The Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) has deferred a decision on the controversial ‘local’ development application for West Byron, potentially leaving the matter to be decided by the Land and Environment Court.
JRPP chair and former National Party planning minister Garry West cited the lateness of hundreds of pages of changes from the developers, saying it left insufficient time for Byron Shire Council and the Rural Fire Service to make their assessments.
‘The applicant [also] made an application to vary the development standards – and that hasn’t been assessed by the Council, which is also a restriction,’ he added.
Mr West said that had the panel made a ruling it would have been ‘open to challenge in the courts’.
Three hours of speeches
At least 19 people took the opportunity to speak and more than 100 packed the gallery of the Byron Shire Council chambers on Monday afternoon (October 8) hoping this would be the end of the line for the much-maligned development.
Comments mirrored many of the previous concerns expressed at the JRPP’s ‘information meeting’ in June.
These included: the inappropriate scale of the development; the incursion into environmental zones; the impact on the Wallum Froglet and the koala at the site; the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fill required, the likely flooding of surrounding properties in even moderate rainfall; and the impact on Ewingsdale Road of a six-metre sound barrier and some 14,000 additional daily car movements.
But, after almost three hours of speeches, Mr West told the meeting he believed a decision would have to be deferred, admitting, ‘we are all deeply frustrated but that is the only way forward’.
After some discussion, the panel, consisting of former bureaucrats Stephen Gow and John Griffin and neighbouring councillors Katie Milne (Tweed) and Vanessa Ekins (Lismore), reluctantly agreed.
Jeers erupted from the gallery, with residents shouting that that the entire process was a ‘disgrace’ a ‘farce’ and ‘a travesty of justice’.
One community member shouted that the introduction of late information, which many speakers argued contained no new facts, was ‘a typical ruse by developers to shut down community opposition’.
Panel member Katie Milne echoed the community’s frustration, at one point telling the meeting, ‘On the site visit we questioned whether we would be able to make a refusal today or not.
‘I don’t think the new information provided makes any difference.
‘Unfortunately, we have to [go through] proper process or we leave the community more in jeopardy than otherwise.
‘I hear your frustration – we’re all hearing the same.
‘The late submission of information has been very difficult for all of us,’ Cr Milne said.
Meanwhile the developers, including well known Byron Bay business identity Warren Simmons, have already taken Byron Shire Council to court for its ‘deemed refusal’ of their application even before the JRPP had the opportunity to consider it.
A mediation session is scheduled for February 12 next year and, if Council and RFS staff have not completed their assessments by then, the matter will be taken over by the court.
And, while that may still seem quite some time away, the second West Byron DA from Tower Holdings and Villaworld is due to land on planners‘ desks in coming weeks.
‘If we get to February 12, the role of the panel submerges into the court,’ Mr West told Echonetdaily after the meeting.
He added court-appointed conciliators could bring in outside experts to come up with solutions in the event Council and the proponents couldn’t agree.
‘If that fails… the court will take over the whole thing. The court has very wide powers,’ he said.
Court action defended
Stuart Murray, speaking on behalf of the developers, said they would be satisfied to see the matter deferred.
He was questioned by the panel as to why the landholders were suing the Council for deemed refusal before the JRPP had even met.
He replied that the proponents had taken the action because there was a ‘lapsing period’.
‘If we didn’t meet the deadline for lodging a deemed refusal, we might have to go through whole process again – so it was taken on advice of solicitors,’ Mr Murray said.
He was asked by Cr Milne, ‘if this was deferred and Council was able to keep working with you, would the court appeal be withdrawn?’
He replied only that he would ‘have to consult with the landholders’.