The Nationals’ candidate for Ballina for the March state election, Kris Beavis, has come under fire for refusing to make any comment on the contentious West Byron development plan.
The Byron Residents Group (BRG) says Mr Beavis continually refuses to ‘show his hand’ on the controversial development despite numerous calls for him to do so.
And Mr Beavis, who hopes to coast into the seat of Ballina after MP Don Page retires, continues to ignore medial calls and emails for comment on the issue.
(Mr Page holds the seat of Ballina by a sizable margin).
According to BRG’s Cate Coorey, Mr Beavis has declined to state his position since first asked in July.
On September 8, BRG say, he told the group, ‘I would not consider it appropriate that I comment, or other candidates for that matter, before the minister has had the opportunity to respond to your concerns directly’.
Ms Coorey said BRG had ‘become increasingly frustrated with Kris Beavis’ refusal to tell us or the community what his position is on West Byron.
‘Both the ALP and Greens candidates, as well as their local branches, have had the decency to state their positions.’
Page speaks out
But if Mr Beavis is remaining coy on the subject, the incumbent has no such qualms.
Sitting Ballina MP Don Page took to the airwaves on ABC radio news this week to state, ‘Going back to 2008, the council – because of lack of resources – said they couldn’t do the rezoning, even despite an offer by the landholders to pay for a dedicated planner of the council’s choice. Subsequently the Keneally government decided to declare it a site of state significance and to deal with the rezoning.’
Mr Page’s comments broadly reflected similar statements made by Nationals-leaning Byron Shire Cr Diane Woods in a letter to Echonetdaily.
In the letter, published on July 20 this year, Cr Woods cited council’s apparent failure ‘to progress the assessment of the site’s rezoning’ as the rationale for the state takeover.
‘The landowners were left with no alternative but to ask the former state government to assume responsibility as the consent authority after years of council inaction, despite the offers of additional resources to allow council to complete this role,’ she wrote.
Claims and counter-claims
Pressed by Echonetdaily to provide documentation for these claims, Cr Woods responded with copies of a series of letters that appear to back up her version of events.
In June 2007 the landowners met with then mayor Jan Barham and wrote in a letter that they agreed ‘the proposed rezoning of the Association members’ lands and the lands of our immediate adjoining neighbours, must not hinder Council in delivering its shire-wide LEP. Rather, the process should proceed parallel…’
Byron was at the time drawing up a new 2008 LEP (since aborted) and in July 2007 Byron’s director of planning, Ray Darney, wrote to the department of planning requesting funding for an additional planner to take on the workload created by the West Byron proposal as council planners were then busy working on the LEP.
The request was refused but, as Cr Woods correctly states, the landowners themselves did offer to fund the cost of a planner to do the work, which council did not take up.
[Both refer to ‘landowners’ when in fact most of the 106-hectare site, or around 80 per cent, is owned by Sydney property developer Terry Agnew through his Tower Holdings company, which bought out the majority landowner earlier this year.]
In documentation not provided by Cr Woods, however, it is clear Byron Shire Council did indeed make an active decision: it resolved not to rezone the land, apart from Belongil Fields.
According to the minutes of Byron Shire Council’s planning meeting of March, 13 2008, the council voted (on the casting vote of the mayor) to reject the proposal.
The motion read in part ‘That Landpartners be advised that their zoning request of December 2007 on behalf of West Byron Landowners Group is premature and that they should resubmit the Section 54 proposal post gazettal of the Shire-wide Local Environmental Plan.’
Following that motion, state planning director Sam Haddad wrote to then Byron Shire GM Graeme Faulkner calling on the council to reconsider its decision not to allow rezoning for the West Byron lands apart from Belongil Fields.
Mr Haddad used an extension of time for the council’s LEP finalisation as a lever to get council to move on the West Byron issue.
‘In the process of developing the comprehensive LEP, the department would ask council to give serious consideration to the inclusion of all land at West Byron rather than just the Belongil Fields land as currently proposed,’ he wrote.
But it didn’t work. Council refused to budge, prompting then planning minister Kristina Keneally to write a year later, also urging the council to change its mind.
As a result of Byron’s decision not to rezone the majority of West Byron, the proponents ultimately asked the state government to act.
Much hinges, however, on whether Byron Council’s position constituted ‘two years of inaction’ as Cr Woods and Mr Page contest or whether council simply resolved that the development should not proceed at the time of the developers’ choosing – or indeed at all.