The question around the Greens councillor majority’s commitment to environmental protection and good governance has again been highlighted by state Greens MP Tamara Smith, who is calling on councillors to pause the beleaguered Byron bypass project.
The Greens council majority have delegated the general manager (GM) to manage almost every aspect of the project, amid accusations of poor process.
In reply, mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo he is acting ‘within the rules forced on us’, yet says he will table a mayoral minute at this Thursday’s Council meeting ‘to find out possible ways and the costs to enhance the local wetland far and beyond what is required’.
Tamara Smith MP told The Echo, ‘It is the eleventh hour for the protection of biodiversity and riparian wetlands about to face the chop to make way for the Butler Street bypass’.
‘I am imploring all of the Byron Shire councillors – not least of which the four Greens councillors – to pause the development this week and read the ecological report by David Milledge and consider the next right thing to do.’
She said, ‘The Greens both at NSW state level and at federal level fundamentally oppose biodiversity banking. It is an utterly flawed planning principle that says if you destroy an endangered species in one place you can offset it in another place by supporting the habitat of a different species’.
Smith said, ‘The wording in our state policy says we “oppose market-based processes and trading mechanisms such as biodiversity banking and offsets that trade off high-conservation areas for development”.’
‘It is hard for me to understand why our Greens councillors are pursuing this path so vehemently when the Greens oppose biobanking so emphatically.
‘What is even harder to understand, and impossible to forgive, are the mistakes and omissions in the actual biodiversity banking process that Council staff, in a Greens-dominated Council, have made.
‘I and other environmentalists have been forced to commission David Milledge from our own pockets to review and report on the biobanking processes and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) completed by Council, in a last-bid attempt to force proper process’.
She added, ‘I have written to both the minister for Planning and the minister for the Environment to review Council’s processes for the bypass, because of the raft of concerns including mistakes, omissions, and flaws in the process identified by David Milledge. We should not have had to do any of these things.’
Mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo, ‘I have read the report by David Milledge, as have other councillors and pertinent staff members’.
‘Though David is not an accredited assessor, and there appear to be some gaps in a detailed understanding of the process within his report, I have upmost respect for him and his knowledge.
‘Staff have identified many gaps, such as the claim that the fauna studies undertaken were over 15 years old, and thus outdated, noting that thorough assessments and field surveys were conducted less than five years ago.
‘However, rather than dissect all the major points from David’s report, I invite him and anyone else interested in learning more to let me know and I’ll organise a sit down with the accredited assessor for the project.
‘I do wholeheartedly agree with Tamara’s disapproval of the biobanking process.
‘Even more worrying, if the bypass assessment was to be done now, the protections required have now lessened and the biobanking regime is even weaker.
‘In her press release, Tamara outlines her anger that we are “pursuing” the biobanking regime “vehemently”.
‘We are simply playing on the field we’re given and within the rules forced on us, rather than standing on the sidelines in the terraces and yelling at the umpire.
‘By playing the game by the biobanking rules given to us, we will of course seek to do as well as we can and win. I am confident that because we will vehemently pursue outcomes far above what is required and set by the rules we will have led our community well.
‘Though the road will actually affect only 0.36 per cent of the wetland area, it is vital we do far more to alleviate the impact to that what is required within the biobanking regime. Currently, the Byron Bay Bypass is set to impact 1.56ha of vegetation and the approved biobanking agreements protect and improve 44.5ha of land.
‘However, this is Byron and we will do way better than that. I have a mayoral minute scheduled to be considered at Thursday’s Council meeting to find out possible ways and the costs to enhance the local wetland far and beyond what is required, and to do so’.
‘Dealing with the changes that face us daily in the traffic snarls in and out of Byron is not easy, and the changes occurring won’t just go away, no matter how much some of us focus on resisting change.
‘It will take many different responses to manage it, including re-activating the rail corridor, re-establishing park and ride and advocating for better public transport etc.
‘It also includes creating an alternate road to help the thousand or more locals avoid the centre traffic snarls in the centre of town every day.
‘Our rail corridor feasibility report is soon to arrive and the vehement pursuit that Greens and other Councillors have to establish shuttle services linking all our towns is beginning to look very promising.
‘We are also keen to reinstate the park and ride initiated by Greens Councillors and others, though it would require car parking for 3,000 to 5,000 cars and currently the Cavanbah Centre could hold less than 1,000.
‘Also, by creating an alternate route through town, we can begin the work to needed to create possible shared or pedestrian zones in parts of town to let put people come first and in town and cars second and around town.
‘Traffic in and out of Byron Bay is not an easy fix. There is certainly no one answer either.
‘Though this alternate route will benefit at least 1,000 locals every day in cars, I and other councillors –Greens and non-Greens – will not be satisfied until we have also established a rail shuttle, expanded our share car program, completed the Suffolk to Byron Bike path.
‘Though it doesn’t create solutions, resisting change is valid and has its place to ensure we minimise damage and avoid pitfalls, which is why it is great some people are speaking out.
‘This vocal concern by some makes us more galvanised to do far more than is required.
‘Alongside resisting change, we also have to create solutions through actions that help manage change and through creating the alternate route around the centre of town and other initiatives, this is what we are also focused on doing’.