Has the Byron bypass project and the accompanying bus interchange slated for the rail corridor been handled transparently and professionally by councillors, Council staff and the state government?
All state election candidates – except the Nationals’ Ben Franklin – have been critical of process surrounding the long running drama, while The Greens candidate Tamara Smith has called for a halt to the project.
With the state election to be held Saturday, a rally was held last Sunday morning by residents and market stall holders to highlight what they say is a litany of deception and incompetence which led to a $24m bypass project that will destroy wetlands and their heritage precinct.
Market stallholders on the Butler Street reserve also face an uncertain future at Butler Street – for the short term at least: there is no agreed location for them while construction is underway.
It’s expected traffic will be alleviated by 20 per cent on Ewingsdale Road resulting from the bypass. There is additional anger at the National Party and anonymous Sydney bureaucrats for choosing a bus interchange location and design without any community consultation. Costings for the project have been requested by The Echo but are yet to be supplied by the government.
Greens MP Tamara Smith told the crowd she wants a halt to the project, which puts her at odds with her Greens councillor colleagues, who have pushed for the project, with staff guidance.
Labor’s Asren Pugh told the crowd he supports a bypass yet the Greens majority in Council could halt the project if they chose. He later told The Echo that if elected and Council wanted him to, he would take the option of the rail corridor to the minister. ‘I call for the bus interchange to be stopped until proper community consultation occurs’, he said.
The last attempt to examine whether the rail corridor could be investigated as an alternative was by Labor councillor Paul Spooner in June, 2017, yet he was voted down by the Greens block. Staff said at the time that changing the route would put funding at risk, yet a freedom of information request by residents found that to be untrue.
Support of bypass by Greens acting mayor
Yet acting mayor Michael Lyon (Greens) told The Echo, ‘The bus interchange project is a good one for Byron as it will take traffic out of the centre of town, and it is being built for us. We were afforded an opportunity for input into its location, but were not given the opportunity to consult the community as part of this process. It was Council that strongly recommended to the state government that it be consulted on [the location], as I pointed out last week’.
‘I have told [resident] Paul Jones that if the traffic counts justify it we will push for pedestrian crossings. I do not accept the charge of misleading and deceptive conduct and Council is committed to transparency in its dealings on behalf of the community’.
Sparse info available
Council staff are yet to supply to The Echo its Biobanking Agreement, which is a new planning instrument to allow for native areas to be destroyed and developed. Under what is now called a Biodiversity Assessment Methodology, the ‘replacement value’ of the lost environmental flora and fauna is derived, that is then destined for replacement by other flora and fauna elsewhere.
The Echo has also requested more engineering details than are available. Current plans indicate all parking will be lost for Byron Music and associated businesses in the old Norco building.
The Echo asked Nationals candidate Ben Franklin if he was confident with the process that led to the bypass and bus interchange, and whether it was acceptable that there has been no community input into the bus interchange location and design. There is yet to be a reply.
Timeline and deception accusations
Butler Street resident Paul Jones supplied his bypass timeline and made accusations of what he calls ‘deceptive conduct’, as follows.
- Council claims Act of Parliament required to access rail corridor.
- Council claims funding from NSW treasury tied to Butler Street route.
- FOI revealed Council’s coverup of 2001 EIS demonstrating rail corridor as optimum route.
- Bypass taken off the agenda of the Masterplan.
- Community consultation for bypass EIS cut and pasted from 2001 EIS which concluded in favour of a rail corridor route – no concurrent consultation for Council’s preferred route on Butler Street for 2016 EIS.
- Byron Shire Council off the record offer commercial zoning for Butler Street residents.
- Council surreptitiously remove the MR545 main road classification of the bypass to remove need for a DA on town sectioni.e. SEPP Infrastructure could apply.
- General Manager spends over $450k shoring up court approval of the Wetlands DA without Council consent.
- Biobanking statement achieved because Council claimed there were no alternative routes.
- Council nominates area in the already protected Cumbebin swamp and Biobanking offsets for the destruction of wetlands.
- Council maintain that a pedestrian zebra crossing and roadside parking are not allowed on the bypass road north of Butler Street because RMS will not support (warrants are fixed by RMS but circumstances are argued, applied and considered and crossings enacted by the local traffic committee & Council).
- Council not abiding by consent conditions in the wetlands requiring no affect on flood and ground water movements etc, etc. and already gone to tender.
- Council claim in email that they have no influence on location or design of Bus Interchange: Mark Arnold said, “I reiterate that while Council has other projects happening in the vicinity of the interchange, this is not a Council project. As such, we are not in a position to change the location or layout of the interchange”.
- Transport for NSW official states to us they were guided by Council in locating the interchange on the corridor.
- Despite three formal request for consultation our community is blindsided.
- No details available on interchange layout and design until full documentation is released after tenders have been called.
- Project progressed under cloud of secrecy in order to ensure inevitability.
- Claims of Masterplan endorsement.
- No Heritage NSW approval in a State significant site, just assumed takeover.
- Simon Richardson’s post 13 June 18 in his mayoral email and attachment: Claims in his mayoral edition that he and staff made a last minute dash to Sydney to get in front of Roads minister to ensure the bus interchange goes where we want it. He says he got a commitment they would locate it out of the corridor and near the water tower while protecting the tower itself. ‘We’ve seen the designs that achieve it’.
According to Mr Jones, some conduct of Council has been ‘misleading and deceptive’, and some conduct is ‘significant enough to warrant an investigation for corrupt practice’.
In reply, Council staff provided the following statement:
‘Council acknowledges there are a number of people who have and will continue to object to the route of the Byron Bypass along Butler Street but this road will take traffic out of the town centre and benefit locals, visitors and people working in and around Byron Bay.
‘Mr Jones, as president of the Butler Street Network (BSN), has made numerous claims in submissions, representations and presentations to individual councillors and the full Council. These claims have been taken into consideration and Council has resolved (on more than one occasion) to implement the Byron Bay town centre bypass on the Butler Street route. The project is being implemented in accordance with the resolutions of Council.
‘The project has been assessed in detail and approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP). Mr Jones and the BSN presented to the JRPP and participated in the associated assessment process. The claims of the BSN were considered by the JRPP who approved the project.
‘The JRPP project approval was appealed by the BSN to the Land and Environment Court (LEC). The claims of Mr Jones and the BSN were presented in detail to the Commissioner and considered by her. The LEC upheld the decision of the JRPP.
‘The project is being implemented in accordance with the consent conditions of the LEC. The project has undergone rigorous and detailed environmental assessment that has resulted in Biobanking Agreements approved by the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage in accordance with the legislation.
‘Tenders for the contract to build the bypass close on 27 March 2019.
‘Director, Infrastructure Services, Phil Holloway, said Council will be closing the Butler Street Reserve for six months from this July to start work on the bypass and the monthly community market and weekly farmers market will be relocated while the bypass is being built.
‘Council is very supportive of both markets which are loved by the community and tourist attractions in their own right. A key priority will be to finish the work and get the markets back to the Butler Street Reserve as soon as possible’.