The Byron Residents Group (BRG) have claimed that the Byron Shire Council (BSC) figures used to predict the need for future housing in the Draft Residential Strategy (DRS) are fundamentally flawed.
Since the DRS says ‘The Residential Strategy is about urban residential change and growth’ it is no surprise that the document has been seriously questioned by local residents and resident groups across the Shire.
According to the BRG the DRS (https://bit.ly/36I12bE) appears to have failed to recognise the long-running community support for sustainable and environmentally-focussed development. Issues of infrastructure including water supply, sewerage and transport have been relegated to, as the BSRG puts it, ‘a “she’ll be right” attitude to the provision of infrastructure that is reckless’.
The BRG (https://bit.ly/34vLvJX) points out that there is only secure water in the region from Rous County Council (RCC) until 2024 and that the predicted increase in housing and visitor numbers has the potential to put the current supply of potable (drinkable) water at risk.
Future water supply
‘Mullumbimby’s future water supply capacity from the Laverty’s Gap weir and from RCC has not been evaluated with an extra 610 persons more than the 30-year capital plan. Climate change and rainfall variability will affect the water supply capacity’ noted Mullumbimby resident Karl Allen in his detailed submission on the DRS.
The claim in the DRS that the increase in connections to the sewage treatment plants (STP) are consistent with the current capital works program is disputed by the BSRG. They highlight that the Byron STP is already operating outside of its approval in regard to the amount of treated effluent released onto farming land and affecting local waterways.
‘There is no documentation that BRG could find that details a Water and Sewerage capital works program. There is nothing in the 2019/20 budget, the Operational Plan or mentioned in the Capital Works programs on the Council website,’ they state in their submission (https://bit.ly/34vLvJX).
‘The effects of more development on these watercourses [the Brunswick River, Byron Creek, Simpsons Creek, Belongil Creek and Tallow Creek] is likely to be deleterious and it is essential that Council should regulate development not just to mitigate but to avoid impacts on waterways.’
Concerns over sewer capacity
The concerns over sewer capacity are again highlighted by both the Mullumbimby locals and Mullumbimby Residents Group. They point out the poor state of the stormwater drains in Mullum and pressure on the sewer system.
‘The Mullumbimby sewer infiltration issues are well documented and require repair before further town expansion is considered; this issue is putting a large environmental load on the beautiful Brunswick River,’ said Mr Allen.
Again in the area of transport infrastructure, the plan has come under fire for predicting a four-lane upgrade to Ewingsdale Road that has not been identified in any of the council’s current capital works programs.
‘There are no major works “currently underway” to upgrade Ewingsdale Rd to four lanes,’ says the BRG submission. ‘There is no mention of them in Council’s Capital Works Program. There is nothing referencing such works in the Delivery Program 2017-2021 and Operational Plan 2019-2020.’
They also take issue with the DRS stating that the Byron bypass will facilitate further growth, pointing out that, ‘The works [bypass] are to ameliorate the traffic caused by the existing population – and the growing number of visitors… This is not “anticipating a growing population”, it’s an attempt to manage the excessive traffic of the current population.
‘The bypass and the possible doubling of Ewingsdale Road can in no way be taken to indicate that Byron Bay can manage yet more population growth.’
Oversupply of housing
In the drive to substantially increase the amount of housing provided in Byron Shire, the DRS appears to have used housing figures that are at odds with figures supplied to councillors and ABS statistics.
The DRS identifies that since 2016 there have been 235 dwellings approved. However, this is contradicted by data supplied to councillors in April 2018 which stated there were 832 new dwellings.
‘Looking only at building approvals since 2016, the figures from the ABS show 800+ building approvals. Even assuming that not every approval has resulted in a dwelling as yet, the disparity in the figures is astounding,’ the BRG states in their submission.
‘Again… in the DRS the numbers of estimated approved dwellings do not correlate with ABS data or with the data produced by Council elsewhere.’
In fact, they claim, not only has Byron Shire met the supply targets set by the state government but that it has exceeded them.
‘In 2006 we were told by the state government that we had to supply 2,600 new dwellings by 2031. By 2017, only 10 years into that 25-year plan, Byron Shire had exceeded that target while our population only increased by 2,789 – basically equalling one house for every new person to the Shire, when our average household size is 2.3 people per household,’ Cr Cate Coorey told The Echo.
‘No other council area even met their targets. Now the state government has upped the ante, telling us to provide an additional 3,150 dwellings by 2036.
‘We already did the right thing and provided more than twice as much housing than we needed for the increase in population. We shouldn’t be accepting this order for growth.
‘We know all this extra housing has gone to holiday letting. What is the point of building more houses when, just in Byron Bay, 22 per cent of houses are unoccupied? That’s over 500 homes that are unavailable for people to actually live in,’ said Cr Coorey.
‘We have to get illegal holiday lets back into the rental market to provide homes for people. If people want to run a BnB they can apply to Council to do it legally.
‘It isn’t fair or sustainable that Lismore, Tweed, and Ballina are identified by the NSW government as the regional centres, but Byron has to provide 600 more dwellings than Ballina and only 200 fewer than Lismore, a regional city.’