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Byron Shire
June 4, 2023

Byron Bay doesn’t need new suburb, meeting hears

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Byron Bay ecologist Dailan Pugh explains why the planned new suburb of West Byron isn't needed at last night's community meeting.
Byron Bay ecologist Dailan Pugh explains why the planned new suburb of West Byron isn’t needed at last night’s community meeting. Photo Jeff Dawson

Chris Dobney

The planned new suburb of West Byron is not needed to ensure the Byron Shire meets its state housing growth targets, ecologist Dailan Pugh told last night’s meeting of more than 100 concerned residents at the Byron Sports and Cultural Complex.

Mr Pugh put the blame for the development squarely on the shoulders of Byron Shire Council, saying it had abrogated its responsibility for drawing up a regional development strategy for years.

‘Seven years after it was first promised by council there is still no strategy,’ Mr Pugh said.

A NSW government plan had identified the need for 2,600 new houses in Byron Shire by 2031 to meet its growth targets, he told the meeting.

‘The onus is on the community to provide 104 new dwellings a year for 25 years.

‘So far we’ve delivered an average of 190 a year, or a total 1523 new dwellings in eight years, which is 14.3 years’ worth of new growth,’ Mr Pugh said.

‘Ewingsdale Road and Jonson Street roundabout are already beyond capacity. Why would any community in its right mind pick the most congested road in the shire to put in a new development?’, he asked.

Mr Pugh said there were sufficient vacant blocks and potential dual occupancy sites in Byron Bay and Suffolk Park to meet the targets for the foreseeable future and that these were more likely to offer ‘affordable’ housing, such as granny flats, than a greenfield site like West Byron.

He added that new developments in Bangalow and Mullumbimby meant the shire would likely continue to exceed its targets into the future, even without West Byron coming online.

‘There is also a proposal for 170 houses, a retirement village and a shopping mall around the new hospital but this has also been passed to the planning minister for a decision.’

Mr Pugh concluded, ‘Residents of Byron Shire have been denied their rights for long enough. It’s about time this anti-democratic council gave them back,’ to a round of applause.

Cr Rose Wanchap offers to take questions from the floor during the community meeting on West Byron on June 11.Photo Jeff Dawson
Cr Rose Wanchap offers to take questions from the floor during the community meeting on West Byron on June 11.

Wanchap walks out

Following Mr Pugh’s speech, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson was introduced but before he could begin to speak his former Greens ally, now independent councillor, Rose Wanchap began shouting from the back of the room.

Ms Wanchap quit the party after Echonetdaily reported that she had crossed the floor to vote with pro-development councillors against the mayor’s urgency motion on the issue of West Byron at last month’s council meeting.

Cr Wanchap announced she had to leave the meeting but was happy to take questions from the floor, whereupon the MC repeated his earlier announcement that questions would be reserved for the end of the meeting.

A member of the audience shouted out ‘conflict of interest’, referring to her job as a real estate agent.

Cr Wanchap said she was happy to speak to the issue but the MC reasserted his authority and reiterated there would be no questions until the end, adding ‘we are here to talk about the development’.

Cr Wanchap then left the meeting together with Cr Sol Ibrahim.

Mayor Simon Richardson asks audience members to contact councillors to support his motion at a community meeting on West Byron on June 11.
Mayor Simon Richardson asks audience members to contact councillors to support his motion at a community meeting on West Byron on June 11. Photo Jeff Dawson

Due process

When he did get to speak, Cr Richardson said that while council would like its planning powers handed back, it was imperative that due process was seen to be followed by the state government.

This could not happen, he said, while the quality of the three main studies relating to the proposed development were in dispute.

‘The motion is not about affordable housing – it’s not about world’s best practice when we build great buildings. It’s a furphy that these things need to be looked at at a DA level,’ he said, in response to issues previously raised by Cr Wanchap and others.

Rather, he said, the community needed the government ‘to give us the surety that what you are doing is fair’.

‘If the state government wants the respect of the community, it needs to respond to the two sets of [conflicting] data about acid sulphate soils, two reports on koalas and differing traffic reports,’ he said.

‘Let’s defer it, get an independent report and get a set of data we can agree on. At least then we can live with whatever poison chalice the government gives us and asks us to drink from.

Mayor Richardson urged the group to ‘drink from the fountain of democracy and email other councillors and ask them to vote in support of [today’s] motion’.

Ling chi

Earlier in the meeting, koala expert Stephen Phillips, author of the original koala study for the site, said attempts elsewhere in the media to discredit the study were wrong.

He said the methodology used for his study was ‘best practice’ and a ‘leading standard’.

Mr Phillips said there were four important koala cells along the Byron coast (east of the Pacific Highway) with a total estimated population of just 240.

He said the proposed West Byron development was in the middle of one of the cells that had a ‘long history of occupancy’.

‘The habitat is linear and restricted but very high quality,’ he told the meting.

Mr Phillips used the Chinese term ‘ling chi’, meaning death of 1000 cuts, to describe the progressive impact of the proposed development on the site’s remaining population.

‘This is a term those of us who study koalas are all too familiar with,’ he told the meeting.

Natural scientist and Echonetdaily contributor Mary Gardner spoke about the acid sulphate soils on the site, how they came into being and the potential for them to poison the Belongil estuary if earthworks for the development disturb the soils.

‘When this [former swamp] soil is dried and turned over it creates sulphuric acid which seeps through soil and binds with heavy metals, killing plants,’ she said.

‘It also gets into the estuary and kils fish.

‘In 1988 when Byron Council first announced the site was “under investigation” Belongil was declared the most polluted estuary in the state.

‘It still has very high levels of lead and petrochemical pollution.’

Ms Gardner also reminded the audience of a 2002 ‘Belongil Think Tank’, which had examined ways to deal with the issues, including putting in flood and stormwater controls and returning some or all of the site back into wetlands.

‘I’ll leave it to others to explain how the lowest-lying, most degraded land in Byron suddenly became the most expensive,’ she said.

‘Now the challenge is to pick up the pieces, look at it again and learn from history.’

Cr Richardson’s motion will be voted on in Byron Shire Council today.

It can be viewed in full by downloading the council agenda here. Alternatively it can be viewed on the Byron Residents Group website.

The group is urging as many people as possible to attend today’s Byron Shire Council Meeting from 9am to support the vote.

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  1. I remember when Sal (his real name) Ibrahim, was a kid, having fun in laid back Byron, surfing at Watego’s. Bad luck the kids of the future won’t get the same opportunity! Thanks, Sal … Thanks, Rose. What happened….?

  2. Rose Wanchap is learning quickly from her ‘new’ allies – her Byron United Puppet masters – behaving badly by trying to hijack a public meeting – shouting , and ignoring the meeting protocol. She didn’t convene the meeting so she had no right to demand question time when it just suited her because she ‘couldn’t hang around’. Such public displays of bad manners does her image, already tarnished by her bizarre politics, no good and demonstrates clearly her inability to be a team player. Chucking a tantrum because you can’t get your way says all we need to know about why she was such a bad fit for the Greens. A lesson for them in the proper vetting of candidates for next time!
    I just hope rate-payers remember how quickly the Byron United lot are always so quick to do an ‘Abbott’ on us- sell us down the drain all in the name of money and development. Thank god Di Woods isn’t Mayor – we’d probably have canal estates and High Rise apartments everywhere! Perhaps they all should move to the Gold Coast where their poltics are a better fit to the locals.

  3. I know it is a thankless job being a councillor but surely a motion to defer the rezoning of West Byron until all correct environment and traffic studies are completed is not too much to ask.I may be a whinging local of 50 years , as Paul Waters seems to call a fair few community members these days but I am standing up for what I believe is the best thing for our beautiful town.A 30 metre wide x 4 metre deep drainage canal dug thru a known acid sulphate swamp plain (or rather what was a swamp plain) will poison the Belongil Creek. We have plenty of in-fill space to supply low cost housing ie granny flats and there is Ewingsdale that once connected to sewer can have subdived blocks. Move the population west of the Pacific Highway to provide cheap housing and get away from an environment hot spot.The koala study was hidden and the traffic study was flawed ( 6000 car movements per day in lodgement documents but 14000 car movements per day if correct data applied) .

  4. We all must write to Minister Pru Goward and point out to her the utter insanity of this proposal. The guy from the Flick family whose land is continually flooded with God knows what from the sewage plant has shown that the sewerage capacity of Byron is not up to a development like this. Let her know that traffic siutation is dire, a bypass is a distraction and we’ll have to pay for it anyway and that the whole thing is WRONG! A development can be rejected if the infrastructure is not there. Let her know NOW!
    The Hon. Pru Goward, MP
    Level 34 Governor Macquarie Tower
    1 Farrer Place. SYDNEY NSW 2000


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