Byron Shire Council’s planning director has confirmed that councillors still have the power to approve or reject a contentious development proposal for Ewingsdale, despite it having previously sent it to the state government for a gateway determination.
The proposal, which would see a ‘seniors’ housing development, doctors’ surgeries and a shopping mall adding to the traffic pressure along Ewingsdale Road, has been hotly opposed by existing Ewingsdale residents.
Council planning director Ray Darney told Echonetdaily that the department of planning had introduced the so-called gateway system as ‘a methodology to more precisely deal with rezoning applications which were taking, in the government’s opinion, too long.’
He said the process sees the state giving council requirements for the applicant to address. Council then seeks feedback before making a final determination.
Byron council voted last year to place the controversial development on exhibition for a second time after residents claimed the initial community consultations, run by the developer, were inadequate.
Mr Darney said that if Byron Shire Council decided not to proceed with the proposal ‘the applicant would have to approach the state government and, in my opinion, start again.’
Minister overrides staff
But Byron Shire Councillors themselves seem confused about the nature of the process, with Cr Paul Spooner referring Echonetdaily to staff for clarification.
‘As to what would happen if council was to reject it, I would need to get advice on that myself,’ he said.
Mr Spooner is one of few councillors to respond to questions posed by Echonetdaily to them earlier this week.
In an email to all councillors, we asked whether they had been aware that then planning minister Brad Hazzard had overruled his own staff in his recommendation council accept the proposal.
A letter from a local planning staffer recommending refusal, which was discovered by a planner working for the Ewingsdale Progress Association, was first made public by Echonetdaily last Friday.
Three councillors – mayor Simon Richardson, Duncan Dey and Paul Spooner –admitted they had no knowledge of the staff recommendation.
All three agreed the discovery of the staff recommendation hadn’t changed their attitude to the proposal.
Only Cr Spooner was prepared to reveal his position, adding, ‘the points outlined in the report are very consistent with the issues raised by the residents in opposition to the proposal. It is also in line with the reasons why how I voted against the proposal proceeding.’
‘One of the key principles for good planning outcomes is that effective and genuine public participation in strategic planning and development decisions. Clearly, this principle has not been achieved, so far, in this process,’ Cr Spooner said,
The remaining six councillors – Basil Cameron, Chris Cubis, Alan Hunter, Sol Ibrahim, Rose Wanchap and Diane Woods – did not respond to Echonetdaily’s questions.
An article that appeared in this week’s Byron Shire Echo (but not published in Echonetdaily) erroneously stated the staff recommendation was obtained by FOI. In fact it was a public document that was not presented to councillors.