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Byron Shire
March 1, 2021

Counterclaims fly over Council governance

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The following is BayFM journalist Jim Beatson’s reply to Council’s general manager (GM), who defended his staff’s conduct in last week’s Echo, regarding the process – or lack of it – concerning recent large developments. 

Beatson accuses GM Mark Arnold of sidestepping most of his concerns about what he says are the failures by Council’s Planning and Infrastructure staff.

Claim: Byron Shire Council failed to have its Council representative attend the Joint Regional Planning Panel to determine DA 2016NTH020 DA – Ewingsdale Hospital.

GM Mark Arnold says Council-appointed JRPP members David Millege and Cr Basil Cameron could have attended, but they didn’t.

To blame the JRPP does not absolve the Council. Either its chief executive (the GM), must ensure probity by councillors in their actions, or the mayor, in his duty of care, must ensure that representation is fair and the community’s interests are represented. And it is the duty of the GM to instruct the mayor if he fails to ensure these responsibilities are met.

Claim: The staff report to the Joint Regional Planning Panel recommended approval for a four-storey development in Byron Bay’s CBD.

Sadly, the GM’s overall response to my points avoids other central concerns. In my opinion, the basic merits of the Jonson St/Bowning St DA were so poorly assessed by BSC’s staff that it was left to the JRPP to point out the most damning problems: the size of plans exceeded the physical size of site, lack of public consultation, never mind any height issues. How could Byron Council’s Planning and Infrastructure staff overlook this and recommend approval of the DA?

Claim: That staff accepted late applications from developers for two West Byron Development Applications leading to the development applications being deferred.

Regarding the West Byron DAs, how vexing that the GM’s response completely missed my point: both the Council and the JRPP claim that the other has the authority to accept late submissions from developers. Given this confusion, why did the GM not take the initiative and contact the minister directly for a decision? Isn’t the most controversial mega-development in the Shire reason enough to take extra care?

Claim: That staff told councillors in late October that they could not have an assessment of the development application to the Joint Regional Planning Panel before the Land and Environment Court in February. This report is now due to councillors in time for February.

In responding to the above West Byron point, no acknowledgement is made of the extra work undertaken by community and some councillors to have Council staff reassess their work plan so as to ensure that the Planning and Infrastructure staff report would be completed in time for a West Byron JRPP meeting and decision before the Land and Environment Court hearing begins.

Again, with such a controversial DA, I repeat how is it that staff, with the GM as Council’s head, did not take the initiative to ensure the JRPP is able to make a decision before the court case starts?

The revised plan to hold the JRPP hearing prior to the Land and Env Court hearing only came about as a result of extensive lobbying from the community.

Claim: Council staff proposal for West Byron rezoning fails on several accounts as presented by speakers at the November 22 meeting of Council.

How vexing is the GM’s response about the proposed rezoning of the West Byron site by Council staff! After nearly 5,000 submissions and days of oral presentations to the JRPP, how could the BSC staff suggest West Byron rezoning be so similar to the developers’ DAs in all the critical areas: number of dwellings, traffic issues, acid sulfate soil and fill, drainage problems, sewage problems, etc. Topped off with an utter disregard of any consultation or cooperation with the Belongil Drainage Board? In my opinion BSC’s staff suggested a rezoning that was even more damaging than the developers’ DAs.

Claim: Staff appear to act against the direction of councillors… I expect a public apology and even sackings… such incompetency must not continue.

There is a chasm between my concerns and the interpretation made by the GM.

Not only are lawfulness and fairness expected from the GM and his staff, but further a proactive and attentive approach considering the councillors and community.

These are the hallmarks of professional work that all of us in the Shire expect.

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