The state government’s handling of the proposed West Byron suburb continues to be put under the spotlight, with local environmental activist Dailan Pugh claiming a ‘lack of professionalism’ that agencies inexplicably dropped their recommendations and that no independent reports were requested for the project.
When asked why the government didn’t undertake independent reports to verify the accuracy of the developer’s reports, a department of Planning & Environment spokesperson told The Echo the department ‘sought independent assessments from both RMS and the Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) to assess the West Byron Urban Release proposal.’
‘RMS concluded the applicant’s traffic study was appropriate, with mechanisms in place to support future road infrastructure. Recommendations from the OEH review were also implemented such as changing the proposed zoning of land adjacent to Belongil Creek and establishing an environmental conservation zone within 50 metres of the wetlands.’
But Dailan Pugh, who has been a driving force behind highlighting the major flaws of the project, says he was shocked ‘that the RMS was silent on the inadequacies of the [West Byron] traffic study.’
‘The study was required (2009 study requirements) to apply the RTA traffic generating guidelines, but didn’t.
‘Clearly, the original claim that that these developments would only result in 6,000 traffic movements on Ewingsdale Road was contrary to the RTA guidelines and was rubbish. There were also a number of traffic studies previously prepared for Byron Shire Council that clearly identified that there should be no development of West Byron until the traffic congestion on Ewingsdale Road and in town had been resolved.
‘A 2011 submission on West Byron included a report by CRG Traffic and Transport Engineering Consultants that applied the RTA methodology to identify that West Byron would generate 14,160 vehicles per day on Ewingsdale Road rather than the developer’s estimate of 6,000 vehicles per day.
‘The RTA Guidelines require that substantial departures from the Guidelines must be justified. They weren’t.
‘Given that the developers have now applied the RTA Guidelines and identify that it will result in 14,000 cars per day (which is still an understatement given the scale of development now proposed), the question is why did neither the RMS nor DoPE identify the original shoddy traffic assessment as the farce it was, or consider the already chronic traffic congestion on Ewingsdale Road?’
Pugh says the ‘same problem is apparent with the OEH submissions.’
‘Back in October 2012, the OEH did a detailed submission raising a variety of concerns, including that for koalas the size of the urban footprint should be reduced by incorporating the southern and eastern areas of the site into environmental zones (for habitat restoration), that for the Wallum Sedge Frog further details and reporting with regard to mitigation, habitat restoration, and offsets was required, and that OEH does not support the use of roads or stormwater treatment measures in environmental zones.
‘With the OEH recommendations including:
- detailed controls should be included in the DCP prepared for the site, to ensure that permissible adverse land uses within the E2 and E3 zones are managed to achieve the objectives of each zone;
- a Habitat Management Plan/Threatened Species Management Plan for acid frog species should be prepared and implemented, with the implementation of actions enforced via a legally binding agreement;
- a revised zoning plan should be prepared for the site addressing impacts on the koala.
‘Despite many of OEH’s recommendations not having been complied with, in February 2014 OEH did an about face and signed off on the development without even mentioning Wallum Sedge frogs or koalas.
‘They had lost all interest in them. At that time they rightly assumed that roads and drains were not allowed in environmental zones, though DoPE has since allowed them.
‘For what would seem to be political reasons, our government agencies clearly let this community down by not subjecting these developments to professional reviews in accordance with their responsibilities. It is a real shame that our planning system has become so debased that agencies can no longer give frank or fearless advice.’