‘The drive for implementation of Byron Bay’s Town Centre Masterplan needs to come from the community. And I believe if there is one town in Australia that has the capacity to do this, it’s Byron Bay.’
That was how Phil Coxall, Managing Director of McGregor Coxall, the masterplan designers, commenced the last 30 minutes of Thursday’s marathon four-hour final session with council staff, councillors and community representatives.
Phil, the shrewd, 50-something, tousle-haired Sydney-based managing director, has regularly visited Byron over many years. Phil explained while some masterplans are quickly adopted by councils others often gather dust on their bookshelves.
‘It’s all about intent,’ he said, explaining councils can lack either sufficient funding or intent. Others have turned to a leadership group comprising council, community and business representatives who take on the job. He suggested that the Geelong Task Force was one of several successful masterplan examples worth examining.
Geelong’s Council has a key leadership, regulatory and facilitation role, but the success of the plan comes from the task forces’ support from government, agencies, the business sector, landowners and community alike. See the taskforce’s report here.
Byron Shire Council’s final session was designed to fine-tune and progress already discussed ideas and underlying strategies. It led off with options with six key identified areas starting with the Butler St Reserve. The Reserve was seen by all as a flexible space that supports edge of centre car parking, capable of retaining its role for market uses. Again there was unanimity that the western edge of the railway line was suited to becoming a bus interchange. This would link Butler Street to an improved Railway Square able to support the community through providing family, leisure and pilot activation with temporary opportunities for local artists, performance and a flexible space for other markets.
The Lawson Street car park and Bay Lane were suited to activating the rear of buildings, prioritising people over cars and encouraging more creative and local businesses into the town centre. Jonson Street and Bay Lane are proposed as shared zones that flexibly respond to the different users and encourage better pedestrian links to Main Beach.
Discussion on the Main Beach area was less united, in particular related to the swimming pool and foreshore car park. The short term plan looks to retain and improve both. It proposes upgrades to the pool and a reduction in foreshore car parking to enhance the foreshore public domain experience. McGregor Coxall’s contentious elements are the long term aspects to the plan. Could the pool move in the long term? Only if an alternate site is found that offers a better facility for all year usage. The foreshore car park removal is also long term and again would only be implemented if deemed beneficial to the community and supported provided car access to Bay Street was maintained for the elderly, mobility impaired etc.
Inevitably cost issues were never far from discussion. McGregor Coxall’s Land Economics and Planning consultant noted that in areas where councils owned land, council would be able to retain ownership but grant developments rights to developers in return for funding – a system which allows council to engage in projects at low risk. It was suggested the same could be done with crown land leases and land following discussion with government.
The masterplan project is due to finish in early 2016 with further opportunities for comment in the coming months.
For more information on the town centre masterplan go to http://www.byronbayourplan.com.au/documents