The Department of Planning and Environment (DoPE) has confirmed that up to 1,100 homes will be built at the controversial West Byron housing development, finally putting to bed claims by the developer that the number was ‘theoretical’.
In a letter to the editor published in Echonetdaily on September 25, West Byron project manager Stuart Murray took exception to this number, which was then being quoted by opponents of the development.
‘The West Byron rezoning proposal does not contain a request for such a figure, nor is this figure considered to be likely,’ Mr Murray wrote.
‘He went on to criticise the Byron Residents Group, which had been vigorously opposing the plan, claiming they ‘repeatedly misrepresented basic facts on many issues’.
In confirming the figure this week, the department has continued its unorthodox approach to the media by including it in a comment on the Echo’s Facebook page.
The unsigned comment was written in response to an article we published on Monday highlighting the reaction of residents to last Friday’s approval announcement. Featuring a departmental logo, it began by announcing that, ‘DP&E has been transparent throughout the process’.
‘There are clear rules in place and they’re the same for everyone. Regarding traffic, we relied on two separate expert traffic studies, which showed that the planned bypass will have an impact in diverting traffic off Ewingsdale Rd,’ the comment continued.’
The commenter than went onto remark: ‘People in Byron are paying Sydney prices for homes with the median house price more than $800,000, with demand pushing prices up. [West Byron] will help increase supply to help meet demand adding up to 1,100 homes.’
On Wednesday Echonetdaily wrote to the department to find out who had authorised the comments. We still have not received a response.
According to the NSW government social media policy, staff are entitled to use social media to communicate with the general public but they are instructed to ‘Identify yourself as an employee of your agency when discussing work-related issues.’
The department’s foray into social media followed its initial announcement on Friday, which contained a number of unattributed quotes, Echonetdaily wrote to the department that day requesting the name of a spokesperson to whom they may be attributed.
We received the following response to that request, ‘The department regularly responds and announces matters such as a rezoning as a matter of core business. This is standard practice across the NSW government.’
The approval is due to be gazetted today but Echonetdaily has been advised not to expect any comment from the minister, or anyone who is prepared to be named, on the matter.
Echonetdaily put some of the department’s claims regarding the state of the Byron Bay real estate market to local buyers’ agent Michael Murray to test their veracity.
Mr Murray broadly agreed that median property prices in Byron Bay are close to par with Sydney but he warned against placing too much store by such statistics.
‘Median house price statistics vary and it is not an exact science,’ he told Echonetdaily, ‘it depends on whose data you use.
‘RP data reported recently that Sydney median price for free-standing dwellings went over $800,000 and Byron was somewhere I the mid $700,000 range. But this is only for postcode 2481 [Byron Bay and Suffolk Park],’ he said.
Mr Murray described postcode 2481 as ‘a very strong market at the moment with very few listings. It would not be unreasonable to assume that there will be capital gain rises there this financial year’.
But he added the market had been flat for some years and was only now beginning to grow again.
‘I have no data or stats to say to prove it but it is a fairly widely accepted business principle that low supply will provoke price growth. Byron prices have been fairly flat post GFC and are probably now on par with 2008 prices.
‘Market conditions would now suggest the next couple of years will see price rises. Many commentators are suggesting 4-6 per cent per annum. RP data are also suggesting that lifestyle destinations, such as Byron and Noosa, will be in for more growth especially as retirees cash out from recent capital city growth and prepare for retirement,’ he said.
Mr Murray added that developments such as Mullumbimby’s Tallowood had helped people transition from the rental market.
‘Entry level property (below $600k) has always been in high demand. Recent land releases like that at Tallowood estate in Mullumbimby do provide better access for first home buyers and lower level family home options as this kind of development does not cater to investors or speculators. I would expect that to be the same in West Byron.’
‘My opinion is the people who get the worst deal in this area with property are renters. There is no home security and rental prices are outrageous. It is my experience that most young people and families are forced into looking at house purchase due to this. With low interest rates it becomes simple to do the maths and see if they can raise a deposit they will be better off buying land and building rather than renting,’ he said.
However Mr Murray questioned whether the development was in the best interests of Byron Bay overall.
‘Unfortunately what most people are then forced to do, due to the economics of home building, is buy off-the-plan project homes. We therefore get tracts of brick and tile estates which really do not suit Byron Bay or what Byron represents,’ Mr Murray said.
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