In a bizarre twist, Byron Shire Council yesterday refused to support state government plans for the long-awaited Byron Central Hospital at Ewingsdale yet voted against residents’ wishes by allowing further development of the area around it.
Cr Rose Wanchap, who defected recently from the Greens, and pro-development Cr Sol Ibrahim sided with National Party-aligned Crs Woods, Hunter and Cubis to support a controversial development on either side of the hospital, which will include doctors’ surgeries, shops and seniors’ housing.
The move caused an uproar inside council chambers and sparked outrage from the Ewingsdale Community Association, which was already angered by council’s previous decision to refer the proposal to the state government for so-called ‘gateway’ determination without proper consultation.
The decision comes ahead of the shire’s updated growth management strategy, which is still about 12 months away from being finalised.
Wanchap vote critical
Lorissa Barrett of Ewingsdale Community Association described it as, ‘a vote to urbanise Ewingsdale and Ewingsdale Road, without a growth management plan, a traffic plan, effective community consultation and rendering the SEPP, FNCRS, LES and LEP worthless.’
Ms Barrett was particularly scathing of Cr Wanchap, whose vote was crucial in passing the motion, and who was elected to council on the Greens’ ticket before abandoning the party after supporting the nearby West Byron development.
‘The fact that Cr Wanchap got in on a Greens ticket and has constantly voted in favour of development is astounding. If she had been voting according to the Greens platform we would’ve had five councillors supporting us,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘We were simply asking council to hold off until we have the growth management plan and an effective community consultation.
Ms Barrett added few people in Ewingsdale felt there had been any proper consultation either from council or the developers.
‘For example, Ben from the band Parkway Drive, who’s lived on that street all his life, hadn’t even heard of the development until the weekend when we did media on it.
She said the group would not give up the battle.
‘We got motivated and got the community together in a couple of weeks once we realised what was going on.
‘Now we’ve regrouped and we’ll start trying to work out what we can influence the developers to build there, and to ensure they consult the community to make sure our views are heard by council and the developers,’ Ms Barrett said.
Immediately after the public access session, resident Gavin Greenoak seized the floor with a public statement decrying the about-face actions of Cr Wanchap.
‘In September 2012, Wanchap was elected on the Green party ticket in a result that also voted in a Green mayor and Green majority by one in the council,’ he said.
‘But Wanchap voted contrary to her team and by the first half of 2014, finally resigned from the Greens. She continued to hold her seat.
‘Wanchap has abandoned that position and, by her holding the balance of power, the fate of this shire now hangs upon her whim or wisdom as she pleases.
‘Integrity must prevail for any reality of good faith. To this end, Rose Wanchap should leave the assembly now,’ said Mr Greenoak.
He started clapping and chanting ‘Rose out’ and was quickly joined in this by other members of the public gallery.
Residents’ rights overridden
Local ecologist Dailan Pugh was also scathing of councillors supporting the move, who he said had ‘overridden the rights of residents’.
‘The majority of councillors did not care that the development is in direct contravention of the regional strategy and all council planning documents and strategies. Neither did they care that the traffic study was considered unreliable and implausible,’ he said.
‘This Ewingsdale development is a planning abomination, which displays the utmost contempt for the rights and expectations of the community.
‘These same councillors have also shown contempt for koalas by yet again deferring a decision on the Byron Coast Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management to stop it coming into force.
‘This means that the core koala habitat identified on West Byron will not get the legal protection it urgently needs to stop its being zoned for housing and a shopping centre,’ Mr Pugh said.
Community Independent Cr Paul Spooner agreed that was ‘an opportunity lost in terms of making sure we get these planning matters right’.
‘There has been a lot of community concern around it. It’s not necessarily that we don’t require sites for elderly housing but it should be considered as part of the growth management strategy and whether it’s the best location in the shire,’ he told Echonetdaily.
No operating theatre
In a motion moved by Cr Spooner, council withdrew support for the plans for Byron Central Hospital on discovering they would not include an operating theatre.
Cr Spooner’s motion stated that ‘due to the proposed new hospital not containing an operating theatre providing surgical services, which has always been considered essential by the Byron Shire Community Consultative Committee in its support for a new facility, this council cannot support the proposal in its current form.’
Concerns were also raised about the future of the Byron and Mullumbimby hospitals once the new hospital is operational.
Cr Spooner told Echonetdaily, ‘for many years it’s been seen as important to the development of the new hospital for it to provide surgical services and I think that it’s seen as essential by the community.
‘Traditionally there has been day surgery services available through the Byron Bay Hospital although I understand they’ve been put on hold over the last few months because of lack of equipment,’ he said.
‘Certainly the services that are proposed [by the state government] are needed for the area but without surgical services being available from the hospital there will be a decline in health services in the area. That’s not the outcome I think the community would expect.’
Cr Spooner said the motion was a call for the state government to reconsider the plan before it gets finalised.
‘Council had been asked for its comments, and that’s what it was doing,’ he said.
The motion was passed unanimously.