LGA being used for caravans or camping without development consent by council, and Planning NSW echoes that such land may only be used for a caravan park or camping ground with the development consent of the council.

The NSW Local Government Act 1993 stipulates that certain developments require consent from authorities, including movable dwellings such as caravans and campervans. While there are limited exemptions, GISC says those do not apply in this situation.

There is also special provision in the Environmental Planning regulations for operating a ‘primitive camping ground’ in remote areas. These are allowed limited facilities but must still comply with conditions, requiring a water supply, toilet and somewhere to dispose of refuse.

A Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure spokesman says government wants regional towns to thrive, and for this reason is undertaking a review of the assessment and approval process for caravan parks and manufactured homes estates.

Stuart O’Neill

Meanwhile, O’Neill is stuck between red tape and a green place, reporting it will cost around $15k to apply, due to consultant’s fees, and likely $100k to meet the requirements. 

He says the matter has become a “mental health wrecking ball” for him, and maintains what he has amounts to a ‘primitive camp site’.

“I’m not operating an illegal caravan park, so I won’t cave in,” he declares.  

“They’re providing what they’re accusing me of, on crown land, without a DA.”

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