Community groups have commended Byron Shire Council staff for incorporating many of the community’s concerns and wishes into the Draft (Urban) Residential Strategy released recently. President of Community Alliance for Byron Shire (CABS) Mathew O’Reilly and Brunswick Heads Progress Association member Patricia Warren are among those welcoming staff efforts.
However, the impacts of intense growth on infrastructure and communities have led to a call from Ballina MP Tamara Smith ‘to reduce the designated dwelling requirements for Byron Shire in the North Coast Regional Plan and ensure that Byron Shire is exempt from the proposed Low Rise Medium Density Code’.
Former Byron mayor Jan Barham supports the call, pointing out that the 25-year Far North Coast Strategy developed in 2006 defined Byron Shire’s additional dwelling requirement at 2,600 by 2031. Eighty-one per cent of that housing allocation had been filled by 2011, leading to the additional allocation of 3,150 new dwellings in the 2016–2036 Regional Plan for Byron Shire, meaning there will be an extra 5,620 dwellings above the 2006 level.
‘Effectively the state government has doubled our dwelling allocation since 2006 but not analysed the infrastructure and other constraints and impacts,’ said Ms Barham.
‘The Draft Byron Residential Strategy fails to analyse the infrastructure feasibility of meeting the dwelling allocation targets that are prescribed in the North Coast Regional Plan.
‘Prior to adopting this strategy Council must consider the infrastructure capabilities for growth. There are major concerns about the ability for upgrade of sewerage plants, water capabilities, and road networks to meet growth requirements set by the state.
‘It would be irresponsible to plan growth that’s impossible to meet sustainably owing to infrastructure limitations.’
Mr O’Reilly has also highlighted concerns over the potential development of land next to Mullumbimby, saying that while this ‘is low-hanging fruit that can achieve housing results in the short term without huge new infrastructure expenditure, the elephant in the room… is climate change, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather events.
‘Building on floodplains under these conditions does not seem like a wise idea.
‘The alternative long-term solution that Byron Shire and most of Australia will need to embrace is planned retreat,’ he said. ‘Planning for new population centres above rising sea levels will become a necessity rather than an option in future years.’
The value of Byron Shire as an iconic tourism destination, the concern that new residential housing will just become more short-term holiday letting, adding to infrastructure and community integrity issues, has led MP Tamara Smith to call for a one- to two-year pause on residential development in Byron Shire.
‘Byron Shire plays an important role for the state with its iconic tourism destination status,’ she said. ‘This needs to be considered in regional growth targets; it’s unacceptable to demand additional dwelling growth that may impact on the attraction and feasibility of both residential amenity and tourism.
‘Increased development will add pressure on already stressed infrastructure but will also change the character of the area and may impact on the tourism desirability,’ she said.
‘What we need is a complete pause on residential development for 1–2 years while we sort out how to pay for the roads and parks and amenities that we currently need, let alone future growth.’