Aslan Shand, acting editor
The current mantra from many in the community is that, owing to a lack of strategic planning, we have a housing crisis, we don’t have affordable homes for our kids, and therefore we need to build more houses. But is that really the case?
What led to Council’s de facto moratorium on development in Byron Bay in 1997 was the lack of sewerage capacity to cater for new consents, ie lack of strategic planning. That meant a ten-year stop on new residential subdivisions while the infrastructure caught up with the poo you and I put out.
There has been strategic planning since that time. Part of it focused on managing the nexus between population and tourism. Previous councils made decisions that reduced the pressure to build residential housing to allow for the impact of tourists.
The fact that local housing prices have catapulted into realms beyond understanding is less about supply and more about the perceived desirability of Byron Bay and the surrounding areas. This isn’t set to change any time soon. There is too much money invested in properties that are being rented out on platforms such as Airbnb. There are too many people who want to be seen to be here, to be seen to be successful. There are plenty of people who want to move here, and have the money to pay exorbitant housing prices.
Strategic planning isn’t all about building more houses, expanding commercial areas of local towns and saying we have to fit more people in because there is no affordable housing. Strategic planning is about looking at where you want to end up, not driven by expansion, though this can be part of it, but by what you see the community as becoming. Affordable housing should be part of this overall strategy and it should be a requirement from Council that all developments, small and large, include a mix of social and community housing.
Many people moved here over the years to escape the city life, the suburbs, to find an alternative way of living. To, as the sign says going into Byron Bay, ‘Cheer up, slow down, chill out’.
I know I can’t afford to buy a house in Byron Bay, Potts Point or Toorak. I would like to see more affordable housing in all of those places. But more importantly I would like to see the natural environment of this shire protected. The fact that this region is recognised as a biodiversity hotspot is more important to me in the long term than if I can afford a house in Byron Bay or surrounds.
I want to see our strategic planning focus on what ecological areas we see as important, how we are going to preserve them and set them aside in perpetuity so that they are there for future generations – including my children and grandchildren – even if they can’t afford to buy a house here.
Put the environment first. Once we have identified all the areas that need to be preserved, we should then look at where and how we can use what’s left for maintaining our sense of community.