Few shows at the Byron Theatre receive such a resounding standing ovation as the Joint Regional Planning Panel on Monday (February 4) after it voted to refuse a development application (DA) that would have seen a contentious 387-lot suburb built at West Byron.
Its unanimous vote – the latest stage of a tussle that has been a decade in the making – saw the panel accept Byron Shire Council’s assessment of the plan, which recommended refusal on 19 grounds. Members even voted to insert an additional ground.
But it is not the end of the matter: Council will face off with developers in court next week (February 12) after they previously claimed a ‘deemed refusal’.
Nevertheless, the vote is significant, with chairman Garry West saying Byron Council had ‘prepared an assessment report and asked us for a determination’.
‘We have to question it and … I believe there are issues … that give me discomfort in giving approval.’
In the end, the three state appointed panel members – Garry West, Stephen Gow and John Griffin – voted with the two council appointees – Tweed Greens mayor Katie Milne and Lismore Greens councillor Vanessa Ekins – to refuse the application.
But not before spokesperson for the proponent, Stuart Murray spent 20 minutes railing against Council’s reasons for refusal, describing them as ‘political’.
‘It was an amazing turn of events and so gratifying to hear the community burst into rapturous applause and give the panel a standing ovation,’ said Cate Coorey, Byron Shire councillor and spokesperson for Byron Residents’ Group (BRG).
‘It was BRG that lobbied hard to get the JRPP to hold another meeting after the last one in October was left unresolved. The last-minute dumping of new material just prior to that meeting meant that neither Council nor the panel had adequate time to consider it. The owners of the site had already lodged an action in the Land and Environment Court that meant the court would have made a decision, ahead of the Panel, effectively thwarting the planning process.
‘Our community should especially give thanks to Byron Residents Group’s Dailan Pugh OAM, whose exceptional work has helped our community to better understand the impacts of the West Byron developments and who has been tireless since the beginning in pushing back against this damaging project that takes so much from Byron Bay whilst giving back little of value.’
Byron deputy mayor Michael Lyon described the vote as ‘a win for the community who should be applauded for their respectful but very vocal opposition’.
‘Now we move on to the court proceedings, which is in the form of a conciliation conference. However, council staff have no delegated authority to resolve the matter.
‘As a community we need to pursue a rejection by the court, just as the JRPP has done.’
[Byron mayor Simon Richardson is on leave.]
Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) congratulated the panel on its decision and BRG on its tireless work, saying, ‘There was no social licence and it was very disappointing that the developer chose to attack the community and Council instead of seeing the raft of issues within the DA, let alone the true costs to the environment and the community of this inappropriate development.’
‘I continue to call on the environment minister to compulsorily acquire the land and make it part of the Cumbebin Swamp Nature Reserve to be managed by National Parks and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the Arakwal People,’ said Ms Smith.
Labor’s Asren Pugh is now tying his hopes to a compromise proposal that would see the high conservation value parts of the development area compulsorily acquired by a future state government and a scaled-down development take place on the remainder.
‘There is a proposal put forward by the community for the government to purchase the most sensitive areas close to the Belongil Estuary and look at rezoning the remainder of the site to reduce its overall impact. This looks like a sensible approach to me and I have raised it with the shadow minister responsible to look at whether this can be done and what the cost might be,’ he said.
Ballina Nationals candidate Ben Franklin has said, however, he would not support a buyback, adding that he believed infrastructure was the real issue.
‘I believe that compulsory acquisition of the site is not the answer. I would much rather focus on working with Byron Shire Council to make sure that the end result is one that assists Byron with improved infrastructure and more affordable housing,’ he said.
Council’s 19 grounds, which the panel endorsed, were mostly related to the developer’s failure to address Byron’s Development Control Plan (DCP) on issues including coastal biodiversity, flooding, management of earthworks, erosion and sediment control, traffic, biting insects, subdivision guidelines, orderly staging and development, road design, drainage, environmental zone encroachments, stormwater, groundwater depth and quality changes, noise, air quality (dust), surface water quality, vegetation, fauna, ecology and the Belongil Creek ICOLL.
Council also noted the proposal failed to address the requirements of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.
Board member Stephen Gow cited an additional reason to reject the proposal, which was incorporated into the final motion, saying that ‘for pieces of land required for this development (including public road access) owners’ consent is required and we are told that consent was not obtained in a number of cases.’
A second DA; for an adjacent site owned by Villaworld is likely to be considered by the JRPP in April, and it too is likely to go to court if refused.