The Byron Residents Group (BRG), which has been fighting proposals for a development in West Byron says revelations about the approval process of a marina on Great Keppel Island have only added to their concerns.
The ABC revealed this week that Tower Holdings received approval for a marina at its Great Keppel ‘eco-resort’ even though documents obtained under freedom of information showed the authority identified serious reef health concerns.
As Echonetdaily revealed last month, Tower Holdings’ CEO Terry Agnew purchased about half of the West Byron landholding last year for around $7million through a related company, North Sydney Property Trust.
BRG is concerned about similar flaws in the development process of West Byron to those identified by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) with regards to the marina.
GBRMPA’s concerns included that ‘the environmental impact statement, as it related to a proposed sewage discharge pipeline and sewage irrigation scheme, was often contradictory, vague or missing key information,’ according to the report.
Just months after the concerns were raised inside the authority, it issued a permit for the development of the marina and sewage facilities.
The Byron Residents Group has called on new NSW planning minister Pru Goward to reject the West Byron proposal on grounds that are not dissimilar.
The assessment of the impacts of acid sulfate soils on the Belongil estuary and Cape Byron Marine Park is missing entirely, according to BRG’s Cate Coorey.
‘At least in Queensland they had to prepare an environment impact statement and assess the impact on the adjacent Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Here in NSW there has been no attempt whatsoever to assess the impacts of draining the toxic acid sulfate soils straight into the Belongil estuary, which is part of the Cape Byron Marine Park,’ she said.
‘We still don’t know how the outflow from West Byron will affect water quality in the estuary, along Belongil Beach and in the Bay,’ Ms Coorey added.
She told Echonetdaily that, as with the GBRMPA’s decision, ‘the operations of the NSW planning department are opaque.’
‘There is so little transparency. This government came to power saying they were going to return decision-making to the community but there’s no way the community thinks they’ve been considered.’
Ms Coorey said the new zoning proposed for the site would ‘give us a black spot in Byron that isn’t really controlled by Byron Council.’
‘They’re creating a whole new zone and planning instrument that will be separate to Byron LEP and the draft SEPP they’ve put up eliminates practically every environmental planning law there is,’ she said.
‘The planning department have drafted State Environmental Planning Policy Amendment (West Byron Bay) 2013 to create an “island” in Byron Shire with its own Local Environment Plan and its own Development Control Plan, dictating what the land could be used for and what can be built on it.
‘Council would only have the power to review applications to make sure they comply with the minister’s rules.
The West Byron SEPP repeals current coastal protection and development standards that would normally apply. With the stroke of a pen, no requirement to consult and no democratic oversight, the minister simply requests the governor to sign the West Byron SEPP into state law, overriding various local, regional and statewide planning instruments.
Ms Coorey said some of the studies undertaken at West Byron, just as the GBMPA found with Great Keppel, were also ‘vague or missing key information’.
‘The Environmental Protection Authority reported the developers’ preliminary acid sulfate soil study was “insufficient compared with the requirement of the Assessment guidelined of the Acid Sulfate Soils Manual 1998”.
‘The developers have not even bothered to collect baseline data on the current health of the estuary. We know that testing up till 2009 showed the estuary was in poor and declining health, but nobody has bothered assessing the health of the estuary now, let alone what the impact of this massive development would be.
‘Added to the other environmental concerns such as the proposed clearing of core koala habitat and the habitat of other threatened species, this proposal would be a potential environmental black spot for Byron Bay.
‘The old tagline used to be “Get Wrecked on Great Keppel Island”, we need to make sure it’s not “let’s wreck Byron Bay”.’
– with AAP