The pro-development majority of Byron Shire Councillors again pushed ahead with plans at Thursday’s meeting to create two lanes into the town, despite pleas from the public during morning access and boos from the gallery when the plan was adopted.
Even a rare public appearance by ex-councillor and Caltex station operator Warren Simmons in morning access wasn’t enough to persuade Crs Ibrahim, Woods, Hunter, Cubis and Wanchap from rejecting a rescission motion by Cr Duncan Dey.
Mr Simmons told the gallery it would cause more congestion and make it harder for his business and the First Sun Caravan park to operate. ‘You will force more traffic into the town quicker,’ he said.
Also the Byron Bay masterplan, which is being developed by consultants McGregor Coxall, should be included in the proposal, Mr Simmons said.
‘You’re putting the cart before the horse,’ he said. ‘This rescission motion tells councillors there’s something not quite right with this. I’m here not only because this will affect me, but it will also affect the town,’ he said.
Consultants McGregor Coxall have been tasked with creating a masterplan for the town, which is expected later this year.
Other speeches from residents during morning access also called upon councillors to adhere to responsible governance instead of ‘adhoc and irresponsible planning.’
Mayor Simon Richardson asked Mr Simmons how traffic was affected when there were two lanes coming into the town many years ago. Mr Simmons replied, ‘There used to be two lanes coming in from the west, and there were quite few accidents outside the police station in that time.’
Cr Duncan Dey, in introducing his rescission motion, told the gallery that the essence of it was ‘not a criticism of the project’.
‘But I am critical of the process, as the nature of this design was changing on the floor up until the last five minutes before we voted. I do not think that is good process for an engineering project. We have a masterplan underway… in the past we have always approached traffic in terms of managing it. This time, we are going to look at “how are we going to make it a nice place?” It could be that traffic is not the answer. We need to wait and look at those outcomes. There have been 1,400 submissions to the masterplan – you can’t ignore 1,400 people and jump in with your own ideas. It’s just wrong.
‘What I’m asking is to send that project down the same path as everybody else’s big dreams and little dreams. This won’t scotch the project, it will just analyse the project with the same glasses as every other project.’
Mayor shut down
During debate, argy bargy erupted, with Cr Cubis again clashing with mayor Simon Richardson over procedure.
The result led to the pro-development majority of Councillors – Crs Ibrahim, Woods, Hunter and Wanchap – to support Cr Cubis in shutting down the mayor from speaking on the topic.
Cr Ibrahim was clearly exasperated throughout the debate, and spoke with an irritated tone in his voice.
It started during morning access, when residents repeated their understanding that council intended to open a road up toward the beachfront.
When given the floor, Cr Ibrahim took his time in trying to clearly explain that a road to the beach would no longer be in the plan. But the confusion by the public could be well founded; Cr Dey had earlier pointed out that Cr Wanchap’s plan had been adhoc throughout the process and was ‘changed right up until it was voted upon.’
‘The facts were getting in the way of a good story’, Cr Ibrahim began, and then proceeded to enlighten the chamber as to why the plan has merit.
The planned bypass, he said, will require widening of the road anyway, so it won’t affect the master plan at the Butler Street roundabout. It was just the widening of the railway crossing that would be needed, so that two lanes could continue into the town.
‘The key things that this master plan is looking at is the rejuvenation of Railway Park. The other was the way the beachside currently operates…
‘We listened! We had a street front community meeting. We had people who owned properties and were affected and they spoke to us. We had a presentation from staff and we listened and we substantially and significantly changed the proposal in response to that community input. We are just widening the pinch point of the flow of traffic.
‘When I was elected, so many people came to me and said to me, “I don’t care what you do, I’m sick as a local, of sitting in traffic”. Right? Now if we widen that point, we can have a transit lane, a dedicated bus lane.
‘Are we going to try to ease the flow of traffic for locals, or are we going to say “stuff the tourists, stuff the locals, let’s make the traffic jam as long as we can in the hope they will all go away”. They’re not going away. I’ve been here 30 years and they’re not going away!’
At that point Cr Richardson asked how the community consultation, which Cr Ibrahim referred to, was run and asked who was invited and how many community members were there. It led to a tedious discussion whereupon Cr Cameron reminded councillors that the rescission motion was about the process, not the plan.
When the vote was taken, there were boos from the audience, who promptly got up and left in disgust.
Staff will now produce plans for the two lanes to be established into the town, running past the Caltex petrol station and across the disused railway tracks to the second roundabout in the town’s centre.
Presumably consent from both RMS and State Rail will be needed for it to be successful.