More than 500 Byron Bay residents, including local Indigenous leaders, MPs and local politicians, rallied on Sunday in protest at the controversial West Byron development soon to be decided on by state planning minister Pru Goward.
Locals gathered at Railway Park and heard how the proposed rezoning for development for hundreds of homes in the Belongil Creek area would impact heavily on the fragile wetland environment, koala habitat and add to the town’s already heavy traffic congestion.
They also heard how the state government is keeping locals out of the loop and that the planning justification for such a massive increase to the size of the town was based on unsound population projections.
Arakwal representative Delta Kay urged the community to fight the plan.
Ms Kay said her family had been custodians of the area for generations and had a strong connection to Belongil Estuary.
Greens candidate for the seat of Ballina, Tamara Smith joined newly pre-selected Labor candidate for Ballina, Paul Spooner, and Labor colleague Keith Williams, all spoke out against the rezoning of West Byron for intensive development.
The three called for local people, through local council, to be allowed to have the final say on the development.
Byron Residents Group (BRG) president Cate Coorey told the crowd that the developers and the department of planning had been ‘misleading the community about the development, about the number of houses intended for it, about the existence of koala habitat on the site and about how the developers were going to be part of the “solution” to the traffic problem of Byron’.
‘To the people who made submissions in support of West Byron, I would like to say it is not your fault. We have all been misled and misinformed and had key information withheld from us,’ Ms Coorey said.
‘Community consent cannot be said to have been given if it was not informed consent.’
BRG member Yvette Steinhauer said the koalas on the site were ‘not just passing through, and there are more than a few’.
Ms Steinhauer said a woman at this rally today – who stays at Belongil Fields Caravan Park – saw six in one tree during a Splendour Festival. If these developers get their way it could lead to … a possible extinction event. I have no doubt Minister Pru Goward, like most of us, cares about koalas but she is not getting the correct information.
Local ecologist Mary Gardner said acid sulfate soil run-off likely to occur as a result of building on the site would impact on surrounding wetlands.
‘This toxic cocktail then seeps into the Belongil Estuary and finally the marine park,’ Ms Gardner said.
‘It pollutes the water where you and the kids swim. It also kills the fish. If you’ve lived here over a decade, you will remember the problems back then with pollution, the fish kills and the stink,’ she said.
BRG member, Byron Environment and Conservation (Beacon) spokesman Dailan Pugh, said the planning department was ‘changing the population projections to suit the development since Byron is growing at a rate slower than expected’.
‘But we are approving houses at over twice the rate identified in the (Far North Coast Regional) strategy,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘The department’s problem is that their only reason for being able to justify West Byron as a state significant development is a supposed housing supply crisis, and the minister can only justify considering the proposal if it is state significant.’
Greens NSW MLC and former Byron shire mayor Jan Barham said ‘the town of Byron is the way it is because it has been fought for by good people’.
Ms Barham said she had been lobbying MPs in parliament, urging them to call a stop to the development.
She said locals should ‘let the minister know you don’t want West Byron’.
The crowd signed petitions and letters to planning minister Pru Goward and an open letter to the landowners asking them to stop the proposal and put forward something better for the town.
Ms Coorey said after the rally that Nationals candidate for the seat of Page, Kris Beavis, had refused to make a statement about West Byron despite repeated requests by the BRG.