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government’s policy – the developers applied directly to the NSW government as a state significant site, not under the repealed Part3A assessment.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.
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.
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.
‘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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