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Byron Shire
December 2, 2021

Call for federal govt to overrule resort changes

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The proposed new layout at Byron Bay's Elements Resort.
The proposed new layout at Byron Bay’s Elements Resort. Byron Residents Group is concerned the new plan will severely impact critically endangered ecological communities.

Byron Bay residents are calling for the federal government to intervene over changes to a $100 million resort being developed by one of Australia’s richest men.

Byron Residents Group (BRG) says Brian Flannery’s Elements Resort, at the old Club Med site at Belongil, is anything but the ‘eco-village’ it calls itself, with recent DA changes ‘rushed’ through Byron council last month set to threaten a range of endangered species and littoral rainforest.

BRG has now requested that federal environment minister Greg Hunt call in the approvals for the resort because of the owner’s ‘failure to adequately mitigate significant impacts on matters of national environmental significance.’

According to spokesperson Cate Coorey, the group is ‘very concerned that the environmental impacts of the modified Elements of Byron resort have not been duly assessed and protected under state laws.’

But Elements development director Jeremy Holmes told Echonetdaily the company was ‘acutely aware of the sensitivity of our site and the existence of endangered ecological communities.’

‘We are asking the federal government to intervene to protect the matters of national environmental significance in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act),’ Ms Coorey said.

The modifications approved by council included re-sited and larger cabins and roads and the placing of 50-70cm of landfill.

The group says this will lead to ‘changed hydrology and other negative on vulnerable species, migratory waders and endangered ecological communities.’

According to BRG a Species Impact Statement (SIS) should have been prepared under state law and a Koala Plan of Management was ‘legally required’, but Ms Coorey says ‘Byron Shire Council refused requests to ensure their preparation.’

BRG commissioned Byron Bay ecologist Dailan Pugh to study the effects of the proposed changes. He concluded there were six potentially serious impacts that had not been adequately considered by council.

These include: critically endangered littoral rainforest and coastal vine thickets; a vulnerable koala colony; vulnerable long-nosed potoroos; vulnerable Wallum sedge frogs; vulnerable stinking laurel; and some 16 migratory shorebird species.

‘Council has repeatedly permitted changes to the development yet there has been no attempt to assess and consider threatened species and ecosystems in accordance with current legal requirements,’ Ms Coorey said.

‘Limited attempts to identify and mitigate impacts have been inadequate.

‘The obligation is on the proponent to refer to the federal environment minister an action that it thinks may be a “controlled action” – an action which is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance.

‘Given the proponent’s failure to refer the proposal to the Minister, we believe that we have provided the minister with sufficient evidence to warrant him calling it in,’ she said.

Elements responds

In response to the claims, Elements development director Jeremy Holmes told Echonetdaily the company was ‘acutely aware of the sensitivity of our site and the existence of endangered ecological communities.’

‘Field work, monitoring and reports of this property over the last 20 years, including many we have commissioned, inform everything that we do here,’ he said.

‘Council officers have assessed our applications on their environmental merits, including any potential impacts from specific development.

‘Elements of Byron prepared all of the appropriate and necessary reports and carried out all of the appropriate and necessary surveys in relation to our Section 96 application for the Stage 2 cabins.

‘Byron Shire Council provided an independent town planning expert to assess and evaluate the modification and it was recommended for approval,’ Mr Holmes said.

The company also responded to the issues raised by Dailan Pugh, to which they responded individually.

‘We have expended considerable funds in restoring the littoral rainforest. The resort does not impact on the littoral rainforest and cabins are well separated from this habitat by bushfire asset protection zones and grassed buffers.

‘ Koalas transit through the site and forage on swamp mahogany here. All koala food trees were surveyed and have been preserved. No dogs are permitted on the site and vehicle speeds are minimal. Thus, the koala is likely to continue using the site as its habitat has been maintained and threats minimised.

‘ The long nosed potoroo is no longer likely to occur at the site. The records of its occurrence are dated some 10 years ago and it has not been recorded recently in the Tyagarah Nature Reserve.

‘ The wallum sedge frog is remote from any development in that it occurs in the Tyagarah Nature Reserve.

‘The shore birds listed are migratory and do not occur at the site. They are occasional or seasonal visitors to the Belongil estuary.

‘ All occurrences of the stinking laurel have been mapped and this species does not occur in the vicinity of the development. It occurs in the littoral rainforest, which is preserved.

‘Our approach to the site is landscape driven. This approach led to the planting of 65,000 native species and a low development footprint,’ Mr Holmes said.

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