If Byron Shire councillors hoped to end their term on a high note, that prospect has been dashed.
Council’s last official meeting before going into ‘caretaker mode’ for elections is this Thursday and just one of the many topics to be tabled will be the lack of public trust in council’s process regarding a major planning policy that aims to guide rural zoning and land use.
Council’s draft Rural Land Use Strategy (RLUS) is again before council, and drew the ire of residents after it was reworked at the last minute by Cr Sol Ibrahim, senior council staffer Shannon Burt and a handful of unnamed town planners.
The council majority of Ibrahim, Woods, Wanchap, Cubis and Hunter approved it to go before the public in May, despite Cr Ibrahim giving fellow councillors just two days’ notice on the changes. Many councillors were clearly not across the reworked policy at the time, with Mayor Richardson and Crs Dey, Spooner and Cameron voting against.
According to a staff report in Thursday’s agenda, more than 830 submissions were received, and the ‘prevailing concern [is] a lack of trust and confidence in the process and strategy to deliver on these outcomes.’
‘The overall view was that the consultation does not reinforce a two-way relationship between the community and council, the actions are in some cases at odds with the generally well supported RLUS policy directions and there is a bias towards facilitating rural lifestyle living opportunities.’
Staff continued, ‘The majority of submissions came from the local community, with many of their issues being strongly aligned with those identified in government agency submissions.’
Staff recommended a number of amendments to the policy to address ‘key issues raised by the community and government agencies’.
Another significant policy before councillors on Thursday is a delayed plan to manage koalas in the shire.
The history of the Koala Plan of Management (KPoM) goes back to the October 9, 2014 meeting, where Cr Ibrahim and the majority councillors voted to defer the plan and receive legal advice.
While that was later dealt with, on September 2, 2015, The Echo reported that the controlling council faction ‘again delayed action on saving the region’s dwindling koala population, citing their inability to understand a key document aimed at the marsupial’s preservation.’
Apart from concerns from Cr Di Woods that it would ‘lock up land’, Cr Rose Wanchap challenged the authors of the plan, arguing that it focused too much on the loss of habitat while not paying attention to other factors that lead to koala deaths, such as disease. At the time, The Echo reported that her position was at odds with the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage and leading koala experts; they claim loss and degradation of habitat is the ‘main threat’ to koala populations.
And now, nearly a year later, Sydney-based consultants Niche Environmental and Heritage have completed the peer review.
They have deemed the koala plan was, ‘largely consistent with current legislation, literature and other CKPOMs’.
And finally but not only, a few councillors want to rescind – or vote again – on a previous motion to approve ten one bedroom units on a Mullum residential block.