Mayor Simon Richardson has defended the lack of environmental credentials of his Council after activist Dailan Pugh highlighted a lack ecological expertise, abandoning a long held coastline protection policy and a lack of mitigating the ever increasing development pressures.
Pugh told The Echo, ‘I think that the principal problem is that Council does not have much ecological expertise. They have an ecologist on their planning staff who reviews development applications (DAs), though she is in a relatively junior position and has a limited role and is often over-ridden.’
‘[Council] need an ecology unit with some clout that deals with ecological assessment across the organisation, and is represented at a high level in the organisation.
‘Their compliance staff are under-resourced and can’t effectively oversee DAs.
‘They often make decisions with no ecological considerations. Such as when they built the roundabout at the intersection Sunrise Boulevard with Ewingsdale Road they failed to include a koala underpass.
‘The local landholder’s DA for West Byron identifies the need for retrospective installation of a koala underpass there, though if Council had the required expertise, they would have recognised it for themselves and done it at the time (it would have been quite simple and cheap to do at the time). Instead, Council has just increased the impediment for koalas and their ability to move between populations to the north and south of Byron.
‘Currently, they have a proposal to transfer treated effluent from West Byron to “flush out” the Baywood Lake, which will effectively turn Tallow Creek into a sewerage outlet again. Their proposal gives no consideration what-so-ever as to what impacts this will have on the Cape Byron Marine Park and the dynamics of the estuary. I expect it will increase flooding of properties and the need to artificially manipulate the opening of the estuary with the risk of yet more fish kills. I find it incredible that Council could propose this with no environmental assessment of off-site impacts or consideration of the consequences for the estuary in the marine park. Once again a lack of environmental expertise and care within the organisation.’
In reply, Cr Richardson told The Echo, ‘The current adopted structure of the Environmental and Economic Planning Branch of Council includes a grouping of work teams to closer align with community expectations and organisation needs. These groupings cover the following core functional areas Sustainability, Environment, Place Planning, Land Use Planning and Economic Development and Tourism.
‘With regard to the environment area, the staffing levels and position alignments have not been diminished since 2014.’
‘Further, any major works projects undertaken by Council are managed accordingly through Infrastructure Services with appropriate experts engaged to prepare the necessary reports including ecology. Once submitted as part of a development application and or review of environmental factors, these are referred to the Sustainable Environment and Economy Directorate for assessment, review, approval via delegation or Council.
‘Depending on the complexity of the development independent experts may be engaged to undertake that assessment alongside or instead of staff. This ensures an appropriate level of review is maintained at all times with regard to the natural environment.
‘So much of what we do isn’t seen by those not actively engaged with Council. We are soon to realise some wonderful Brunswick River outcomes, our partnerships with dune and land care groups are producing great outcomes and, our flying fox and other management work have been exemplary.
Pugh described as ‘outrageous’ the failure to deliver a Coastline Zone Management Plan (CZMP).
‘This has been ongoing for decades,’ Pugh said. ‘While the failure of their last plan for the Byron Bay Embayment can in part be attributed to the outrageous demands of the gang of five [councillors], my experience was that Council staff were a large part of the problem, putting forward outrageous proposals – such as a 15 year timeframe and the pumping of sand from Tallow Beach to Main Beach – with no consideration or understanding of environmental consequences. The minister had no option but to reject such an abrogation of the Coastal Protection Act. Council is now proposing a mini assessment just for main beach.
Cr Richardson replied, ‘Yes, the CZMP has been going on for decades, though this is not the fault of Council or staff.’
‘Six or seven years ago, we had one sent to the government for gazettal, but it was then withdrawn on legal advice. The majority of councillors of the last council then completed a shockingly inadequate CZMP, which was sent to the government for gazettal, after being delayed as much as possible by Green and other progressives on Council. Before the government could finalise their response, I and key staff secured a meeting with the then relevant minister, Rob Stokes, to request that the terrible Belongil component to be set aside so we could do it properly, while allowing for the non-contentious main beach to lighthouse part of the management plan go through so we can move on this.
‘We were successful in achieving this, due in part to the poor Belongil component and the positive relationship we had developed with the minister. As soon as the new council was established we resolved to write formally for the Belongil section to not be supported by the government and this was successful. We received final advice that this approach was supported from the new minister on August 27, 2017. Since then, we continued to work with other agencies to get the acceptable half of the plan before the state government, while also developing a project plan for the Belongil and northern shire beaches.
Pugh said, ‘Another concern of mine is the lack of any attempt to limit development to within the parameters of the Regional Strategy.’
‘Council treat our growth targets like a magic pudding. No matter how many developments are approved, the targets remain the same. We are being developed at many times the rate identified as required by the regional strategy because of the lack of an honest strategic approach by Council. There is nothing sustainable about unfettered growth.
‘My frustration with Council’s refusal to manage growth dates back to the 2006 requirement of the Regional Strategy to prepare a Growth Management Strategy to identify how to meet state specified growth targets (3,100 people) over the next 25 years. I tried for years to make the Council prepare one to no avail. I believe that the outcome for West Byron would have been very different, as a Growth Management Strategy would have shown we could have met our growth targets without it. Now that West Byron has been foisted upon us it alleviates the need for any other major developments in the near future, if Councillors had any intent to limit growth. I believe that after 12 years we still don’t have a Growth Management Strategy because our Council wants no limits on growth and our mayor the power to approve any development he wants.’
Cr Richardson replied, ‘Byron Shire’s comprehensive “Settlement Plan” or “Growth Management Plan” is an umbrella term that can be applied to the suite of strategies: Rural Land Use Strategy (adopted), Residential Land Strategy (progressing), Employment Lands Strategy (progressing) and Recreation Needs Strategy and Master Plans (adopted and progressing).’
‘These strategies collectively provide a framework to direct future planning and investment decisions over the next 20 years.
‘These strategies together with master plans for Byron Bay, Mullumbimby and Bangalow will inform the future Integrated Local Environmental Plan for the Shire.
‘They provide a level of investigation and detail that goes beyond a typical one dimension growth management strategy, which looks mainly at supply and demand of urban land and some rural residential land to manage growth.
‘Such an assessment would be over simplistic for Byron Shire.
‘I understand Dailan’s frustration. When first prompted by The Echo for his thoughts on council, his first response was that, he isn’t actively engaged with Council. So, of course, by not being engaged, or not having knowledge of inner workings, it is easy to get frustrated and assume the worst and sometimes rely on assumptions. That’s human nature.
‘Dailan has advocated and agitated for environmental outcomes wonderfully for many years and though there are way too many individual accusations or assumptions or criticisms to respond to or correct in one reply – for example, his statement that Council often makes decisions with no ecological considerations such as the failure to include a koala underpass when we built the roundabout at the intersection of Sunrise Boulevard and Ewingsdale Rd.
‘In fact, Council engaged Dr Steve Phillips from Biolink who indicated that koala underpasses were not required for the Sunrise roundabout. Dailan has, however, earned the right for staff and myself to take the time to respond to his overall contentions. Over the years, I have relied on and trusted Dailan’s knowledge regularly within Council, especially when trying to get decent environmental zone outcomes. If ever he wants to sit and chat, raise concerns or propose solutions, I am totally up for it, as are our senior staff.
‘The Greens on Council, in consultation with other progressives, have been unrelenting in our support for planned retreat and a scientifically and environmentally sound Coastal Management Plan. That will not cease. The Greens on Council, consultation with other progressives, have been unrelenting in our willingness to say ‘no’ to poor, ill-conceived, damaging or socially unacceptable developments. That will not cease. We will do so, knowing that some who are frustrated and therefore not engaged with Council may assume otherwise, or disagree with some decisions, and that will not cease.’