Big win for Woronora residents


By Eloise Parrab, Land Lease Communities Officer at the Tenants’ Union of NSW

Nestled along the banks of the Woronora River lies Woronora Village Tourist Park, a small community that was established in 1956. In recent years, this community has been under threat due to repeated attempts by the current operator to develop the community, causing uncertainty and distress among its residents. The residents are a mix of home owners and tenants.

Pictured: Some of the residents of Woronora Village Tourist Park.

From 1956 until 2006 the community had the same owner. After it was sold in 2006 some small changes were made with new moveable dwellings installed and the community moved away from being a holiday makers park.

The community was sold again in 2016 and since then, the residents have faced an uphill battle to protect their homes from the push for redevelopment by the operators. In 2016 it was marketed as a development opportunity in the sales brochure. Unsurprisingly the community was sold to developers who did not delay in getting started on their plans for development of the community. The Sutherland Shire Council knocked back the new owners first request to reduce the number of sites in the community to 57 and change all site designations to long term. The operator also then tried to terminate the home owners site agreements by issuing them with a notice of termination. At NCAT the home owners were successful in having the operator’s case dismissed.

In 2018 the operator submitted several development applications to Council which included an application to install a two storey moveable dwelling to be used as a sales office and display home in the community. Despite heavy opposition from residents living in and around the community the development applications were all passed by Council. The residents could see that the operator was making small steps towards their end goal and were understandably worried about what would happen next.

In late 2022 the operator submitted another development application to Council and this time it was for redevelopment of the entire community which would require all structures to be removed from existing sites to allow 2 storey moveable dwellings to be installed. This caused a lot of distress for the residents. There are more than 45 residents in the park that rent the home and the site from the operator and 8 residents who own their own homes and rent the site only. Many of the residents who rent their homes have lived in the community for more than 5 years and some in excess of 10 years. The residents who own their homes have all lived in the community for more than 20 years and the longest standing home owner has been living in the park for 32 years.

The operator’s proposed redevelopment of the community would have had a severe adverse social and economic impact on existing residents. If the proposed redevelopment was to go ahead, they would have to either relocate their dwelling away from their community and local social connections or find other housing options which would result in a large increase in their housing costs which is unsustainable on statutory incomes. Most of the dwellings in the community are quite old and are of a type (ie caravan and rigid annexe) that are no longer wanted in most land lease communities. It is unlikely that the older dwellings could be moved without substantial or irreparable damage. For most home owners, the cost of repair for their dwellings would exceed the “value” of the dwelling and they could then be in a situation where they are effectively forced to abandon their dwelling.

The Tenants’ Union was able to spend some time with the home owners in 2023 to talk about their connection to the community and local area and how they would be impacted if the development application was approved by Council. The residents we met with are a tight-knit community of individuals who share a deep connection to Woronora Village and the surrounding area.

The majority of the home owners are aged over 70 and have been living in the Sutherland shire for most of their lives. The location of the community works for them to be able to access essential medical services and stay connected with family and friends in the area. They also provide a lot of emotional and practical support to each other on a daily basis.

The operator in their development application failed to acknowledge the home owners living in the community and ignored the fact these residents are living in their own homes. These homes are valuable assets for the home owners. Many written submissions were made by residents in and around the community objecting to the development application. These submissions highlighted the needs of the residents in the community and also the important role the community played in providing low cost housing. The submissions also outlined the location of the community on a flood plain and the recent flooding that happened in 2022 which required evacuation of the residents from the community. The community is also located next to bush land and in some parts it is classified as extreme fire danger.

Under the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013 if the operator’s development application was approved then the home owners would be entitled to compensation. The operator did make a few offers of compensation to home owners but the amounts were far below a fair amount at between $2000and $5000. This caused a lot of stress for the elderly home owners as they knew that they would have to fight for adequate compensation if the operator was allowed to develop the community.

The process dragged on and this only added to the stress and worry of the residents. In December 2023 the development application was before the Sutherland Shire Local Planning Panel for decision. The residents were pleased that the assessment report from the local Council recommended that the application be refused on 16 separate points.

“Our lives were put on hold for seven years. You don’t do the things you want to do at home, because the operator wants to put a bulldozer through your home. It’s bizarre and depressing to tell elderly home owners that the planning laws don’t allow this, the Local Government Regulations don’t allow this, but there’s still a 50/50 change that Council will approve it. After it was done, when people from the community asked what happened, I told them: We won... you won... we all won! It’s taken months to sink in – the community won!”

– Greg, Woronora Village resident 

Some of the residents from the community were able to speak to the Local Planning Panel and highlight the loss of multiple layers of amenity to the community, the individual situations of the home owners, loss of low cost housing in the area and loss of tourist accommodation. The residents didn’t have long to wait and just before Christmas the Panel’s decision was released. They refused the development application on ten grounds. The location of the community on flood prone land and lack of concurrence from local RFS bush fire brigade were part of the decision to reject the application and also importantly the development was considered not to be in the public interest.

As Woronora Village is now up for sale, the residents cautiously look to the future, hopeful that any new operator will treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve. The struggle may not be over but the residents continue to stand together and they serve as a reminder of the power of collective action in preserving what matters most: home.


This article was published in Outasite magazine issue 11. Outasite is published once or twice annually. Outasite Lite email newsletter is sent several times a year – subscribe subscribe here. All past issues are available in the archive.