Luis Feliu & Hans Lovejoy
West Byron developer Terry Agnew has confirmed with The Echo his intentions to aim much of his development at the wealthy.
It comes after the Sydney property billionaire boasted to a Murdoch-owned newspaper last weekend about his plans to build 500 homes on 600 square metre lots, close to Byron’s CBD. Prices would start from $850,000, he said.
Mr Agnew is no stranger to high-end developments. Just this week the Queensland government refused his Tower Holidays company a ’boutique’ casino licence for its $600 million luxury Great Keppel Island makeover, leading to reports he had ‘all but given up on plans for the resort’.
The Echo asked Mr Agnew if The Weekend Australian article accurately represented his views, which included naming the development The Harvest Estate.
He replied, ‘Firstly, I would like to differentiate The Harvest Estate from the West Byron project. That is a separate project and I cannot make any comment on what will or will not happen on that site.
‘Market demand at the time will determine pricing. Increasing supply of housing will go some way toward increasing affordability of housing in Byron overall. This is not unique to Harvest or Byron, as I am sure you understand.
‘Our commitment is to nurturing a residential community which showcases state-of-the-art sustainability measures, from the use of solar power, water-sensitive urban design, rainwater tanks, cross-flow ventilation and a range of other initiatives.
‘While our research has shown that there exists some pent-up demand from Sydney and Melbourne buyers, we would like to preference locals first.’
The Echo then asked Mr Agnew how that could legally be achieved, but did not receive a reply.
Currently the NSW planning department and Byron Shire Council are preparing a development control plan (DCP) to provide a framework for the 70-hectare site, located on Ewingsdale Road.
Department defends ‘affordability’
And Mr Agnew’s intentions have put him at complete odds with the NSW planning department; according to the government’s own West Byron Bay Assessment Report, the approval decision was made, in part, owing to a perceived lack of affordable housing.
From page 68 it reads, ‘Housing is clearly unaffordable in the Byron Shire, which also extends to the rental market and key workers cannot afford to live in the LGA.’
Given the lack of a coherent planning narrative, The Echo asked the department, ‘How can locals have faith in the planning department’s ability to provide responsible and strategic planning that will ensure social equity.’
The Echo also asked, ‘Does the department expect that Mr Agnew’s wishes be granted?’ and, ‘How will the department ensure that this proposal doesn’t exacerbate Byron Bay’s already recognised social/wealth divide?’
A department spokesperson replied, ‘The planning controls for the West Byron site, developed by the department and currently being finalised by Byron Shire Council, allow for more affordable townhouses and terrace-style homes.’
‘Increasing the supply of homes in the much sought-after Byron Bay market will help ease the pressure on demand and help put downward pressure on house prices.
‘The department is also overhauling affordable housing policies to make sure they are providing affordable housing where it is needed most. For example, the department recently announced a review of regulations to cut red tape and streamline approval processes for manufactured homes. On top of this, the Affordable Rental Housing policy alone has resulted in more than 7,500 dwellings being approved between January 2010 and June 2014.’
The Australian article, by Lisa Allen, also opined that Mr Agnew and his Brisbane-based billionaire partner, John van Lieshout, were allowed to develop, ‘after a virtual lockout by the Greens dominated local council for many years’.
Mr Agnew also told the The Weekend Australian that he and his partners were hoping to launch the estate later this year or early next year.
DCP will determine
West Byron supporter councillor Di Woods for comment said she hoped ‘this is a false report regarding Mr Agnew’s claim of 500 houses at over $850,000 each’
‘That is not what I envisage the DCP will eventually produce, and at the end of the day, the DCP will be the determining factor. It would be good if the noisy objectors turned their energy into working with the owners for an agreed outcome but I think they may have cooked their goose.
‘For my books, it has always been about a mixture of development which would provide some affordable housing, with the advantage of an increase in rates to help bolster Council’s coffers.
‘I can assure you that I will be advocating for more intense development, with lower house prices, making sure that the total number of houses does not exceed the proposed 850 sites approximately.’
Another councillor who supports the development, Cr Rose Wanchap, told The Echo, ‘It is not yet known what size lots will be offered’.
‘The size will designate the selling price. Ideally I would hope that more smaller lots will be offered, but in reality, lots which are 600m2 or more will be able to have two dwellings built on them.
‘If a 600m2 lot sells for $600,000 then surely two 300m2 duplex lots will sell for half that. If house and land packages are being offered for $800,000 they would have to be larger lots. This would mean two homes could be built and sold for $400,000 each. By my calculations that would make an interest-only loan on the total purchase price of $400,000 at five per cent interest $384 a week.
‘I call this achievable.’