Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson has rejected calls to use the rail corridor in Byron Bay as a road bypass of the town, saying it was an unlikely option.
Cr Richardson says the disused corridor should be protected for the future use of rail, and changing its status would increase the temptation for governments to privatise it.
Community calls for the much needed bypass to ease congestion on the northerly entrance to the town have increased since plans for the proposed West Byron subdivision were announced.
But Cr Richardson said Transport for NSW (TfNSW), the owner of the rail asset, and its agent John Holland Rail, which has the contract for property management, have confirmed that an Act of Parliament was needed to remove the status of the rail corridor.
‘Apparently the rail corridor is protected by legislation for the exclusive use of rail, regardless if the corridor is used or not,’ he said.
‘The Act would need to be changed to first remove the protected status, which in turn may allow other uses for the land to be considered, and then subject to development and agency approvals etc.
‘This however could see the rail corridor open up to many potential uses, not just transport purposes, and would presumably also attract market rates whether for lease or sale.
‘As it is located in Byron Bay, it would likely be considered high value real estate,’ he said.
‘Even if the Act was changed to allow other transport purposes, minimum widths and standards would still apply.’
Cr Richardson said he had been advised that as the rail corridor width varies greatly in Byron Bay (and across the shire), it was ‘unlikely a single, continuous lineal, multi-modal transport corridor is possible that could accommodate rail, a bike/pedestrian shared path and a road.
‘Put simply, in most locations the width of the rail corridor would not allow multiple uses to co-exist.
‘However, Council is very keen to ensure all stones have been turned to investigate the best bypass route option. We will meet with the Grab the Rail Group to further investigate their ideas,’ he said.
The mayor also noted that Council and the community were waiting on the findings of the state government rail trail report.
He said the consultant engaged for the report had raised the issue of co-existence with Council and other interested stakeholders.
‘The current Byron Bay bypass alignment, west of the rail corridor, does not rule out the potential return of rail services, whereas a declared change of use within the rail corridor would,’ Cr Richardson said.