With a Byron Bay train station and shed development application (DA) up before Byron Shire Council this Thursday, residents and businesses along the Belongil stretch have again amplified their opposition to the rail project.
Elements Of Byron plan to run a diesel rail service along the disused corridor from the $100m resort in Belongil into Byron CBD, but has been met by consistent resistance over its hourly service frequency and a lack of environmental and amenity impact studies.
Those residents and businesses have also described the project as a ‘greenwash’, a term to describe a development presented with the appearance of environmental credentials.
Council staff support the DA, and their report tabled this week claims 69 public submissions were against, while 42 were for the proposal.
A resident most likely to be affected is Bethany Hudson, whose house and bedroom would be within metres of one of the stations. In a letter to councillors, she says, ‘I am directly, irreversibly affected by this in a life-changing way and I hope councillors [can] acknowledge this.’
And a half-page advertisement appears on page 13 to refute claims made by the proponent’s previous ad last week.
One of the more interesting aspects is the unclear approval process for its operation and identifying who is the consent authority.
Mayor Simon Richardson, an advocate for the service, told The Echo previously that Council could only approve the station and shed DAs, yet it’s become now clear that Council could have overall input, particularly with environmental considerations.
A letter from the environmental protection agency (EPA) to a resident says that as the proposal is on a line less than 30km, the EPA believes that, ‘Council is the consent authority.’
In reply, the mayor said that if correct, it was a good thing that Council will make the decision.
Byron Shire Council’s director of sustainable planning and economy, Shannon Burt, confirmed with The Echo that she is in discussion with the applicant and Transport for NSW, ‘about whether it would be considered exempt development under the State Environmental Planning Policy [SEPP].’
‘If not, a development application will be required for the railway corridor works, and the environmental factors and amenity will form part of the application,’ she said.
And yet environmental assessments appear to be on the table; project manager Jeremy Holmes told The Echo that they are required to undertake a ‘baseline contamination investigation prior to the commencement of any works to ascertain any contamination such as asbestos and whether such contaminants may be disturbed, and if so how they will be managed.’
‘This is required as a condition of the licence,’ he said.
As for the consideration of relocating the station owing to its close proximity to residents, Mr Holmes replied it had been explored, ‘in intricate detail’.
‘[It] was not a suitable location for a number of practical, physical and financial reasons, including the fact that it is outside of our licence area.
‘Ms Hudson’s home would be 40m from the station and is buffered by heavy vegetation and a waterway.’
The Echo also asked why Mr Holmes considered an hourly rail service reasonable, considering that the railway line has never accommodated such a frequency and why the hours they wish to run the service had increased.
He replied, ‘I believe the demand is there for this frequency, if not more in peak times. We have not increased the hours. Feedback has been that residents would like a reliable service including one that facilitates going out to dinner in town. We have received a lot of pressure to commit to a timetable, so we have proposed an hourly service in the initial stages of operation so we can accurately gauge the demand.’
Read the full Q&A with Mr Holmes here.