Luis Feliu & Chris Dobney
Byron Shire Council is to be allowed to determine the size lots and finer detail for the controversial West Byron rezoning for hundreds of new houses, after the state government decided this week to hand some planning power back to the local authority.
But the sting in the tail is that the council will have just 60 days to finalise plans, leading Byron Residents Group to describe it as ‘a political tool in this election’.
Planning department secretary Carolyn McNally has written to Byron shire’s general manager Ken Gainger agreeing with council’s recent request to delegate to council the finalising of the development control plan (DCP) for the West Byron Bay Urban Release Area.
The department said in announcing its move that it had intended to hand back the powers since it made the contentious rezoning in November, but the announcement was only made today and council has only just been informed.
The rezoning for up to 2,000 homes sparked community anger and protests, with many saying it will have detrimental environmental impacts on surrounding wetland and add to the current traffic congestion in the town.
The department sent council a copy of the draft DCP ‘for it to work with’.
Greens candidate for Ballina Tamara Smith welcomed the decision, saying the Greens have’ long campaigned for the return of planning powers to local councils ever since they were stripped away under Labor’s notorious part 3A laws’.
Ms Smith said the move was ‘clearly in response to pressure from the community, but it goes no way to recognising the community opposition to this monster development that is out of character with Byron Bay’.
‘Hopefully this will see the end of the tiny 150-square-metre allotments and the imposition of more sensible planning conditions for the low-lying site,’ she said.
‘West Byron is not a “state significant site” and it’s time that the Nationals rescinded the rezoning decision and handed all planning powers for the site back to Council and the community to determine.
‘The Greens are committed to local communities being able plan their own futures and to delivering a planning framework that can’t be bypassed by cashed-up developers.’”
said Tamara Smith.
60-day time limit
Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson also credited ‘community pressure for returning the situation to ‘normal practice’.
‘My understanding is that they may have only given the council 60 days to develop the DCP, which is incredibly short, and we don’t know yet whether that includes a public exhibition period,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
Cr Richardson said that ‘reading the fine print’ it looked as though the planning department could take back the planning power if council was unable to come up with a suitable proposal within the time limit.
He added that the letter from the department only arrived ‘a day or so ago’ and was short on specifics.
He also refuted the department’s claim that it had always had the intention to hand back the planning powers, saying, ‘they had already created a DCP for us and had simply asked us to review theirs.’
Cr Richardson said that it was now council’s intention to ‘ensure that anything that gets on that site is absolute world’s best practice.’
Cate Coorey of Byron Residents’ Group described the announcement as ‘a small victory for the community’.
‘It is a sad indictment of the extent to which planning in NSW is determined by politics, not proper process and community input.
It is clearly community pressure that has prompted this decision but why are they only listening to us now?’ Ms Coorey queried. ‘Planning should be an impartial process.
‘A government department should not be weighing in with a decision like this at election time Its intent is obvious given that the department was only last December trying to rush their version of the DCP through council.
‘Community voices are increasingly loud in rejecting the destruction of Byron Bay through the imposition of the sprawling West Byron mega-suburb.
‘Our rally last Sunday attracted over 1,000 people, we have had online petitions signed by thousands and collected hundreds more signatures on paper so finally the government has not been able to ignore us.
‘The point should be made that the rezoning of West Byron remains the same.
‘What changes is who says what can go on the site and Council is still constrained by the terms of the zoning, which allows lot sizes down to 150 sqm and provides no protection from most of the environmental laws that apply to the rest of Byron Shire,’ Ms Coorey said.
But Byron Environmental and Conservation Organisation (BEACON) spokesman Dailan Pugh told Echonetdaily the announcement was totally misleading, in that council cannot alter the smaller contentious lot sizes as they were already in the West Byron SEPP.
Mr Pugh said the lot sizes ‘have been established by the West Byron SEPP – the 150-square-metre lot sizes have already been incorporated into our LEP through the SEPP 83(3)’.
‘The DCP cannot alter this… also the claim that the department always intended to hand the DCP back to council is wrong, they never intended to let the council prepare, exhibit or determine the DCP,’ he said.
‘This is a new decision and while I think the department’s media release is intentionally misleading it does state that the handing of the DCP to council “takes this one step further”.’
Mr Pugh said the release also ‘conveys the false impression that we can alter the density without altering the DCP’.
He said the following extract from the West Byron planning documents showed this up:
83(3) Development consent may be granted for a single development application for
development to which this clause applies that is both of the following:
(a) the subdivision of land into 3 or more lots,
(b) the erection of a dwelling house, an attached dwelling or a
semi-detached dwelling on each lot resulting from the subdivision, if
the size of each lot is equal to or greater than:
(i) for the erection of a dwelling house—200 square metres, or
(ii) for the erection of an attached dwelling—150 square metres, or
(iii) for the erection of a semi-detached dwelling—150 square metres.