A promising proposal to divert traffic past Byron Bay’s First Sun caravan park and past the swimming pool fell into a heap at Thursday’s meeting after some councillors appeared confused with what they were voting on.
While Cr Rose Wanchap’s motion appeared to be supported by most councillors, there was an air of panic when the mayor put it to the vote.
As usual Cr Simon Richardson called the vote at lightning speed.
A positive vote would have derailed attacks by during public access by Butler Street residents, one of whom told council its bypass report prejudiced his group’s efforts to seek the disused railway as an option.
Cr Rose Wanchap told The Echo, ‘I thought by connecting [the alternative bypass] to an existing large body of work it would be assured of earlier implementation, but alas that is not to be.’
She says that due to the flub, the motion will have to wait three months before resubmission. Alternatively Ms Wanchap said she can ‘take it via one of the traffic committees for presentation to Council after that review’.
Regardless, Ms Wanchap says she sees it as a ‘very affordable solution to the present bottleneck that could be implemented this year, at least before the next silly season if not sooner.’
‘It seems a waste to have a very substantial road through the First Sun Caravan Park that could be utilised to keep traffic moving. At the moment it provides income from a handful of campers while our town is blocked from all directions trying to accommodate buses, tourists and residents as they cruise around, lapping town looking for parking spots.
‘It is clear from numerous traffic surveys that 85 per cent of the traffic is caused by day trippers and tourists and they just want to get to the beach.’
Her motion requested that a staff report ‘be provided as to the feasibility and cost of creating two lanes into Byron along Shirley Street from the Woolworths Service Station in to the Jonson/Lawson Street roundabout with one lane turning left and connecting via the First Sun Caravan Park with Bay Street at the northern end.’ Instead, councillors voted to continue with the current bypass option of up Butler Street, through wetlands and crossing the disused railway at Mitre 10.
Butler St residents revolt
Earlier in the day there were accusations of ‘blatant misleading information’ over a staff report on Byron Bay’s bypass during Council public access.
Paul Jones from Grab The Rail (GTR) told a stunned gallery that the bypass report prejudiced his group’s efforts to seek the disused railway as an option.
An awkward silence follwed his speech – councillors were asked if they had any questions, but there were none.
Resident group GTR consists mainly of Butler Street residents who will be adversely affected by Council’s plans to build a Byron bypass up their street.
Mr Jones was supported by six other members and claimed there would be ‘no compensation’ over the expected massive increase of traffic past their houses.
‘Initial figures from traffic modelling say it will jump from 80 to 3,000 a day in one direction – so double that to get the estimation.’
He also questioned why the bypass was not included as part of Byron Bay’s Master Plan terms of reference (TOR).
‘We need an integrated approach to this,’ he said.
While Council’s media spokesperson agreed the masterplan did not specifically include the bypass in the masterplan’s TOR, she told The Echo, ‘The bypass is within the indicative study area map included in the Request for expressions of interest (EOI) document and will have significant influences on the masterplan content in regards to how we move about, and through, Byron Bay.’
But perhaps the most damning accusation was that council staff incorrectly stated that there is a lack of support for the disused railway becoming a bypass. On page 68 of its April 10, 2014 ordinary meeting, the report by staff states, ‘Preliminary advice received from John Holland, who manage the rail corridor on behalf of the State Rail Authority, and ARUP (consultants undertaking the rail trail feasibility study) indicates that neither favour the rail corridor bypass alignment option.’
But Mr Jones told The Echo, ‘From my direct approach to John Holland’s property manager Stan Knight-Smith and Transport NSW Country Rail manager Dan Champness, that statement is misleading as both managers said that the department was open to ideas, had many arrangements whereby other activities were accommodated within railway property, and the Arup study outcomes could be highly influential in how a beneficial arrangement may come about.’
He also says staff contradict themselves on page 69, which says, ‘…such approval [for potential uses of rail corridor other than for rail] was forthcoming at a time when trains still used the rail line and according to the environmental impact study (EIS) was possible…’
As for possible compensation, Mr Jones said, ‘RMS is said to be compensating householders whom they cannot mitigate impacts from their roadworks for the full market cost of their property. Council has little or no means of mitigating the impacts of noise, vibration, air pollution, light pollution and vehicle danger when they put a main road down an existing back street. Grab the Rail has sought a bypass/service road route that can allow mitigation of all these impacts with homes situated along the route.
Mr Jones says councillors are making decisions based on staff reports and are not fully informed.
‘No mention has been made to date of compensation other than when Grab the Rail first made its proposal and staff tried to use that argument against our route – which we demonstrated was nonsense. So in terms of likely compensation costs, councillors have remained uninformed, even unaware.’
As for leasing or acquiring railway land for a bypass, Mr Jones said, ‘Council cannot fund the bypass, so the major cost will need to be managed by the state government.’
‘In any event, land may not need to be purchased; leasehold is certainly feasible and Transport NSW certainly has an eye for a beneficial relationship whereby they may find some relief from the maintenance and liabilities associated with the disused corridor.’
During Council’s meeting last Thursday, the mayor did attempt a motion that would see a letter written to the rail authorities to request a change of use but was advised against it by general manager Ken Gainger. The Echo had not received a return call or email from media representatives of John Holland or Arup before going to press.