Developers of the controversial West Byron housing estate want to build the main drain for the flood prone area on land zoned as E2 (environmental).
The land includes core koala habitat and remnant paperbark forest providing critical habitat for threatened species.
Byron Shire councillors will today consider the plan, which would see major pumps and infrastructure placed in the environment zone rather than in land zoned for housing.
Council is likely to be split over the plan, not least because Cr Rose Wanchap has a separate proposal for council to buy back the E2-zoned land from the developers and convert it into a wildlife park, which will also be considered today.
West Byron is a drained wetland and the main drain that already runs through it was originally proposed by the developers to be enlarged to enable runoff from the development.
Changing that will require an amendment to the Local Environment Plan (LEP), which the developers will be seeking from council today.
The alarm was raised over the proposal by the Byron Residents Group, which said it would spell the ‘death knell’ for fragile environmental zone.
‘Essentially what this proposal seeks to do is move major infrastructure into sensitive areas so the developers wouldn’t have to put it in the area zoned for housing, thus enabling maximum housing yield’ said Cate Coorey, president of Byron Residents’ Group.
‘The amendment the developers are proposing is so broad and would allow so much in the E2 zones that the aims and objectives of the environmental zonings could not be maintained.
‘The zoning of West Byron is environmentally damaging enough, adding insult to injury by trashing the E zones is a bridge too far.
‘Constructing drainage lines through environmental zones will involve vegetation loss and changes to the water table.
‘The resulting changes to, and fragmentation of, habitat may affect threatened species,’ Ms Coorey said, adding that the council should ‘stand strong on asserting the inviolability of the environmental zones.’
Meanwhile Cr Wanchap’s proposal is to buy back remnant E2 land from the developers to create a koala park, the aims of which would be to treat the local population as well as being a tourist attraction in its own right.
‘Tourism in this shire includes “nature -based tourism ” which is tourism that relies on the natural environment but makes no provision for its long term management; whereas “ecotourism” which also relies on the natural environment does provide for its long – term management and ensures that it is ecologically sustainable,’ her proposal reads.
‘It has been estimated that the koala contributes $1.1 billion per annum to the Australian tourist industry and accounts for 9000 industry jobs (Hundloe and Hamilton 1997) This indicates the significance of the koala to the tourist industry but if this project is successful the tourist industry will make a significant boost to the future survival of the koala in this shire,’ it continues.
But council’s director of sustainable environment and economy, Shannon Burt, has found a few flaws in the argument, specifically that the E2 zone forbids such tourism based activity.
‘The E2 Environmental Conservation Zone under Byron LEP 1988 for West Byron has a restricted number of permitted uses and the proposed development would not be permitted,’ the Ms Burt argues.
‘A LEP amendment would be required so that the zoning table included as a permissible land use an “animal boarding or training establishment” and possibly also a “recreation facility (indoors and outdoors)” depending on the scale of the proposal and how it is characterised under the definitions contained in the Local Environmental Plan dictionary.
‘The feasibility report will also need to consider other legislation and license requirements for the keeping and treating of native animals, exhibition to the public and any handling if proposed as part of the Byron Shire Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary experience ,’ Ms Burt said.
Both proposals will be considered by Byron Shire Council today.