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April 14, 2021

West Byron approval ‘a fatal blow’

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Map showing the 108-hectare proposed Map supplied by West Byron Project shows the planned size of the site compared to the Arts & Industry estate to its north. Source westbyronproject.com.au
Map showing the 108-hectare proposed West Byron development. Source westbyronproject.com.au

Hans Lovejoy

The approval for the largest and possibly the most controversial rezoning of Byron Bay, the 108-hectare housing/industrial/retail development on Ewingsdale Road known as West Byron, was announced out of the blue by an unnamed state planning department spokesperson.

NSW planning minister Pru Goward’s office did not reply to Echonetdaily as to why her name – or any name – was not included on the press release, despite the upbeat politicised message that the subdivision for around 1,000 new homes ‘is a good outcome for Byron Bay’s unique natural environment.’

It’s a blow for the thousands of locals who put their names to petitions and protested against the proposal, which had been refused by council for ten years.

A massive 65,305 signatures were collected at www.thepetitionsite.com, while hundreds of locals signed a petition at westbyron.org.

Complaints ranged from a lack of public engagement, transparency, planning inconsistencies, inadequate reports and NSW planning staff bias towards approving the rezoning.

Additionally, Labor and the Greens were critical that the development was decided by the state and not council, despite the coalition’s pledge that planning would be ‘returned to the community’ after winning office in 2011.

Former Byron Bay mayor Jan Barham, now a MLC, said the government has delivered a fatal blow for Byron Bay’s unique character.

Ms Barham said that ‘after decades of strategic planning and environmental and cultural protection by the community to create one of Australia’s most desirable residential locations and an iconic international visitor destination, the state government’s approval of the West Byron over development project  puts all that at risk.

‘The poor quality of the West Byron proposal is confirmed by the approval requiring additional information regarding koalas and acid sulphate soils,’ she said.

‘This identifies that the state is a poor assessor of development proposals, lacking professionalism and a blatant grovel to the development industry.’

Ms Barham said it was a ‘reckless approval that will be felt by the local community.

‘The claim that it will deliver jobs for the construction industry is unlikely, most major developments are undertaken by Queensland construction firms,’ she said.

Previously, local MP Don Page (Nationals) defended his government’s policy – the developers applied directly to the NSW government as a state significant site, not under the repealed Part3A assessment.

According to www.planning.nsw.gov.au, ‘[Part3A] has been replaced by the state significant development and infrastructure assessment systems which commenced on October 1, 2011.’

As for rezoning conditions, NSW planning staff say environmental protections will increase from 35 to 40 per cent for the 108-hectare site, and will include Belongil Creek and wetland buffer zones.

The NSW planning staff press release also claims that the planned Butler Street bypass will make a ‘significant dent in local traffic congestion’, which appears at odds with studies which suggest it would remove less than 20 per cent of through traffic and will not solve congestion in the long-term.

In reply, the spokesperson said, ‘The traffic study prepared in support of the rezoning proposal confirmed that the bypass would significantly reduce queue lengths along Ewingsdale Road and improve traffic within the town centre.’

But traffic concerns remain, according to Mr Page, despite his government paving the way for the big development.

Mr Page told media this morning the mini-bypass was only part of the solution for the traffic-congested tourist town and he shared concerns over the town’s traffic management.

He told the ABC he had always believed the bypass ‘at the very least’ has to be built before any houses were built there, and that other congestion-reducing measures had to be put in place to deal with traffic issues apart from the bypass.

Other conditions include koala management and acid sulfate soils plans, along with a development control plan (DCP), which will be developed by both the state and council.

‘Under the adopted planning controls, a development application (DA) cannot be approved before the DCP is finalised,’ the spokesperson said.

And upon subdivision, $7,000 per lot is voluntarily earmarked towards road upgrades, which Echonetdaily understands will only be available after the lots are sold.

Small apartments

Another claim by the  Sydney-based bureaucrats – and supported by Mr Page – is that West Byron will improve housing affordability in the region.

Echonetdaily asked the department how they would guarantee affordability, to which they replied, ‘The increased supply of housing in West Byron will put downward pressure on housing prices by helping to keep up with demand.

‘The rezoning will also offer a wide range of housing types within the region, including more affordable options such as small apartments of which there is currently limited supply in the area.’

But the claims are vehemently denied by the Byron Residents Group’s Cate Coorey, who said ‘there is no housing shortage, there is an oversupply relative to population growth. We have already approved enough housing to cover our growth needs up until 2020.’

And it’s those dwelling densities which will change Byron’s landscape: environmentalist Dailan Pugh says that according to the lot size map, ‘It is made clear that minimum lot sizes will be 150-square metres across both R2 and R3 [residential zones].’

‘The rezoning allows for significantly increased dwelling densities beyond what was previously proposed.

‘This is a major density increase and allows for vastly more dwellings than the 1,100 still falsely claimed by DoPE, theoretically allowing for over twice as many dwellings.’

Mr Pugh also took aim at what he says was a cover-up by the department over its assessment report, saying it failed to ‘acknowledge that the “some 1,800” signatories, and comments, to the Change.org petition were opposed to the development, or even mention these in the summary.’

He said the decision showed a ‘lack of professionalism, a disregard for environmental and social impacts, a pervasive bias towards developer’s wants and a blatant disregard for community concerns. This decision has no redeeming features.’

Mr Page said previously that the rezoning should only go ahead if certain conditions are met.

‘These were: that the traffic congestion problems were addressed, that around 40 per cent of the site needs to be zoned Environmental E2 or E3, SEPP-44 Koala Plans of Management must apply, a Vegetation Management Plan and an acid sulfate soils plan must also be put in place. Looking at the decision it seems those conditions have been met,’ he said.

‘My main concern revolves around traffic management. Importantly, Byron Council will be the consent authority for all development applications. It will be important that the town bypass is completed before the staged development comes into play.

‘Council will have some control over that since they will be handling both projects ie. the bypass and the development applications. Ideally, I think in future we will need to look at further traffic measures like a diversion coming from the north into Kendall and down Byron St to Butler St, park and ride etc.

‘Council, being the consent authority for all development applications, will enable it to determine the type of development that occurs in the residential areas,’ the Ballina MP said.

Bad planning

But Ms Barham disagreed.

‘A priority of good planning is to ensure that all information regarding constraints and values is known prior to approval to ensure that safeguards are in place,’ the MP said.

‘The difficult work in assessing the additional information will now be the responsibility of the council.

‘The increased traffic congestion that will result from the West Byron development on Ewingsdale Road and into the town of Byron Bay will not be alleviated by the bypass.

‘Independent studies have shown that the bypass will do little to reduce the existing traffic congestion, despite great cost and environmental damage.

‘The government’s approval of the West Byron proposal will create negative impacts for the community, major environmental impacts and may cause a downturn in Byron’s major economic driver, tourism.

‘It is regrettable that this approval clarifies that the state government does not understand how Byron Bay became the iconic destination that it now is.

‘Byron Bay has been nurtured by a community that has taken planning seriously and understood the importance of protecting the environment and character of the area to achieve it’s status as a desirable destination.

‘The West Byron approval will change the town and the environment forever, the government’s decision is yet another example of poor planning that denies a community the right to self determine it’s future, but delivers an end to it’s unique character.

‘The approval does not define the total number of dwellings permissible and did not take into account the fact that the sewerage infrastructure was not designed to accommodate this scale of development for the site.

‘The outcome of this will be this development taking up capacity that was designated for infill development, sustainable housing that had been subject to extensive community consultation.

‘It is ironic that the state continues to present the need for more housing for the shire while failing to address the issue that is affecting both the availability and affordability.

‘Holiday letting has captured up to 800 dwellings that were approved for permanent residential living but are being used unlawfully for tourism purposes.

‘The state government has shown neglect for their responsibility to ensure that planning compliance is enforceable and that it does not erode the quality of residential living and the availability of housing supply.

‘They have not supported local government in addressing the compliance issue but have instead agreed to support voluntary regulation by the industry.

‘The potential for West Byron to become a holiday let area would be devastating for the community.’

Ms Barham said she still believed that the gazettal of the site as a Major Development site in 2009 was wrong.

She said the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) had not yet determined her referral regarding the determination of the site as a Major Development.

‘The Byron Shire Council had and continues to approve development in planned strategic locations to ensure that the delivery of dwelling targets as defined by the Far North Coast Regional Strategy is met.

‘The West Byron site is unsuitable and unnecessary and should never have been progressed as a Major Development site and should never have received approval.

MLC Jan Barham. Photo Eve Jeffrey
MLC Jan Barham. Photo Eve Jeffrey

‘The state government’s mantra of  ‘jobs and homes’ is hollow and shows little regard for the priority the community of Byron Shire set long ago, to protect and preserve the environment and the well being of the community,’ Ms Barham said.

‘National Party candidate for Ballina Kris Beavis, who is also CEO of SLSA helicopter rescue service, hopes to replace the retiring Mr Page at next year’s state election. He echoed Mr Page’s concerns on completing a bypass before the development and added that the DA and DCP process will now facilitate local decision making.

Greens candidate for Ballina, Tamara Smith condemned the decision, saying the state government ‘comprehensively failed to listen to our community.’

‘We know that the scale of the West Byron development is totally inappropriate for Byron Bay and has the potential to cause serious ecological impacts, particularly upon the already strained Belongil Estuary and the precious koala corridor that’s found through the site,’ Ms Smith said.

‘This development will exacerbate traffic congestion on Ewingsdale Road and further strain parking in the Byron Bay town centre.

‘This development will jeopardise the low-scale and laidback character that Byron Bay is globally renowned for. How are parcels of land allegedly priced at $500,000 considered to be “affordable housing” for our community?’

‘Labor candidate for Ballina, Paul Spooner, also expressed grave disappointment, saying, ‘The rezoning for this development should have been determined by the Byron Shire Council. I supported this occurring and this was the position of the state opposition.

‘This announcement ignores the massive community concern surrounding this development,’ Mr Spooner said.

‘Clearly the state government does not care about: the lack of social and community infrastructure accompanying the new housing, such as schools; the serious and unresolved traffic congestion along Ewingsdale Road; the serious impact on koala populations; and the potential damage to the fragile wetland environment and the Belongil estuary.

‘Contrary to statements made by the government, there is no evidence in this decision that any affordable housing will be provided in Byron Bay.

‘Clearly this decision will favour certain developers at the expense of the amenity of the local community. This is a very real concern for the residents of the town.

‘A Development Control Plan is still being developed by the Department of Planning, leaving Council with the final task to determine individual development applications when they begin rolling in.’

 


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29 COMMENTS

  1. The traffic problem in Byron is caused by constant pedestrian drift across roads. A bypass will not improve the situation. People want to go ‘in to’ Byron. To bypass Byron traffic can go via Bangalow.

    The approved development for Byron no doubt can be challenged legally. More often than not there is a
    legal loophole to be exploited e.g Roundhouse Ocean Shores. A starting point might be EDO (public interest).

      • The bypass will not fix the Ewingsdale Rd traffic jam because 70-80% of cars will continue to head into town and the beaches, hit congestion at Jonson & Lawson and bank back across the railway line and up Shirley St. Cars destined for the bypass will have to queue with cars destined for the town and beaches because there is only one inbound lane on Shirley St.

        Anyone who believes that we have seen the end of 1-2 km tailbacks on Ewingsdale Rd will be sorely disappointed.

  2. Hows Don Page, thinking that future town bypasses and a short 3km park and ride will solve the problem of traffic congestion and lack of infrastructure, while at the same time he is trying to rip up the Rail line which would provide the much needed benefits like public transport to schools & services? Do they still think that ripping up the rail line for a bike path will solve anything, like everyone is supposed to ride around on push bikes when we dont even have well lit bike paths and cbd bike lanes as it is. all we really need is a bike path from town to suffolk park and to improve safety and lighting along the ewingsdale rd bike path, and then maybe the bypass and a commuter rail service would be able to handle the traffic that we are going to get!

  3. 65,000 signatures and a faceless bureaucrat delivers the fatal blow. I guess that’s at least 65,000 less votes that Mike Baird can expect in the upcoming state election.

  4. A truly tragic decision for our little community.Those of us already living here will be able to talk with sad nostalgia of the ‘good old days’ when Byron was truly different to anywhere else on the coast.

    Its’uniqueness,beauty,environmental values and passionate community made it a special place and everyone used to love to come here because it was a village and not another Gold Coast style suburb on the beach.Many dreamed of wanting to live here one day because it was BYRON and not another over developed ‘lifestyle destination’.We might one day speak of a time when you could even see koalas in the trees, if you kept an eye out.Of when the town buzzed along economically as it was always busy being so loved by visitors -who now prefer to go elsewhere as they can no longer easily get into town…despite the bandaid bypass which just dumps the problem a little up the road in another part of the central shire.
    The town had a charm then that made it an iconic destination for both national and international tourists.Now its just another over crowded,expensive, pretty place with increasingly dirty rivers and oceans,no koalas and few of the ‘characters’ and home grown businesses which defined the community.Most have moved out either in disgust or because they just can’t afford to live here anymore.Giving permission to West Byron opened the floodgates to a developer feeding frenzy of more and more huge, overpriced and unsustainable projects.
    How are we reasoanbly expected to believe any of the lip service assurances given by the developers?The Federal Government has no credible record of honesty or attention to the needs and voices of community.It is hardly worth restating this blinding fact of their term of office to date and it is difficult not to fall into despair( not helpful ).Giving in to any more than temporary despair only encourages them.Then the bastards really do win!
    This is not a ‘minor development’. Those who will benefit are not residents.This is a complete insult to the community. Can someone please re state the definition of Democracy to those purporting to practice it’ll our behalf?
    I feel so fortunate to have been able to have had the experience of living in one of Earth’s Natural and Social treasures in the pre ‘open slather’ development era.We all know that good Development is possible.Development projects can be consultative,sensitive and can preserve the essentiial features and values that we ( and most everyone else)values about living here.
    I wonder whose definition of ‘affordable housing’ this is by the way? It sure aint mine( granny flat resident).

    The whole process and its denouement is a crime against democratic process.It looks like it will mark the beginning of the end for the Byron we all know and love now.We shall just have to wait and see what the town will become post West Byron.Whatever it is, I think manymof us feel and know (even without catsrophiizing) that much of great and unique value will be lost for ever.

    • Jack, you’ve used this line about four times on this site so far. I’m afraid the joke’s wearing a bit thin. Perhaps rather than increasing the gene pool we could just improve it…see ya later.

      • HI, I used it once actually (the gene pool line). I rent out my house to long term tenants. I could probably charge much more than I do however I don’t rip people off. The stories I hear from people who rent my house is this town needs more dwellings. The folks that own property here in my view are just being greedy to say that Byron Bay should stay a village. I mean really. People need to be able to live here affordably. It’s happening and the sooner the better. As far as the ex mayor scaring everyone stating that West Byron will be holiday let. Well sunrise is not a holiday let suburb so I doubt that West Byron will be. If it is holiday let it just means council are not doing their job. I know that the IGA at Sunrise was protested against too I mean the greenies would have us all living in a log hollow if they got there way. Perhaps we need to introduce farting horses pulling carts around town everywhere too ?

  5. Early reports of Byron Bay’s demise due to a “Fatal Blow” may be premature, given the resistance. Perhaps this blow is more comparable to a sucker punch – but not fatal… it’s not over till it’s over. I wonder if the anonymous decision hides a secret intent to dilute the local culture, resistant, relilient and creative as it is.

  6. Appears now Byron will be swimming in its own sewerage..
    more “Traffic Jam s & Fruition”..
    signed 1st Earless of Julian Rocks..
    SOLD!!

  7. Lets hope we have a couple of big wet seasons and a cyclone or two and then everyone will see that the West Byron site is actually a swamp!! i.e. a wet lands and it will never be built on.
    Pray for rain folks, or a La Nina shift

  8. OCCUPY THE SITE.
    West Byron just looks like an ugly plan being spewed out of an old way of thinking that has no regard for beauty, love, truth and community. (And in total denial of our climate rapidly destabilising and the need for radical change in the way we live and build.)
    I believe when we, the people, unite and shift out of our comfort zones to trust each other again, live with each other again, break our co-dependence to governments, supermarkets and energy suppliers. Pull down the fences and build within nature’s laws again, our dreams will be bigger, deeper and wider then the governments and big business who currently have the ‘dreaming’ for the future highjacked with dumb plans that treat people like slaves, divided and conquered.

  9. What a lovely name, „West Byron“, evokes images of sprawling Western Sydney. Why doesn’t the Govt. step in and offer these realestate and developer mongrels opportunity in the Sydney western suburbs. There they could make good the mistakes of past Sydney council planning by investing in much needed high density accommodation and more office and technology space integrated with intelligent cycle lanes and modern public transport to the envy of Europe. The North Coast needs native regeneration projects to help preserve some of Australias unique coastal regions not bulldoze them down. Instead of creating yet another mistake on this beautiful land make good your past errors.
    Australia apt to repeat mistakes like the worlds proverbial village idiot, Dorftrottel.

  10. I love Byron and would love to see it stay Byron, and I believe it can stay Byron and progress. Why do we need a 1,000 house development when the largest I’ve seen living here for 12 years is the Tuckaroo development in Mullum, which isn’t even Byron and is less than 100 houses. I do think Byron should grow, but not this big this quick. They should approve one stage at a time and make sure it is a beautiful development, not a shitty eyesore, bigger blocks would be a good start. Ewingsdale style neighborhood would be great!

  11. Are we really going to let this happen?? The people have spoken! Can the vote of one deceitful, lying corrupt and thoroughly evil woman allow this to happen against the wishes of the community? For the love of Byron, we can’t just roll over- this is a fight we have to win! Save Byron before its all gone and too late.

  12. Won’t be standing by and letting this happen. Day one we should block the road off and throw screws and nails all over the roads. What a joke. It must be stopped. Or we will be the Gold Coast

  13. Lets face the fact, that we are snookered by the politics, locally and at a state level.

    One would have to be naive, to believe our local member was not going to support this monstrosity of a development.

    Conservative politics rule the day, so to all the middle class dreamers, its time for a harsh reality check, Byron Bay has well and truly become another festering commodity of unrestrained business development.

    • Time for you to move on then Boyd.
      Why has everyone beat up and over egged the negatives and ignored the positives for this project

      • Hey Stephen

        Can you tell us what the positives are and how you stand to benefit?

        Perhaps people like Boyd ‘belong’ here more than you do?

  14. 65000 people against this decision with a population of 28000 (for the entire shire), and these are the democratic values we are so proud of and want to impose to other countries? I am sure this is legally challengeable.

  15. It’s not a sealed deal yet. There is still hope, to block and oppose and resist via conventional channels. Then if that fails – unconventional channels – black book of dirty tricks – make the site physically impossible to build upon. Whole variety of ways – human barricades are not the only way. dig trenches, cover them with sticks to trap machinery. Nine inch nails in the dirt to destroy tyres. The internet is full of resources

  16. Just drove to the Hunter and back to see the Stones play (fantastic!) and all of us commented at one point or another how great it was to be back home in Byron. The look, the feel, the smiles and the vibe – it’s just very different from the cookie-cutter architecture and Maccas, Bunnings, Dan Murphy et al overrun towns we passed through.
    Sad to see that this is about to change and that once again, the developers have paid their way into destroying what has made Byron so unique.
    Even a five year old can see that we’re getting so overcrowded right now that this development will be the death knell of everything we hold dear – uncrowded beaches, relaxed pace, the overriding… humaness of the place.
    I just had my first instance of road rage in the Woolies car park scramble. Be prepared for more… much more, as our excuse for a State government keeps selling us out. So sad…

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