The Byron Bay bypass is the latest project to benefit from seemingly never-ending funding announcements by the National Party, who are lavishing the electorate with tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in the lead-up to the March election.
The long running and contentious bypass development, which was enthusiastically embraced by Greens mayor Simon Richardson on Monday, will see native wetland habitat destroyed south of Butler Street for the road. It will then turn left, over the disused railway, and emerge at the corner of Browning and Jonson Streets where Mitre 10 and Byron Music is located.
The commercial expansion of the entire area, while diminishing its ecological and heritage values, is all but guaranteed.
Additionally, a new bus terminal interchange is pegged ‘alongside the bypass,’ replacing the existing terminal on Jonson Street.
The NSW government have committed $9.5m, which Council say is the final amount needed to complete the project.
The bypass is also tied to the contentious West Byron project, whereby developers agreed with the Liberal-National government to a voluntary agreement for bypass funding as part of their development application.
Throughout the project, there has been strong opposition from neighbours most impacted, who say the route has shown to be ‘more expensive, dangerous and destructive of the environment, the community and heritage.’
Their suggestion for the rail corridor as a bypass was rejected by Council staff as not workable; however, bus interchange plans supplied to The Echo indicate it will be within the rail corridor.
Paul Jones from the Butler Street Community Network said, ‘The town bus transit centre is now slated to be on the rail corridor in the very location Council claimed was completely unavailable for either a bus station or a bypass. What credibility does Byron Shire Council now have, given the litany of lies it has taken to ensure the Byron Bay bypass is rammed through the Butler Street road reserve?’
Not solve traffic woes: MP
Local Greens MP Tamara Smith told The Echo, ‘Ordinarily I welcome any infrastructure money for our towns from the state government because we are chronically starved of genuine recurrent funding for our roads and parks.’
‘But the Butler Street bypass is an inherited legacy from the outgoing Nationals that is a short-term measure that will not solve the issues on Ewingsdale Road.’
‘I have been told on multiple occasions by senior RMS engineers and staff that the window of effectiveness for a Butler Street bypass disappeared years ago. They tell me it will make no difference to the traffic congestion on Ewingsdale Road, which surely is the end game. So the rationale for expanding the CBD and forever losing the heritage, soft neighbourhood of Butler Street no longer stacks up.
‘I blame successive governments for chronic underfunding of our electorate over many decades that results in our Council just grabbing what they can against a backdrop of no other funding on the horizon.’
‘That is why I’m taking to the election a model for high tourist areas like Byron Shire, where a formula based on ratepayers compared to tourist numbers would see a percentage of GST returned every year to local councils across the state that are disproportionately supporting high tourist numbers.’
‘This recurrent Regional Infrastructure Fund would mean that regardless of the government of the day, regardless of the pork barrelling of the day, our community and Council can bank on substantial money for roads and parks every year and plan for the future accordingly.
‘With that fair vision of sustainability, we would be looking at a genuine bypass of the town that is located much further up Ewingsdale Road, is fit for the next 50 years, does not harm our wetlands and does not destroy homes; as opposed to just taking what we can get with our begging bowl from this disgraceful LNP regime.’
Critical for projects
Despite the claims of traffic ineffectiveness, mayor Richardson says the bypass is the critical ‘domino’ for all Byron town centre projects.
He said, ‘It is the catalyst for the projects within the rail precinct, as well as critical road upgrades in the town centre. The key projects within the rail precinct include the upgrade of Railway Park as the heart of the town centre; the revitalisation and beautification of Butler Street Reserve so it can continue as passive recreation, car parking and market space; the construction of a bus interchange on the Butler Street side of the rail corridor by Transport for NSW; the upgrade of the car park in front of the Rails Hotel and the opening up of the neglected rail corridor space for passive community recreation and green space.’
‘The Masterplan highlights that this precinct forms the critical infrastructure that can unlock the potential of Byron Bay, and the construction of the bypass is a key first step in realising the vision of a town that prioritises people over cars,’ said Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson.
Council staff anticipate construction of the bypass beginning in August 2019.
Questions over costing
And despite Council claiming that it is ‘ready to construct the Byron bypass’ with detailed designs that are fully approved by ‘Council, the Joint Regional Planning Panel and the Land & Environment Court,’ Butler Street Community Network’s Paul Jones says, ‘Council has published no construction details or figures on the cost for the bypass through a protected wetland swamp with zero effect on flooding or water movement. How can the mayor be certain that $9.5m will enable the project?’
‘We have credible professional advice that the proposed bypass on Butler Street is more likely a $40m project; where is Council’s cost-plan for the bypass, including acoustic protection for 20 immediately adjacent dwellings and in accordance with stringent conditions of consent via the wetlands?’
He added, ‘This funding announcement takes Nationals MLC Ben Franklin’s cash promises in the Ballina electorate to over $80m. How many million dollars does he think he needs to buy the votes and secure the seat?’
Former Ballina MP Don Page (Nationals) at one stage suggested Melaleuca Drive (off Ewingsdale Road) as a potential longer bypass, yet that idea was never taken up by his own government.