A senior planner at the Toowoomba Regional Council has been referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
A senior planner at the Toowoomba Regional Council has been referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission. Bev Lacey

Senior council employee referred to CCC over house extension

A SENIOR planner of the Toowoomba Regional Council has been referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission over allegations she circumvented the planning scheme to renovate her house.

Principal planner Natalie Plumbe was referred to the CCC by experienced planning lawyer Andrew Davis on August 5, relating to improvements to her East Toowoomba property that the council approved in late 2016.

The CCC would not confirm whether it is investigating Mr Davis's complaint.

In his letter to the CCC, Mr Davis said Mrs Plumbe and her husband Lachlan submitted a two-part application to propose adding a second level to her pre-World War II house on Eleanor St, which was covered by a "neighbourhood character overlay code".

According to the council's planning scheme, a house covered by the character overlay cannot be raised or changed to move away from the preferred low-set look already established.

Mr Davis has alleged in his letter to the CCC the first building approval came in October 2016 through private certifier BCERT Consulting, who approved the application without referring any issues onto the council.

"The development application was described as a 're-stumping of the existing dwelling house and ground level slab'," he wrote.

"In truth, the development application was for an addition or extension of a Neighbourhood Character Place if all or part of the work is located at the front half of the existing building and the gross floor area is increased by 25sq m or five per cent, whichever is the lesser.

"There is a prohibition in section 83 of the Building Act 1975 against a private certifier giving a building approval in circumstances where, first, a preliminary approval is required to be issued under the planning act."

Documents attached to the letter show a floor plan of the raised building, with shower set-downs included in the concrete slab.

Mr and Mrs Plumbe then submitted another building approval in December 2016, again through BCERT Consulting, this time for an extension to their property.

Mr Davis has alleged instead of submitting an application for preliminary approval by the council, the TRC gave an "amended concurrence agency response" in relation to it.

In it, the council not only allowed the extension, but said the assessment, "has not addressed items previously approved, including a privately-certified approval for raising of the building".

"For the TRC to have been a mere concurrence agency for the application for the extension building approval, a declaration would need to have appeared in the TRC planning scheme," Mr Davis wrote.

"There are no such declarations in any version of the TRC planning scheme.

"The extension building approval could not have been given by BCERT unless there was first in place a development approval, being a preliminary approval for building work issued by the TRC."

Mr Davis questioned why the applicants had not gone through the standard process, and raised questions of the conduct of other officers in the process.

"What communications took place (directly or indirectly) between Mrs Plumbe and other TRC officers in relation to these building applications?" Mr Davis said.

"Could TRC officers not see that a separate development approval from the TRC was first required?

"Why did the TRC letter explicitly state that the TRC had not addressed the raising in the first building approval?"

Council CEO Brian Pidgeon confirmed he was aware of the complaint.

"As a complaint has been made directly to the Crime and Corruption Commission, the Toowoomba Regional Council is obliged to await the CCC's further advice on dealing with this matter," he said in a statement.

The Chronicle made repeated attempts to contact Mrs Plumbe for comment.

A BCERT Consulting spokeswoman said it had followed the proper procedures in handling the certifications.

"BCERT Consulting was the certifiers for the project and everything was done in accordance with the Building Act of 1975 and the Sustainable Planning Act of 2009," she said.