Pressure is mounting on the state government to reject the controversial West Byron housing project with a petition signed by 50,000 people fearing the development will decimate local koalas to be handed to Ballina MP Don Page this morning.
The action comes as Sydney media reported the referral of the proposal to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog which is being asked to investigate how the huge development proposal was made a site of state significance, thus enabling its rezoning to be decided by the state government.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) referral was welcomed locally by campaigners against the development, which could add more than 1,000 new homes to the Byron Bay township.
Opponents say the development will have major environmental impacts on fragile wetlands and koala habitat as well as adding thousands more vehicles to an already congested entrance to the town.
The petition, signed by 49,656 people and organised by the Byron Residents Group and Friends of the Koala, calls on NSW planning minister Pru Goward to protect West Byron’s koalas and will be presented to Mr Page’s office at 11.15am, asking him to hand it to the minister when parliament resumes next week.
Byron Residents Group president Cate Coorey said the ‘sprawling housing and industrial project’ would wipe out koala habitats and potentially poison local marine wildlife.
‘A massive housing development, which would increase Byron’s population by a full third, could ruin the village’s green-conscious character forever… so why is the NSW planning department considering approving the endeavour?,’ Ms Coorey told Echonetdaily.
‘Plus, the planned project cuts straight through the habitat of a population of around 240 koalas, all of
whom would be put in grave danger by the construction and increased traffic.
‘And given that the buildings will be constructed on wetlands containing soil elements that can become toxic when exposed, the water trickling from there into the sea could be lethal to fish and other marine wildlife.
‘Byron Bay’s mayor thinks the development would be a “monstrous addition”, its residents are terrified
that their home will be forever destroyed. NSW officials must listen to the state’s people rather than big
companies’ pocket books.
‘Ms Goward must stop the West Byron development and save one of the jewels of the coast,’ she said.
Process not open
Former Byron shire mayor and now state Greens MLC, Jan Barham, referred the proposal to the ICAC last week, saying she hoped it would investigate why the development was deemed a site of state significance and believed the process had not been open.
Ms Coorey said the ICAC referal was important because many people were often asking the BRG ‘how did this thing get this far?’.
‘The rezoning and development proposal was taken by the proponents to the previous Labor state government after council refused it. They sought its designation as a “potential” State Site Significant project,’ she said.
‘The crucial issue upon which the State Site Significance determination was sought for West Byron was that it was needed to alleviate ‘pressures on housing supply and affordability.
‘Since Byron has been growing at a slower rate than was predicted in the Far North Coast Regional trategy and it has already exceeded its dwelling targets to the extent that we are already at our 2020 target, there is clearly no justification for the site to be rezoned because there is no pressure on housing supply.
‘We think there are serious questions relating to: the land’s inclusion in the Regional Strategy as a future urban release area when the settlement strategies already identified enough land already zoned for development to satisfy dwelling targets; why a Growth Management Strategy was never prepared; and why the state government incessantly insisted on development of the whole site when council agreed to only part of it being developed.
‘Neither can we understand why the department of planning has doggedly insisted on maximum development of the site despite everything appearing to recommend against it – the absence of a housing crisis, the site being almost three-quarters acid sulfate soils, on an estuary, on known koala habitat, and on the most congested road in Byron.
‘We are also concerned with the widely divergent population projections prepared for Byron, particularly as the projections when the proposal was exhibited in 2011 did not support the claims of a housing crisis.
‘At that time there was no basis for West Byron to still be under consideration by the state government.
‘There is a huge deficit of community confidence in how the West Byron proposal has been proceeding. The BRG has identified many issues of inadequate and incorrect process associated with the West Byron proposal that have gone unchallenged by the department of planning.’
Ms Coorey said the BRG ‘hope ICAC can help shed some light on why the people of Byron Bay haven’t been able, so far, to beat this – the biggest and potentially most damaging development the town has