Two of Byron’s iconic food brands say they will have to quit the shire within a year unless substantially larger processing space can be found for them than anything currently available.
That’s the urgency behind plans to build a 20-acre ‘food precinct’ opposite the existing Bangalow industrial estate on Lismore Road.
Because of the scale and cost of the proposed development ($23 million) it will bypass Byron Shire Council and be considered by the state’s Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) instead.
Developer Bart Elias and town planner Paul De Fina told a packed Bangalow Progress Association (BPA) meeting on Thursday evening that they had been looking for 18 months to find an appropriate site for them to build at least two 5,000 square-metre factories for anchor tenants Brookfarm and Salumi.
They could soon be joined by a third world-famous shire-based brand, Byron Bay Cookies, which is also looking to expand.
And while the meeting heard about residents’ concerns over truck movements, visual amenity and potential pollution of Byron Creek (which runs through the property), most agreed with Mr De Fina’s proposition that, ‘the worst thing that could happen is seeing Byron Bay cookies produced in Melbourne [where owner Rinoldi is based].’
The development would also include several smaller commercial kitchens for cottage businesses requiring occasional usage as well as a barn that could provide space for a regular growers market and a cafe.
The proposal would blow out of the water Byron Shire Council’s equally contentious ‘food hub’ plan for the old RMS donga site, with both Brookfarm and Salumi confirming to Echonetdaily that it was unsuitable for them.
The at-times rowdy meeting had to be brought to order by BPA president Tony Hart, who at one point begged the audience, ‘don’t let this turn into a fight.’
‘There are a lot of pros and cons of every development,’ he said, adding that if ‘Bart and Paul [don’t] give you some answers that might satisfy you… they can take away your issues or we can pass them to council.’
Mr De Fina exacerbated matters by referring to some women questioners as ‘darl’ and ‘love’, resulting in some sarcastic responses from the audience.
At one stage he pointedly asked the audience if they had read the 550-page DA in its entirety, to which two said that they had.
But that didn’t negate a range of concerns, highest on the list being a substantial increase in the number of truck movements along Lismore road, and from the M1 exit through the town itself.
Mr De Fina himself admitted that the principal concern about the development was the proposed size of the three main sheds, which are designed to be increased from 5,000sqm to 10,000sqm each over time. But this he said was necessary to cater to expansion over a 10-year timeline.
‘It looks large from aerial point of view but the view from road [will be] minimal,’ he said.
Brook family plead
Members of the Brook family, owners of Brookfarm said the estate would be good for Bangalow and increase employment in the area.
Brookfarm’s logistics manager Will Brook told the meeting why the new factory site was so important to them.
‘We’ve hit around 55 in-house staff, not including subcontractors. We did own another site in Byron Bay that was going to give us 1,500-2,000sqm but it was going to be too small.
‘We’re now going backwards and forwards between sheds. We tried to look in the Byron Arts & Industry Estate and elsewhere but this is going to be the best solution. We want to employ more people,’ Will Brook said.
Co-founder Martin Brook pleaded with the meeting to let the development go ahead.
He said the business had started on their macadamia farm at St Helena ‘and our first factory was on our farm but it’s impossibly small.’
‘We started at Bangalow markets and live in the 2479 postcode. It’s the town we most connect with. We are still utilising our original farm factory as well as our main factory in Byron Bay and have packaging stored offsite at Murwillumbah.
‘We would not be involved in anything that was in any way shonky. It’s going to be sensitive, environmental. My passion is rainforest regen – we just want to stay here – we don’t want to go the Gold Coast, Lismore or Ballina,’ Martin Brook said.
Regarding concerns about the entry to the site via Slatterys Lane, which is on the brow of a hill, Mr De Fina said, ‘the whole road will be widened. There will be massive road works to fix it up. Our original proposal was a roundabout but RMS said no.’
A spokesperson for Shoobridge Transport told the meeting that the new location would in fact reduce truck movements around the shire as both companies were currently operating from several different locations.
‘We’re doing multiple movements. This project is going to minimise our movements. At the end of the day it will improve things for everybody.’
He added that it was current practice for his company to drive to Lismore via Ballina, rather than using Lismore Road because ‘it’s so hard on the vehicles’.
But he agreed there was no way around using Lismore Road to access the new site.
One audience member asked about the option of a Bangalow bypass that would connect the motorway directly to Lismore Road, saying that it was ‘back on the table’ as far as RMS was concerned.
But Mr De Fina described the proposal as ‘futuristic’ ‘I don’t think that’s likely,’ he said.
Another audience member quoted an email from Byron mayor Simon Richardson (unseen by Echonetdaily) in which the development was described as ‘huge and on the wrong side of town’.
‘It will bring huge traffic movements through town. It’s just big enough to bypass council and go to the JRPP,’ the mayor was quoted as saying.
Mr Elias responded, ‘What does the mayor know about construction costs? He’s a schoolteacher, not a quantity surveyor.’
Byron Shire Cr Paul Spooner said that while the DA will be considered by the JRPP, not the elected body, it was on exhibition through the council website until June 22 and that council would take submissions in the normal way.
Mr De Fina concluded the meeting by saying he and Mr Elias were being upfront about the proposal.
‘We’re not trying to hide anything here; we’re trying to be really open,’ he said.