NSW planning minister Pru Goward has stuck by her department’s population growth figures used to justify giving the green light to the controversial plan to build 1,000 homes at West Byron.
A community group opposed to the development met with Ms Goward last Wednesday in Sydney to put residents’ concerns directly with the minister, who they say was being misled by her department about the supposed need for the housing development.
The Byron Residents Group (BRG) said state planners were ‘cooking up a planning shortage’ of housing in Byron shire that did not exist in order to justify the contentious development.
But in a reply to questions from Echonetdaily, Ms Goward’s office issued a brief response ‘from a departmental spokesperson’ saying that ‘based on population projections released earlier in 2014, Byron Bay will grow 18 per cent by 2031, which means the area needs more housing for the future’.
The response also said ‘the views of the West Byron community have been taken into account at every stage of the West Byron proposal with protection of the environment a key consideration’.
The West Byron development is being determined by the planning minister rather than Byron Shire Council, which has concerns about impacts on traffic, koala habitat, sewerage capacity and acid-sulfate soils.
Residents group spokesperson Cate Coorey said before the meeting that planning department population projections for the far north coast used to justify rezoning at West Byron and Ewingsdale were outdated and did not give an accurate picture.
After the meeting, Ms Coorey said the delegation ‘explained that most of the information that she had been receiving about West Byron was from the developers’ perspective. Their reports for this rezoning are incomplete, insufficient or misleading’.
The group also urged Ms Goward to ‘right the wrongs of the previous government and return planning powers to the council’ and discussed growth strategies, koalas, traffic, acid sulphate soils ‘and the need to meet community concerns about due process’.
‘The matter is still in the department of planning hands when it should be in the hands of the local
community and council,’ Ms Coorey told Echonetdaily.
Ms Coorey told the minister the local council was completing its own regional growth strategy update and asked that the process be respected.
The five members of the BRG delegation were Ms Coorey, Dailain Pugh, Yvette Steinhauer, Andrew Murray and Mary Gardner.
Ms Steinhauer told the minister of community concerns about the dangers of loss of koala habitat, Mr Pugh presented growth and development figures for Byron which showed why there was no imperative to develop more land to reach growth targets, while Ms Gardner explained how the site was long recognised as an acid soil hotspot.
Mr Murray asked the minister ‘why an isolated separately zoned precinct with externally‐imposed development controls was even being considered as a good way to further develop Byron Bay’.
The minister is expected to make a decision on the development in the near future.