Ewingsdale residents will get a second chance to have their say on a proposed retirement village in their midst after Byron Shire Council yesterday voted to require the developer’s proposal go out for public exhibition again.
Council’s about-face came in the form of a rescission motion, withdrawing its previous resolution – taken less than a month ago – to change the zoning of the land in its new LEP.
The remarkable decision was passed with just one dissention, Cr Alan Hunter, but followed heated and at times rowdy debate.
From the outset, the passion of Ewingsdale residents was on show, with many of them holding placards supporting the rescission.
Two per cent support
During public access three residents spoke supporting the rescission motion, revealing that a door-knocking campaign of the area over two weekends had shown less than two per cent support for the plan.
By contrast, 94 per cent of the 234 residents interviewed said they did not support the proposed development.
Proponent Leigh Belbeck said during public access that she was ‘not fast-tracking or circumventing but following the gateway process’.
She said ‘200 information leaflets were sent out to residents,’ brandishing a glossy DL brochure, and added advertising had also been bought in The Echo ahead of a series of information sessions she ran.
‘Approximately 100 people attended three meetings,’ she said. It’s not Belbeck’s fault if people weren’t aware or feel they didn’t have time to come.
‘A market research survey shows strong support from older residents,’ she added.
But the Ewingsdale residents responded with the figures from their survey, with progress association member Kirsty Nugent saying the community felt they were, ‘told what [Belbeck] want to do, we weren’t asked.’
She also questioned ‘why the rights of one group of people to do what they want with their land overrides the wishes of the other 94 per cent of local landholders?’
Developers ran consultations
The plan originally got the tick to proceed to the state government’s gateway process from council in September last year after the government gave the go-ahead for the construction of Byron Central Hospital on the adjoining block.
But mayor Simon Richardson was the first to admit the public consultation process was flawed because council had allowed the developers to run the process rather than doing so itself.
‘It was the worst decision I’ve made in six years and I accept that error. At that stage we had no inclination to do a growth management strategy and we had no opportunity to look at this strategically. What has changed is we now have that strategic planning process,’ he said.
Cr Paul Spooner also urged fellow councillors to reconsider the motion in the light of the survey result.
‘People can change their mind because of new information. I think it’s very reasonable to have 28 days to have another look at it,’ he said.
‘Residents are ringing a warning bell on the planning processes enacted by this council over last couple of years. I certainly want to acknowledge I made a mistake and want to see it picked up today.’
Cr Chris Cubis raised the spectre of the state government taking over planning control of the area if the council backtracked on its decision.
‘If we rescind this motion are saying we want this motion to be handed over to the state?’ he queried.
‘The people of Ewingsdale were informed. Whether they chose to “get informed” is another issue,’ he added.
Monty Python moment
Cr Cubis then launched into a tirade at the mayor, blaming him for ‘a torrent of abusive email’ he had received over the issue.
Cr Richardson retorted Cr Cubis had only his ‘own stupidity’ to blame, whereupon Cr Di Woods declared no confidence in the chair and demanded a vote.
The matter was put to the vote, with only Crs Cubis and Woods voting in support.
State won’t take over
Under questioning from Cr Sol Ibrahim, planning director Ray Darney said he didn’t believe the state had the appetite to take on another Byron development, even if approached by the developers to do so.
‘It’s unlikely the department of planning would take over the project. Bayside Brunswick has been with them for 10 years and West Byron for six years,’ he said.
He added, ‘we could likely get an extension but it wouldn’t be 28 days because we’d need an exhibition period after that. We would ask for six months,.
Ultimately, Cr Ibrahim brokered a deal with the motion’s mover Cr Duncan Dey, which saw a clause deleted relating to the investigation of sewerage requirements without it having to go to amendment.
Cr Ibrahim argued, and Cr Dey accepted, that as sewerage would be a necessity for the hospital it would be available for the site at a minimal additional expense.
This face-saving arrangement allowed the pro-development councillors (with the exception of Cr Hunter) to vote together with progressive councillors to back the rescission and give the Ewingsdale residents their say.