Hipwell family left with a virtually worthless block of land

SHOCKED: Cameron and Miranda Hipwell with their children Dayne 6, Lilly 7 and Annabelle 4 on their block of land where they hope to build their family home.
SHOCKED: Cameron and Miranda Hipwell with their children Dayne 6, Lilly 7 and Annabelle 4 on their block of land where they hope to build their family home.

With virtually no hope of building a home on a six acre block of land they bought five years ago, the Hipwell family are now faced with some tough decisions.

When they bought the block located on Sunnyside Lane, off Bridgman Road, it had a building entitlement but unfortunately for the Hipwells they were unaware that there was a time limit on that entitlement.

The building entitlement lapsed on September 9, 2014 and that means the family are now unable to build a home. The Hipwell’s are now left with a block of land worth less than half what they paid for it, which leaves them devastated and angry.

“No one told us, not the real estate agent, our legal advisers or Singleton Council that there was a time limit on applying to build a home on this land,” said Mr Hipwell.

“I only found out about the change earlier this year when we applied for a bank loan to start construction as owner builders and the bank told us we couldn’t build on the land.

“They said given the change to the entitlement the block was worth half what we paid – that means we have a worthless block really as who wants to buy a small block of land close to town that you can’t build on.”

The Hipwell’s experience is a salutary warning and reinforces the adage of buyer beware. At a time when conveyancing of properties moves completely online, purchasers should be forever vigilant to ensure exactly what they are buying.

Mr Hipwell said his family, due to financial pressures and the fact they are unable to build at Sunnyside Lane will be moving to live with his father in Singleton having rented in Muswellbrook for a period time, due to that town’s lower rental costs.

Thinking they would eventually be living at their property their two eldest children were enrolled at the nearby Mount Pleasant Public School despite the fact that meant a daily 40 minute trip each way from Muswellbrook.

“We just believed that was the best thing for Lilly and Dayne as once we were living on the block they wouldn’t have to move schools – now everything has changed its just very difficult,” said Mr Hipwell.

Why their building entitlement lapsed was due to the fact that their subdivision was impacted by a change in the Local Environment Plan.

The Local Environment Plan 2006 allowed for a building entitlement on the block the Hipwell’s purchased in 2013 however everything had changed when Singleton Council adopted a new LEP in 2013. 

This new LEP excluded a building entitlement for the block except there was a sunset clause allowing owners 12 months to apply for an entitlement.

Therein lies the problem for the Hipwells they had an entitlement at purchase but they had to act quickly and unfortunately their first attempt to have a kit home built on the block was withdrawn in February 2014.

“We were too disappointed at the time to keep going and just thought we would save money and build our own home if Council didn’t like kit homes but we never knew we only had until September that year to submit plans,” said Mr Hipwell.

“It was shocking to be told earlier this year that we are too late to do anything once we had saved some money to start building.”

Mr Hipwell said living in Muswellbrook meant he never saw anything about Council’s changes to land policy and he never received any information directly from Council advising him of the lapse in his building entitlement.

“Its a mess, we had plans for the block, there are other houses along the lane – we aren’t sure what to do now as we can’t see a way to get a home built.” 

In their response to questions raised by The Singleton Argus, the Council stated the property at Lot 1 DP 501559, Sunnyside Lane, Bridgman is subject to Clause 4.2A (3) (part a, b, c, d) in the Singleton LEP 2013 which states a dwelling house must not be approved on small rural land lots under 40ha in size and which were created before  January 7, 1966.

Unfortunately the subject property meets this criteria.

A dwelling entitlement for small rural lots did exist under the previous LEP 2006 and Council proposed that the entitlement continue when drafting for the new LEP (Singleton LEP 2013). However, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment did not support this position.

Council wrote to all rural landowners in 2010 regarding “existing holding” provisions, and received 20 submissions. Those people were invited in writing to make a submission on the draft Singleton LEP when it was exhibited in 2012.

A community fact sheet relating to dwelling entitlements under the draft Singleton LEP 2012 also highlighted the proposed restriction of dwellings on undersized allotments and invited submissions from any landowners who may lose a dwelling entitlement.

As a result of the submissions received, Council negotiated a “sunset clause” with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment to enable affected rural land owners to lodge and receive development consent for dwellings 12 months after gazettal of the LEP in September 2013. Once this time had passed, affected properties would no longer have a dwelling entitlement.

Council’s records indicate an enquiry was received from a legal conveyancer on June 11, 2013 regarding the building entitlement on Lot 1 DP 501559, Sunnyside Lane Bridgman. Council’s response indicated the property was subject to Clause 4.2A (3) because it was under the minimum lot size of 40ha.

Subclause 4 also states:

Land ceases to be an existing holding for the purposes of subclause (3)(d), if an application for development consent referred to in that subclause is not made in relation to that land before 12 months from the commencement of this Plan.

A development application was lodged with Council for a manufactured home on the property in December 2013, within the timeframe of the “sunset clause”.

There were issues with permissibility of a manufactured home in the zoning and the landowner wrote to Council on 23 February 2014 that he wished to withdraw the application.

Council’s records show the landowner was advised in a telephone conversation on 11 March 2014 that Council had found a way to progress the application, and asked if he would like to continue.

It is understood the landowner advised that despite Council’s advice the application could be progressed, he wished to withdraw due to personal reasons and indicated he “might continue at a later stage”. The fees associated with the lodgement of the development application were refunded.

Unfortunately no further application was made prior to the September 2014 deadline and the dwelling entitlement lapsed.

Council’s advice from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment is that the Department will not review the reintroduction of dwelling entitlements on small rural lots at this stage.

Given that response the Hipwells are now considering their options for the land which they once hoped would be a great place to live and raise their family.