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August 3, 2021

Byron rezoning plans under renewed fire

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Sunday’s Byron Markets saw a pop-up protest against the 108-hectare development proposal. Photo Sean O’Shea
A recent pop-up protest at Byron Markets against the 108-hectare development proposal for West Byron. Photo Sean O’Shea

Luis Feliu

Opposition to the two biggest and most controversial rezoning plans facing Byron Bay has been ramped up by both the state opposition and local councillors.

The Ewingsdale ‘seniors’ housing/retail development proposal and the suburban expansion of West Byron plan, according to opponents, will change the face of the tourist town forever.

This morning, the opposition called on the coalition to return the West Byron plan to Byron Shire Council for determination, while several Byron councillors are pushing to give locals more input into the Ewingsdale proposal.

The councillors have challenged the contentious decision by the pro-development faction on council two weeks ago which gave the green light to the Ewingsdale rezoning and have lodged a rescission motion against the vote, to be debated this Thursday.

The narrow 5-4 vote saw Cr Rose Wanchap, who defected from the Greens, together with Cr Sol Ibrahim, join the National Party faction of Crs Di Woods, Alan Hunter and Chris Cubis to pave the way for the rezoning of land adjacent to the new Byron Shire Hospital.

The vote means a development application (DA) can eventually be prepared for building hundreds of new homes under a much-criticised ‘seniors living’ planning policy.

It sparked a community outcry, which prompted mayor Simon Richardson and fellow progressive councillors to lodge the rescission motion.

That challenge was seized on by developer Belbeck Investments’ director, Leigh Belbeck, who told media they’d employed an ‘independent’ market-research firm to do a phone survey of locals, but only those ‘aged over 55’,  which they’d present to council before the meeting.

Ms Belbeck, daughter of wealthy north coast beef baron JR McDonald, claims their poll will show that ‘only a vocal minority’ oppose the plan.

But a residents group has cast doubt on the ‘survey’, saying it targets only a select few locals, and the that the vast majority or 98 per cent of Ewingsdale residents, oppose the plan.

The other media outlet found out about the survey because a resident who was contacted to participate told the other media outlet about it. The survey was not fed to ‘select’ media.

A spokesman for Belbeck Investments said the survey would appear on the developer’s website shortly.

Byron Residents Group (BRG) president Cate Coorey said the rescission order ‘only asks that the community be given another 28 days to have input on this proposal’.

Ms Coorey told Echonetdaily ’it’s not asking much since most of the damage was done when council took it upon themselves to send this whole proposal to the state government back in 2011 without consulting the community at all.

‘So far the state government has been very enthusiastic in allowing developers to override community wishes,’ she said.

‘The pro-development bloc in council are cheating the community of their right to a properly planned town.

‘We have a Local Environment Plan that was devised over nine years with community input. Now developers, aided and abetted by eager councillors want to override that,’ Ms Coorey said.

The residents’ group has been urging council to first complete its growth management study ‘so that the community can have input in how this town grows and develops’.

‘Any major development must be considered in the context of the strategy,’ Ms Coorey said.

The government’s controversial ‘seniors living’ policy gives developers concessions on parking requirements and other planning regulations, and has come under fire since it was introduced five years ago because it bypassed local planning rules.

If the rescission motion by Crs Richardson, Dey and Cameron is successful, they intend to move for the planning proposal to be exhibited for a period of 28 days and for ‘at least two community information sessions be held during that time.

Further, they call for council to ‘then consider previous and new submissions on the matter, along with the potential impact that sewer to this proposal and the new hospital could have on changing Ewingsdale from rural to urban’.

The councillors are also calling for an updated traffic study to look at impacts on Ewingsdale Road, Shirley Street and the town centre, and for a development control plan be prepared that addresses residents’ concerns before re-assessing the proposal.

Locals don’t get a say

Meanwhile, opposition planning spokesman Luke Foley and Labor candidate for Ballina, Paul Spooner, will visit the Ewingsdale site this morning to call on the coalition government to ‘honour its promise to return planning powers to local communities, and return West Byron development to Council for determination’.

The West Byron development, which the BRG and other community groups says could add more than 1,000 new upmarket homes to an already congested Byron Bay and destroy adjacent wetlands and koala habitat, was recently referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) today by NSW Greens MLC and former Byron mayor Jan Barham.

Ms Barham told Echonetdaily that the site ‘may have been wrongly defined’ and was worthy of investigation. ‘The community deserves to be assured that a project of this scale has not been brought forward for state approval wrongly.’

The 108-hectare land is currently under planning minister Pru Goward’s determination for large-scale housing/industrial development, and sits just 2.5 kilometres west of the CBD on Ewingsdale Road.

Reclusive Sydney-based developer Terry Agnew is the major shareholder of the development and owns around 80 per cent of the land.


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