The Byron Farmers Markets on Thursday morning was a hotbed of political angst regarding the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Byron Town Centre Bypass, currently on exhibition.
I heard talk of legal challenges and the usual bubbling Byron protest machine seemed to be gearing up. It doesn’t always have to be that way.
The Mullumbimby community tore itself apart over Woolworths. Yet, on my most recent trip over to Mullumbimby, the end result appears to be a thriving main street, new businesses and restaurants plus a very busy Woolworths.
Having attended some of the recent Town Centre Masterplan meetings, I am convinced the local community here can mediate its own way forward. But to achieve that outcome, we need the facts on the table. Having briefly perused this EIS, I am afraid it’s a bit light on current data which could help us to reach the right decision.
I understand this is the third EIS proposal for a Town Centre Bypass to be prepared by Council since 1996 and this current one raise more issues that it settles.
I am unconvinced that offering up what is in effect a ‘cut and paste’ of the 1996 and 2001 EIS proposals actually addresses the traffic problems and the community needs for the next 20 years.
The preferred Butler Street route chosen by Council in the early 1990s was aimed at resolving traffic increased traffic movements projected for the years 2000 to 2015. Council has again chosen this same route as its preferred option for the next 20 years.
The data in 2001 EIS had a ten-year timeframe and its difficult to understand why its traffic numbers are quoted and relied on here. For start, apart from population growth, we now have a motorway direct link to Brisbane and the Gold Coast leading to an unimaginable day-tripper numbers not envisaged back then.
We also have the prospect of another residential development in West Byron coming on stream once Butler Street is upgraded. We have all moved on since 1990s. It was an analogue world back then, it’s digital now.
There were five options in the 2001 EIS but only two of these options are canvassed in the 2015 EIS. Both of the Wentworth Street Options were valid options back then and possibly even more valid now.
However, in this EIS they are each discounted without any attempt to apply the matrix of considerations against which each option ought to be measured.
Sure there is a small amount of wetland to be traversed, but the recent Pacific Motorway construction through Byron Shire has demonstrated that this can be achieved these days with bridging construction and with relatively high environmental outcomes
The Lawson/Jonson Street intersection and roundabout had reached capacity back in 2001. Yet, the preferred option does little or nothing to address the impasse created there by the increasing numbers of pedestrian (primarily tourists and growing in number each year) accessing the intersection.
If there is no resolution there, then the traffic snarl that sometimes backs up the Ewingsdale Road to the West Byron Sports Fields remains.
The mooted 20 per cent of current traffic which will be deviated down Butler Street will soon be overwhelmed by population growth and increased day-tripper movement.
If the Butler Street Bypass proposal fails to improve the Lawson/Jonson intersection, why would any rational community pursue this preferred option? Where is the justification other than it gets the state government off the hook in its attempts to get the West Byron development under way?
In my view, unless the town centre bypass allows the town centre to be freed up so as to allow ease of movement for internal traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, what’s the point of going into debt to build it?
Council should be looking at options which include bypass a route from Kendal Street to Wentworth Street via the Arts Factory and on to Butler Street at the Glen Villa van park.
This would allow the Butler Street Reserve to remain in use for markets and also for new car parking to be constructed there.
It should be looking at closing the Lawson Street rail crossing to vehicular traffic and moving it south of the tourist pedestrian traffic and this would free up the Lawson/Jonson Streets intersection.
The EIS could have looked at bringing forward the longer term option of opening Melaleuca Drive near the Industrial Estate and taking it south through to the Cemetery Road rail intersection.
We need Council to be braver than it has shown in this EIS. It has to bite the bullet and address the actual traffic issues causing the problem.
In choosing what appears to be the least hassle option so that the West Byron residential estate can get under way, we are in danger of condemning Central Byron Bay to another 20 years of traffic snarls until a real town centre bypass is constructed.
It is no good Council arguing that some of these options are too expensive when it is not putting a dollar cost against the environmental and financial cost of traffic jams including the lost opportunity for businesses to serve its customers because they cannot reach them.
It is important for all residents to recognise that the decision on approving the EIS for the Butler Street option goes to the Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel for final determination with little or no opportunity for appeal.
That’s right, state government appointed nominees will make this decision, not our Council. If you are sick of the constant and ever-growing traffic jam in central Byron Bay, then its important for you to make a submission so your voice is heard now.
Oliver Dunne, Byron Bay
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