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September 18, 2021

Saddle Road residents face off over eco village

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Divisions between landowners over future land use on Saddle Road near the Brunswick Heads highway interchange have flared up after council included the area into Residential Land Use Strategy recommendations at last Thursday’s council meeting.

A staff report entitled Byron Affordable Housing Summit Issues Action Plan was supported (Crs Coorey, Cameron and Hackett against), however a late addition will see ‘site 17’ on Saddle Road land identified in the Draft Preliminary Residential Housing Strategy.

Site 17 includes the proposed Bruns Eco Village, as well as other private properties.

Site 17 on Saddle Road
Site 17 on Saddle Road

The motion by mayor Simon Richardson invites ‘lodgement of planning proposals to rezone the land for this purpose.’ An amendment by Cr Coorey was unsupported, which excluded Saddle Road lands and sought to, ‘Review the mechanisms available to guide Council involvement in any public/private housing development with respect to probity and process and that a further report be provided to Council.’

During public access, town planner Rob Doolan and Tom Keily addressed Council in favour while Matthew O’Reilly, representing Saddle Ridge Community Action Group, spoke against.

O’Reilly later told Echonetdaily that the mayor’s late inclusion was ‘something they rallied against when there was a conservative council majority.’

He said, ‘The members of Saddle Ridge community have been totally undermined by the Greens dominated council. There was no community consultation and this motion completely undermines the communities trust in the Byron Residential Strategy process.’

‘The mayor and Cr Sarah Ndaiye went out of their way to not mention the words “Bruns Eco Village” during their talks in favour. But the entire purpose of their amendment was to fast-track the rezoning of land for the Bruns Eco Village and to predetermine the outcome of the Byron Residential Strategy.’
‘It was clear that the Greens were showing extreme bias and preferential treatment to the Bruns Eco Village development beyond staff recommendations.

‘The community charter for good planning was raised by both Crs Cameron and Coorey, but the charter was completely ignored by the Green majority who acted similar to the Woods/Cubis/Wauchope/Ibrahim/Hunter voting block from last council that pushed through development and planning proposals on behalf of property developers without following a clear and transparent process.

‘There was no need for this amendment. The Residential Strategy process has been a clear and transparent up to the present and was due for further re-exhibition later this year.  That process has now been undermined and the Council leaves itself open to further legal challenges relating to the process that has been followed should a Bruns Eco Village Planning proposal be lodged in the short term to medium term

‘Just compare the process that the Bayside Brunswick or West Byron developments had to go through which has taken over 25 years to the fast tracking being given to the “Bruns Eco Village”.

‘Despite a Green majority council, it still seems true that in relation to property developers in Byron Shire, “It is not what you know, it is all about who you know”.’

Bruns Eco Village replies

In reply, Bruns Eco Village (BEV) spokesperson Mairead Cleary told Echonetdaily, ‘In October 2016 Council resolved to hold a Byron Shire Housing Summit prior to adopting the Byron Shire Residential Strategy. The summit took place in February this year.’ 

Cleary said, ‘The purpose of the Summit was to bring together a variety of stakeholders related to housing and to look at what could be done differently to improve the availability of housing in Byron Shire. Members of Bruns Eco Village were invited to speak at the summit.’

‘Information from the summit was compiled in the Key Housing Issues Plan for Byron and in her associated report, Shannon Burt, council’s Director Sustainable Environment and Economy recommended that this Issues Plan inform the Residential Land Use Strategy. She also recommended that further discussions with landowners be supported to establish the feasibility of the certain sites for affordable housing.

‘When the agenda for the June 22 council meeting was made available we became aware of the above mentioned recommendation to further discussions with landowners. However we had no way of knowing whether Bruns Eco Village or Saddle Rd were being considered as part of the land mentioned. We felt it prudent to write to all councillors to request and encourage its inclusion. The fact that the recommendation was amended to include Saddle Road suggests that it had not already been considered.

‘Matthew O’Reilly spoke against the amendment during public access and urged an Expression of Interest process. An Expression of Interest was already in the mayor’s amendment and this was enthusiastically taken up by the councillors. An Expression of Interest process will allow people with land and affordable housing projects to present their model and determine its feasibility or otherwise for the shire. 

‘We are aware of a highly charged and subjective letter being sent to the Echo immediately after the council decision by the same speaker, even with this Expression of Interest being adopted in the recommendations. Yet again we invite and encourage open discussion with any member of the Saddle Ridge Local Area Planning Association. 

‘To criticise the Greens for taking badly needed steps towards addressing the housing crisis is inequitable. The motion was also supported by Labour’s Paul Spooner and The Nationals’ Alan Hunter. Paul Spooner initiated the Affordable Housing Summit in February and continues to be a strong advocate for making housing accessible. Their actions are in fact aligned with their declared intention for the Affordable Housing Summit: to look at what could be done differently to improve the availability of housing in Byron Shire

‘Any identified projects will still need to go through the appropriate planning process.

‘While we already have a residential strategy which is as yet a preliminary draft, as opposed to a completed document, the reality of the housing crisis in our shire is getting more dire by the day. People are leaving the region because they simply cannot afford to buy or rent in the current situation of scant supply and high prices. 

‘There is an urgency with this issue, something that was voiced by three councillors who advocated movement on the issue, not further waiting. We suspect many in the shire will appreciate this urgency. We are in a housing crisis. We need more affordable housing now!

‘Council’s decision to invite innovative pilot projects through a transparent gateway will help identify what housing options are out there. To wait further years for a finalised strategy only to find that it doesn’t fit with potentially suitable projects available on the ground would be heartbreaking for the many residents waiting for much needed housing.’ 
Serious money

But O’Reilly believes the decision ‘has financial ramifications for investors’.

‘This motion is worth serious money,’ he says. ‘The council is basically saying “yes” if your project is feasible (note, not “sustainable”) then, “we will invite you to lodge a rezoning proposal”.’ 

‘West Byron developers, Bayside Brunswick or even Tallowwood Estate would have been just so happy to have had the same support from Council before a single site investigation has been carried out.’

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