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Byron Shire
July 13, 2024

Conduct complaint against Byron Nats councillor upheld

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A code of conduct complaint has been upheld against National Party Byron councillor and former mayoral candidate Alan Hunter. File photo
A code of conduct complaint has been upheld against National Party Byron councillor and former mayoral candidate Alan Hunter. File photo

Hans Lovejoy

While National Party-aligned councillor Alan Hunter seeks permanency for a large self-storage facility on his Myocum farm at this week’s council meeting, it’s emerged that the former mayoral candidate has been found to have breached council’s code of conduct while also having an unapproved building on his property.

Former Council planner Ray Darney has submitted the DA proposal on Cr Hunter’s behalf, which would see 30 shipping containers combined into three sheds and associated parking.

Staff have recommended approval, much to the disgust of neighbours, who have a long history of rejecting Cr Hunter’s expanding business interests.

They have claimed staff have ignored investigating evidence they provided regarding breaches to the number of traffic movements allowed on the short Pinegroves Road.

So far, staff have declined to respond to The Echo on that matter, and remarkably those complaints are not included in the staff report.

But traffic concerns have been hosed down by staff, who claim, ‘Based on accepted standards for self-storage facilities, the proposed development… is likely to generate a maximum of eight vehicle trips per day.’

And with all the other dwellings on the road, staff say, ‘The proposed development will result in a total of 80 vehicle trips per day on Pinegroves Road, well within its design capacity.’

Meanwhile, Council’s general manager Ken Gainger has told Pinegroves resident Rebecca Chaffer on October 7 that he found Cr Hunter had breached Council’s code of conduct policy.

The breach occurred after Cr Hunter invited himself to a site inspection of Mr and Mrs Chaffer’s home without permission – when they were away – to discuss with staff their secondary dwelling development application.

Mr Gainger told Mrs Chaffer that Cr Hunter will be required to ‘attend an informal discussion’ with him and require the councillor to undertake further conduct training.

Clear conscience 

Cr Hunter told The Echo, ‘My conscience is clear.’

‘I declared a conflict of interest and didn’t vote on it. My concern was for residents in the proposed new dwelling planned to be set back only three metres from trucks, machinery and other vehicles traversing the hill in a rural environment. However, Council determined that a conflict of interest existed, that a reasonable and informed person could perceive that I was influencing councillors to make a decision that would personally benefit me by attending the site meeting.

‘I accepted the decision and the determination.’

The Echo asked staff why the word ‘confidential’ was watermarked on Mrs Chaffer’s letter, considering there is no legislative requirement and it is in the public interest.

Council’s legal services co-ordinator, Ralph James, replied, ‘Information about code-of-conduct complaints, and the management and investigation of code-of-conduct complaints is required to be treated as confidential and is not to be publicly disclosed except as may be specifically required or permitted under the code, ie reporting outcomes to complainants,’ he noted.

Unapproved building

And lastly, staff have told The Echo Cr Hunter’s unapproved building is part of a ‘property compliance investigation’.

Manager sustainable development, Wayne Bertram, said he understood that the unapproved building was being vacated.

‘A new DA will be required should the owners wish it to become approved and usable as a dwelling.

‘The dwelling is not part of the upcoming development application which includes the use of three farm buildings and the addition of 12 self storage units,’ Mr Bertram said.

With regards to his unapproved building, Cr Hunter told The Echo  ‘…[E]xempt structures don’t require approval by Council.’

‘The planners report listed our cabin as a dwelling for which council records don’t show approval. The need for approval for this relocatable cabin purchased from Clarkes Beach Caravan Park hasn’t been established. We originally placed the cabin, on the property for guests and family on a short term basis and then for only a two or three days at a time.

‘It was not planned to have it as anything more than a short term, guest cottage until we completed our new home but in the meantime we were approached by a neighbouring tenant needing accommodation. The cabin was in place for a couple of years and used only a few times until the neighbour evicted her tenant from her still unapproved second dwelling and recommended she approach us about using the cabin until she found something more suitable. ‘The single lady, pensioner still in residence, was unable to find suitable and affordable, alternative accommodation and because until recently, there hasn’t been any concern, we have not seen the need to change arrangements and she has over the time become a friend. We are continuing discussions with council staff about how we meet any further legal requirements in terms of use and consider the needs of our tenant.’

In this week’s staff report, a report on Council’s Compliance Priorities Program explains the 572 complaints were received for illegal works for 2015/16, and 526 were completed. Such activity is identified as a ‘high priority.’ 

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