The project manager for the proposed multimillion-dollar North Byron Beach Resort at Belongil says residents living nearby need not be concerned about impacts of the development’s first 75 cabins planned to be built soon, as ‘best practice’ environmental standards will be used.
But residents at Sunrise still appear divided over the development on the eve of the one-month exhibition period for the plan lodged with Byron Shire Council and which closes on Wednesday.
Some are sceptical that up-to-date environmental standards will be applied on the ecologically sensitive beachfront site, while others look forward to the resort and its facilities.
The plan for the 75 cabins, of a possible 193 under a 25-year-old approval, was recently promoted by the developer with onsite guided tours by project manager Jeremy Holmes and landowner/developer Peggy Flannery, wife of Queensland mining magnate Brian Flannery, who bought the old Club Med/Becton site several years ago.
Miranda Burne, a member of the Save our Sunrise (SOS) group of residents with concerns over environmental impacts, says the current application suggests the developer has ‘legal advice that some key modern environmental planning instruments, designed to protect threatened species and their habitats, do not need to be complied with’.
But Mr Holmes responded by accusing the group of representing a minority of residents, given the recent response and feedback from the site tours he conducted.
‘It is possible they may have missed the big picture here,’ he said.
‘We are going to implement best practice environmental standards because we understand that: this is what the market expects for a development in Byron; it’s what we expect the community would want for development on this site (further confirmed by feedback during recent site tours); and it’s what we have previously discussed with Council will be the outcome.’
But Ms Burne said SOS ‘does not suggest that it represents the views of all residents of Sunrise’.
‘However, from the interactions we have had with many locals in this area, and from the submissions that Council has received about developments proposed for the North Beach site, it is clear that there is great concern among many residents about what the outcomes for the site will be,’ she said.
‘This is a significant piece of land both environmentally and in terms of social amenity.
‘It seems reasonable to expect that an “eco resort” would have to comply with contemporary environmental standards. As the developers acknowledge, the site has great ecological significance and at least 20 threatened species have been recorded in the area: the Wallum frog; 11 bird species including the brolga and the pied-oystercatcher; and seven mammals including the long-nosed potoroo and the koala.
‘However, as the developers have chosen to utilise a 1987 DA for a resort that was approved more than 25 years ago, their documents suggest they have legal advice that some key modern environmental planning instruments designed to protect threatened species and their habitats do not need to be complied with.’
Mr Holmes said people should judge the development on its merits and that ‘just because a policy isn’t applicable, it doesn’t mean it’s not addressed in a different way through the design outcomes over the site’.
‘The development proposed is highly ecologically sensitive and represents a new benchmark and approach to sustainability in the Byron region for a tourist development.
‘The rigorous design process and highly qualified consultant team has ensured the proposal and documentation is of the highest standard, with the detailed consultant reports clearly demonstrating that the proposal represents significant improvements to the ecology and fauna habitat on the site.
‘This will compensate more than the planning instruments had anticipated for damage done by past developments.’
Ms Burne said, ‘SOS appreciates that the proponents appear to be preserving native trees on the site, and welcomes their stated aim of an “environmentally sustainable design”.
‘However, SOS has asked the proponents if they intend to re-vegetate wildlife corridors and we have had no assurances from them that they will do this.
‘We also wonder what plans they have for the remainder of the 88 hectares of massive site that they own.’
Mr Holmes said the proposal was ‘for a development footprint of only 10 per cent, far below current planning allowances.
‘The balance of the development area will be revegetated with endemic species, expanding the biodiversity and fauna habitat considerably beyond what it is now,’ he said.
‘This represents best practice for ecologically friendly development. The ecological “footprint” for this development is measured by much more than simplistic reference to outdated perceptions of what constitutes development.
‘The extremely minimal, low-profile, lightweight and ecologically designed cabins have each been sensitively designed within the largely revegetated landscape by surveying all trees and “hand-siting” each building onsite with the architect, landscape architect and ecologist to minimise disturbance and to ensure that the landscape is the dominant experience of the site.’
Mr Burne said the environmental planning instruments applying for the site ‘are important and hard-fought-for mechanisms for protecting wildlife.
‘We are disappointed that one of Byron’s largest tourist developments is arguing they are not relevant and do not apply, especially as it is marketing itself as an “eco resort”.’
Local resident Nicqui Yazdi told Echonetdaily she had lived at Sunrise for more than 15 years and looked forward to the beach resort plans.
‘I have recently done a personal tour of the grounds and was very impressed by the thoughtful vision that has been put forward for the resort,’ Ms Yazdi said.
‘The Sunrise Tavern will also add to what is now a thriving community at Sunrise and the Arts and Industry Park area, allowing locals here a chance to gather or dine without having to enter into Byron.
‘I have spoken with many of my neighbours and am yet to find one who is opposed to the plans. It is a beautiful vision and the locals aren’t left out; we will have access to the resort including the cafes and of course beach access too.’