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Byron Shire
March 9, 2021

Overpopulation

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The Greens, Cate Coorey, Paul Spooner, good old Basil, Jeanette, Jan and Sarah were voted in because we, the majority of voters in Byron Shire, believed they were the best ones to hold the line in seeing our Shire did not go the way of Noosa, the Gold Coast, Ballina, Coffs and the rest of the east coast.

We elected these impressive heavy hitters because we wanted to see them do a lot more than tick a few token boxes to keep the likes of ‘radicals’ like me vaguely happy that they really are making Byron different.

We lost the Battle for Byron 20 years ago. It’s gone and most people living in the hinterland shudder when they have to do business or attend functions in Byron. Aside from traffic gridlock, any sense of ‘community’ is gone. Replaced by strangers and… the tourist economy.

We now face losing our beloved Mullum and environs to overpopulation and commercial rezoning unless Council decides to ‘Lock the Gate’.

Periodically Dick Smith or environmentalist Tim Flannery raise the question of what is an optimum population for Australia, a very fragile, ancient continent with a very limited water supply, fringed by a narrow green belt on our east and west coasts.

Byron Shire is a micro reflection of our continent. Australia and Byron are unable to support an unlimited population. It is not elitist to ask the question: what is a sensible, optimum population for any area of land mass? It’s basic good planning.

There has to be a saturation point at which the capacity of available rural land for growing our food, protecting other species in their environment, housing and infrastructure and providing realistically available jobs for the workers is reached.

I would argue we have over-reached that saturation point already. When are we going to have that long-overdue debate on optimum population levels here in ‘radical’ Byron Shire?

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1 COMMENT

  1. I cannot understand why you proclaim it wonderful that the Byron Shire has not gone the way of Ballina. When we considered where we would retire I compared a number of places including the Ballina and Byron Bay. On every municipal count Ballina won any comparison with the Byron Shire, including that of managing population growth.

    When I grew up in the Bay it had a population of some 2,000 people; Ballina had around double that and depending whee you count the boundaries the ratio of the two towns population has remained more or less the same. Much is made of the impact of tourists numbers in the Bay but they were counted in the censuses, and over a year they are only a small part of the population, although they increase markedly in Byron Bay at festival times and in school holidays in both towns.

    However while Greens and their like minded predecessors battled to restrict growth, in Ballina growth was managed by improved infrastructure, and the development of its housing, retail and other services that cater not just to tourists and the well-off, but to families and to the elderly. The closure of the railway in the forties has meant Ballina has committed unequivocally to provide properly for road and air transport, and its roads were expanded accordingly and not compromised by a rail line dissecting the town, and councilors distracted with rail dreams; even its road-based public transport usage rates are greater than in the Byron Shire. So Ballina’s roads handle its traffic growth and holiday traffic with relative aplomb,and they are repaired promptly. But cycling, pedestrians and mobility devices infrastructure is good too, and public areas and facilities are clean and litter free . While accommodating increased population has encroached on farmland and in the past wetlands in both towns, Ballina has not suffered the erosion and damage from building on sensitive coastal dunes. Its Council is not given to largely symbolic bans on popular fast food chains, or preaching and dramatic statements on environmental and social justice issues, but Ballina has shown a practical commitment to environmental values and to ensuring inclusion in its community.

    What really attracted us was that notwithstanding its growth Ballina remains at its heart a country town. Even in the height of the summer holidays River Street retains its relaxed and friendly ambience. Byron Bay remains a beautiful place and its laid-back, interesting and creative locals and its attractions make it enjoyable to visit, but I would hardly agree that it has coped with what are comparable rates of growth as successfully as Ballina has.

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