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March 9, 2021

West Byron project inappropriate, MPs told

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Luis Feliu

NSW Upper House MPs have been told that the controversial West Byron housing development plan is ‘inappropriate and unsustainable’.

The MPs yesterday noted MLC and former Byron shire mayor Jan Barham’s motion acknowledging  widespread concern over the West Byron urban land release plan and its impact on local traffic and wetland environment.

Ms Barham’s motion adds to the groundswell of opposition against the plan, with several local MPS now speaking out against it.

Last week federal Richmond MP Justine Elliot and Lennox Head-based MLC Catherine Cusack backed the residents in their campaign against the proposal, with Mrs Elliot saying it would be ‘irresponsible’ to rezone the 108-hectare site.

The site is owned by a consortium of local landowners that proposed the development of up to 1,100 houses and a commercial precinct under the state government’s contentious ‘gateway’ planning policy.

The landowners took their plan to the state after refusing to accept local council assessment of their scheme.

Ms Barham succeeded in getting the Upper House to take on board the concerns, saying that Ballina MP Don Page was recently presented with a petition of more than 2,000 signatures opposing the rezoning, which would boost the township’s population by 25 per cent.

She told MPs the West Byron land had been subjected to three major studies for its development potential over the past 30 years, yet each study found it was ‘not suitable for increased development’.

‘This land was identified for rural zoning because of environmental and infrastructure constraints,’ she said.

Ms Barham said the award-winning West Byron sewerage treatment plant was designed ‘without provision for the scale of development proposed by the West Byron Bay Urban Release Area’.

‘This sewerage treatment plant does not have the capacity to deal with the proposed intensity of development. The determination of sewerage infrastructure capacity is the responsibility of local government.’

She said previously approved development in the shire that proceeded without the necessary infrastructure resulted in the pollution of the waterway of Belongil Creek and development of the West Byron area could result in serious pollution of the creek.

‘A sewerage treatment plant upgrade would need to be considered prior to the approval of any future development to ensure the additional capacity does not result in the pollution of the waterway, including the Cape Byron Marine Park.’

Ms Barham said the Belongil catchment had been identified by the state government in 1996 as an acid sulfate hotspot and that ‘75 per cent of the land in question is acid sulfate affected’.

‘The artificial drainage of acid sulfate soils has been noted by the Department of Primary Industries as a cause of toxic water pollution due to the mobilisation of sulphuric acid, iron and aluminium.

‘This pollution ultimately results in fish kills, sometimes massive, and reduced hatching of fish and decline in fish growth rates.’

The flood-prone nature of the land would also put new homes there at risk.

Ms Barham said that major traffic congestion on Ewingsdale Road, the main entrance to Byron Bay, would only get worse with increased traffic generated from the development and a proposed bypass would not resolve the problem.

She said that previous state government studies ‘and the award-winning Biodiversity Conservation Strategy have identified the land is a regional wildlife corridor’.

‘This land is recognised as core habitat for koalas and other species scheduled as vulnerable in the Threatened Species Conservation Act, such as the Masked Owl and Wallum Froglet, which means the West Byron development proposal must be rigorously assessed to ensure protection.’

Ms Barham told the Upper House that the proponents of the development refused to accept local council assessments or Council’s rejection of the land for rezoning, applying instead to the state government to get around it.

‘The council has been denied its ability to plan and determine the appropriate locations for development within the Shire.’

Ms Barham said that Mr Page, who had ‘previously committed to protecting koala habitat in the area’, had noted he would pass on the concerns to the planning and environment ministers.

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  1. As a former councillor I am very aware of the history and complexities of tackling the holiday let scourge through the agency of council.
    The major problem is getting a majority of councillors to actually vote that way – not possible at the moment with one ‘green’ councillor voting with the pro-let faction.
    If there is not a strong and concerted push from councillors then staff will not have the backing to pursue the matter with the very limited compliance resources available.
    The current compliance manager was making strong strides towards getting a definitive court decision when the new (current) council were once more seduced by the concept of trying to please all parties (although one party was acting illegally).
    The once discarded as impractical ‘zoning’ idea was resurrected and thus set the scene for more years of inaction with the holiday let crew conducting business as usual.
    Green councillors were complicit in this weak-kneed response and I wonder if they will ever learn.

  2. We have to stop the use of the pre-gateway process by the Department of Planning because it is mechanism devised by the Department and supported by the development lobby to subvert the orderly planning process.


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