Ecologically sensitive and agricultural lands could soon be opened up for development in Byron Shire after a councillor majority voted to approve the contentious Business and Industrial Lands Strategy at their meeting last Thursday.
Around 47 ha of land will now be considered for rezoning by the state government.
Those in favour of the strategy were Greens mayor Simon Richardson, Greens Cr Jeannette Martin, Greens Cr Michael Lyon, Country Labor Cr Paul Spooner and Nationals Party-alinged Cr Alan Hunter. Those against were left leaning Independents Crs Basil Cameron and Cate Coorey and Labor Cr Jan Hackett. Greens Cr Sarah Ndiaye was absent for the vote.
Yet independent councillor Cate Coorey wasted no time in lodging a rescission motion for the strategy, which aims to create a framework for developing commercial lands in the Shire.
As previously reported, the strategy massively exceeds land requirements as proposed by Council’s consultants, raised concerns from state government departments, and includes contentious parcels of land and planning provisions that were never publicly exhibited.
Included within the strategy is a large parcel of agricultural land on Saddle Road near the highway interchange. The Daly’s eco-village proposal – The Bruns Eco Village – was previously rejected by Council, yet the land is now proposed to be commercial zoning, despite opposition from government agencies.
Additionally, contentious land surrounding the Central Byron Hospital were also added to the strategy after the public exhibition, along with proposed powers for Council planners to determine spot rezoning proposals.
Cr Coorey described the plan as ‘development on steroids,’ and, ‘a failure of process.’
She told The Echo, ‘This strategy is not a response to the needs, identified in multiple reports, of Byron businesses or the people who live and work in the Shire. Rather, it is a blueprint for growth that is so excessive to our needs as to defy understanding – except that it is a gift for developers and speculators.’
Industry is changing
During debate, Labor Cr Paul Spooner spoke in favour. ‘Blind Freddy can tell that we’re in trouble in this Shire as to where you can have decent business and employment opportunities.
‘You can throw up as many slides as you like but that doesn’t cover the reality.
‘Look at the industrial area in Byron. You can barely drive around there. Industry is changing. Retail is going out the door backwards. Business and employment in this Shire is changing. We need to be in the game to enable locals to stay in this area. If we don’t support new industries we are going to do our community a big disservice.’
But Cr Coorey says, ‘Transport was the number one concern raised in Council’s Business Survey Report.
‘Surprisingly, this key issue for businesses in the Shire is not actually dealt with in the Strategy. Strategic land use planning should not be done without a plan for infrastructure, especially transport.’
During debate, Cr Basil Cameron told the gallery, ’I think this is massively undercooked… The North Coast Regional Plan warned against creating new employment areas outside existing centres, yet this plan proposes doing exactly that’.
‘An overarching infrastructure and delivery framework was recommended – but it has not been provided in the plan.
‘There was no actual public consultation about a lot of this. We have not spoken to our community and we need to put this out on exhibition.
‘We need to learn the lessons of West Byron – as soon as the strategy came out, the owners were off to Macquarie Street asking for a rezoning.’
Mayor thanks staff
Mayor Simon Richardson told the chamber, ‘I want to thank staff for providing a modern document that meets the challenges of the future. We need to see what’s before us rather than imagining the worst. Anything that goes through here doesn’t say this is going to happen’.
Regarding the Saddle Road (Gulgan Road) lands rezoning, he said, ‘I accept that the near neighbours don’t like it. But we have to make bigger decisions’.
‘That site is near the highway, it’s not flood-prone. It’s simply identifying it from a strategic point of view that it’s worthy of investigation. We are saying here’s some hurdles you have to jump over, let’s see what you can do.
‘I think this is a long process – putting it out to public consultation is just giving the same people the opportunity to say the same things’.
Failure of process
Cr Coorey continued, ‘This resolution of Council was, I believe, a failure of process. Councillors who voted to adopt the strategy ignored the recommendations of the key documents that were supposed to inform it – the NSW governments’s North Coast Regional Plan 2017 (NCRP), the North Coast Employment Land Review 2015 (Section LGA Analysis – Byron), the Byron Shire Employment Lands Background Report prepared by Council’s own consultants specifically for the Strategy and Council’s Business Survey Report’.
‘There is nothing in those documents that suggests anything like the need for this massive over-supply of land. This is a plan for rezoning and development on steroids. Why do the research, gather all this information from business people and then write it all up into reports only to ignore it?’
‘The Business and Industrial Lands Strategy also opens up the possibility of land around Byron Hospital being developed, although the parameters around this in the Strategy are not well defined. This area – not actually physically defined in the Strategy – was also added in after the public exhibition. Many Ewingsdale people have only just become aware of this and are letting me know that they are very concerned. Ironically, among the concerns raised in the Byron Business Survey Report was the prospect of further development happening along Ewingsdale Rd as the current traffic congestion issue is a huge problem for Byron Bay businesses – especially on the Arts and Industrial estate’.
Eco village proposal now flagged for commercial
Cr Coorey said, ‘The inclusion of the Gulgan Rd North sites is utterly inexplicable. This land was deemed not suitable for the proposed Bruns Eco-Village, yet it has popped up again and, unsurprisingly, three different government agencies and the Department of Planning have again recommended against the site being subject to a rezoning, this time for business purposes. Why would Council go out on a limb – in opposition to state recommendations – to rezone this land when it is way in excess of requirements?’
‘The beneficiary of the inclusion of the Gulgan North site is the landowner, whose property will gain substantially in value if it is rezoned. This land was supposed to be a visionary eco-village; it is surprising they would want such a special place to become a business park and industrial area, especially since it is recognised as regionally significant farmland and is home to high value vegetation and endangered ecological communities’.
Questions remain unanswered by mayor
The Echo asked Greens mayor Simon Richardson questions around his support for the Business and Industrial Lands Strategy and its potential impact on the Shire.
The Echo asked: ‘In opposition, you were very vocal against the sort of strategy that you voted for last Thursday’.
‘Arguably this is a worse strategy than the Rural Land Use Strategy you voted against prior to the 2016 election, which was eventually rejected by the state government and saw that Council majority rejected by voters.
‘In this strategy, there appears no value placed on environment, biodiversity or transparent and proper process. How do you respond to this?’
Mayor Richardson: ‘There are great values placed on environmental values and just because we have identified land as potentially able to realise some business activities doesn’t mean it is a certainty. Any proposal will have to show how it can overcome environmental constraints’.
‘For some, it may be flood, for others vegetation values, and for others it may be Indigenous heritage constraints and for some, perhaps all three. Council or the state government will be able to reject any proposals and the community will be able to provide submissions and feedback. It is because much of the identified possible land areas may never be able to be used when deeper studies are done that we include more land than the minimum possible’.
The Echo also asked: ‘How do you respond to claims that you are pursuing a pro development agenda, similar to that of the National Party?’
Mayor Richardson: ‘It is nonsense that doesn’t deserve a response’.
Further questions were put to the mayor in light of the lack of clarity around the impacts of this strategy, but he declined to answer them.
They included, ‘You admit that much of these lands are constrained (flood-prone, high ecological value etc).
‘Then why propose them?
‘Why so big?
‘How is this responsible planning, given Council have now given hope to a large number of developers?
‘Won’t these developers now have a legal basis for pursuing this in the courts if they are rejected?
‘What legal advice on this has been sought?’
The Echo has also sought comment from Labor’s Paul Spooner, who, like the mayor, voted against a similar proposal in the previous 2012–2016 Council.