An angry group of Butler Street residents unloaded upon staff and the Greens councillors at last Thursday’s Byron Shire Council meeting, with accusations of lies and suppressing information as to whether it was possible to build a bypass on the disused rail corridor instead of past their homes.
Throughout public access Greens mayor Simon Richardson struggled to keep the meeting to order against a hostile gallery. Residents have long called for the bypass to run up the unused rail corridor instead, something they say has happened in Moree. They say it will be cheaper than building a new road and won’t cut into wetlands.
No alternative costings
The reason the issue was again before council was owing to a motion from Cr Paul Spooner (Country Labor), who wanted to explore rail corridor costings.
He told the chamber there has never been a costing on the alternative, and referred to a recent letter to local state MP Tamara Smith (Greens) which says the government would ‘be happy to consider its proposal in further detail’.
‘This is a game changer,’ he said.
But it’s advice that is at odds with staff opinion; they have consistantly said it’s unlikely council would be given permission.
Despite the new evidence, Crs Martin, Lyon, Ndiaye, Richardson and Cameron voted against Cr Spooner’s motion.
Instead, Crs Richardson, Lyon, Martin, Ndiaye and Hunter had the numbers to vote on a motion that acknowledges the estimated $20m bypass cost – including $4m from Council – and seek funding for the remaining $5.5m.
The mayor told the chamber it was unlikely council could purchase the rail corridor for a road, yet in the same speech said, ‘We are very close to gaining control of the land.’
The mayor said later in a press release, ‘We’ve spent $2 million in preparing for construction.
‘We’ve successfully defended this decision at a cost of $450,000.’
Cr Richardson said, ‘We’ve said from the beginning that the town centre bypass will not solve our traffic woes, but it is part of the solution for keeping cars out.’
‘For residents and workers travelling from Sunrise to Suffolk Park, not getting stuck in traffic could take up to tens of minutes off a trip and help improve traffic flow.’
Another reason for the mayor’s support of Butler Street was so the rail corridor ‘could be become a key open space feature of our town if we can take down the fences and keep it as a social space.’
Yet it was pointed out at the meeting by Cr Spooner that it’s a planning decision outside of the Byron masterplan scope and was ‘not set in stone.’
It was also pointed out at the meeting that a road may be more suitable given remediation may be required if the ground is found to be contaminated.
The mayor later claimed in a press release that the money promised – $10.5m – is exclusively tied to the Butler Street bypass, yet during debate he said that as it was not allocated to a grant, it could evaporate if it wasn’t used for this purpose.
Cr Spooner told the chamber he regreted voting for the current bypass alignment previously given the new information provided by Ms Smith.
Butler Street resident Paul Jones told The Echo, ‘We have a mutant Green zombie monster who has completed the stealth takeover of Byron Shire Council in the voting block of Richardson, Ndiaye, Lyon and Martin.’
‘They swallowed lock and stock the unsubstantiated costings of the current proposal, which does not even meet the consent conditions. The mayor raved on about how much it was going to cost to buy the corridor land, yet there was no problem grabbing the Crown reserve market site for a carpark and bus station.
‘It was an appalling display of “Up you, we have the power, move out of the way”.’