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Byron Shire
December 10, 2023

Can Byron be developed sustainably?

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Plans for the first major residential development within the West Byron urban release area feature nearly a dozen breaches of planning and environmental protection rules and should not be approved, Byron Council staff say.

Echonetdaily regularly runs stories on proposed developments for our region.  People who have moved here for a quiet, pollution-free lifestyle object to overdevelopment but as more people move to the region the pressure on housing continues. Simeon Michaels looks at the growing dilemma.

The tension between the need for affordable housing and the spectre of overdevelopment is reaching boiling point in the region and particularly in Byron Shire. Proponents of more housing argue that Byron is becoming an exclusive enclave, unaffordable for the average working family.

Often the most vocal proponents of this argument have a rezoning application under their belt, but hypocrisy is not sufficient grounds to dismiss the argument entirely.

It is a fact that median house prices are approximately six times the annual household disposable income, and that rising prices have evicted low-income earners from the coast, or out of the Shire altogether.

Those against development cite the golden goose analogy – sustainability and ecology versus traffic, pollution and noise.

Few can argue it’s the tranquillity and lack of development that makes this region so attractive.

Is there an objective view of the situation, an overall strategy that has considered all aspects, which can guide our assessment of whether we are over- or under-developing?

Byron Shire Council should have delivered a new strategy in the form of a Local Environmental Plan (LEP) by now, but in recent times it has been caught up with the Department of Planning.

That document’s weakness is a combination of poor leadership and a lack of legal acuity, though to be fair, it has been constantly challenged by wealthy developers and a big-brother state government.

Even to this day there is no end in sight. On a state level, however, the Far North Coast Regional Strategy (FNCRS) was ratified in 2006.

Holistic approach

It takes a holistic approach to development, setting 25- year housing targets across the North Coast in the context of population growth, existing infrastructure, ecology, and government funding. It’s not perfect, but it’s the closest we’ve got to an objective assessment of how many houses Byron Shire needs, and what it can bear.

The FNCRS sets a target of 2600 new residences for Byron Shire between 2006 and 2031, an average of 104 new residences per annum.

Measured against this baseline, how are we doing?

According to Ray Darney, Council’s director of planning, ‘We approved about 150 residences per year in 2006 and 2007. Since the economy slowed we’ve been approving around 100 a year.’ Mr Darney estimates 700 approvals since 2006, a fraction above the FNCRS target rate, but close enough to be a good result.

This leaves 1900 houses to be built between now and 2031.

1900 houses by 2031

According to Wayne Bertram, head of strategic planning at Byron Shire Council, there’s lots in the pipeline.

West Byron proposes close to 850 residences. Bayside Brunswick proposes 167.   Both proposals have been lodged with the state rather than our local council.

Byron Shire Council has rezoned six sites for subdivision in 2010. Of those, Area 4 North originally proposed old-age accommodation or a 37-lot subdivision, but its DA now proposes 49 lots. Another parcel among the six has just lodged a DA for 42 lots.

A proposal for 68 residences at Bayshore Village at Byron Bay is under review by the Joint Regional Planning Panel.

Twenty-nine lots have been released at Tallowood Ridge in Mullumbimby, with 27 to follow in stage two.

It may take some time for all projects to come fruition, but if all proceed they will yield approximately 1300 residences from major projects alone.

Which raises questions to our current crop of major developers, especially those at West Byron: do you plan to take the whole allocation, or might it be okay to leave something for the rest of the Shire’s property owners and tradesmen to do for the next 20 years?

In response to this question, Carolyn Swindell of West Byron’s PR agency said, ‘With a limited supply of housing land across the Shire, we believe the concern will be less about other developers being denied the opportunity to develop and more about whether the target will be met.’

The surprising comment is in stark contrast to the state government’s FNCRS figures and the developments previously mentioned. Byron Shire is clearly already on, or above target.

Large developments have the advantage of concentrating environmental impacts and infrastructure needs into a small area, and provide Council with a big hit of developer contributions.

However, smaller developments which balance population growth with high standards of living are fairer to both property owners and residents.

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