#Since publication of this story, Mr Hazzard’s office has contacted us and said that he had no personal involvement in this decision and The Echo accepts that the decision was made by the department rather than the minister for planning himself.
A letter signed by a Department of Planning and Environment (DoPE) official advised then planning minister Brad Hazzard to reject a controversial housing and shopping centre development at Ewingsdale. Despite this, the minister advised Byron Shire Council to approve it.
The letter was unearthed by Ewingsdale residents researching the application by Bellbeck Pty Ltd to build seniors housing, medical rooms and shopping centre at Lot 101 Ewingsdale Road.
The document shows that the state categorically recommended against rezoning the land saying Ewingsdale is inappropriate for ‘more intensive development’.
‘The northern region DoPE office prepared an assessment of the proposal in 2013 and found significant factors counting against it,’ said Cate Coorey, president of Byron Residents’ Group.
‘The comprehensive assessment established that the proposal does not comply with virtually every existing planning instrument and current guidelines,’ she added.
But despite this, then #planning minister Brad Hazzard recommended that Byron Shire Council approve the rezoning for the 15-hectare precinct.
[*in an earlier version of this story, The Echo incorrectly asserted that Mr Hazzard had stepped down and referred himself to ICAC in 2013 after media revelations his department refused the extension of a coal mine in Lithgow near the property owned by his chief of staff. Mr Hazard did refer himself to ICAC over this matter but did not step down. The Echo apologises to Mr Hazzard for the error].
The proposal is expected to be considered by Byron Shire Council in February.
‘Residents do not believe this document was presented to Byron Shire councillors as it should have been,’ said Lorissa Barrett, vice president of the Ewingsdale Progress Association.
‘It supports our view that the placement of the new Byron Regional hospital on Ewingsdale Road is no basis for justifying a change in land use to allow urban development around it,’ she added.
A survey by the group showing 98 percent of Ewingsdale residents oppose this proposal encouraged council to put the proposal back on exhibition just before Christmas.
‘At recent community consultation meetings very few of our concerns were answered satisfactorily and it was established that there is no way to ensure that residents of the development will actually be over 55,’ Ms Barrett said.
We believe the ‘seniors’ concept is just a means to push through higher density,’ she added.
‘The owners could still develop the land profitably within the current zoning, which is large-lot residential and rural landscape, creating more homes for over 55s within the hospital precinct.
‘We have a minister that was either not advised by his staff or who has wilfully chosen to ignore their advice and approve a development proposal to proceed to the gateway process.
The group is also calling on the current planning minister Pru Goward follow the advice prepared by her own department and to withdraw the proposal from the gateway process.
‘The Ewingsdale proposal would double the population of Ewingsdale and, along with the recently approved West Byron mega-suburb, will have major negative impacts and potentially increase the population of the town by 50 per cent in one fell swoop,’ said Cate Coorey, President of Byron Residents’ Group.
‘The state government and our council need to understand that these planning decisions are not for the benefit of the town, which will lose the very qualities that make it both a tourism magnet and the major economic driver of the region,’ Ms Coorey said.