Massive Byron land rezoning ‘justifiably inconsistent’: staff

Hans Lovejoy

A strategy aimed at increasing commercial activity, if adopted at this Thursday’s Council meeting, could see large-scale development across Byron Shire, including within areas of high ecology value and flood and bushfire prone land. NSW agencies have raised concerns over some of the land rezoning proposals .

Additionally, there are late inclusions within the plan, by planning staff, that were not included in the originally exhibited document – raising again the question of transparency and due process within Council.

Byron Hospital land 

Council’s Business and Industrial Lands Strategy (BILS), say staff aim to provide a ‘framework and action plan for guiding business and industrial land development over the next 20 years in Byron Shire’. 

Land around the Byron Central Hospital is inexplicably included (page 82), along with ‘knowledge- and creative-industry precincts and co-operative business and innovation hubs’. If adopted, staff would have discretion to approve the spot rezoning of hubs via a ‘capability assessment’.

Matt ‘Cleva’ O’Reilly from Community Alliance for Byron Shire (CABS) says that the land area up for grabs is way over what is required by the Council’s own expert consultants, ‘with a target of 10 ha of land dedicated to employment now, being almost 47 ha of new land’. 

O’Reilly says he was also very concerned at the significant changes to the strategy which have not been put on public exhibition.

He says, ‘This is residential growth by stealth without service provision such as parking, parks, schools, shops etc – this has happened at the Byron Arts and Industry Estate. 

‘Byron Council permits manager’s residences and caretaker’s dwellings on every lot and strata sub-division within IN1, IN2 and B7 zones. Good planning principles don’t conflate residential and industrial use. Mixed land uses can lead to conflict if not properly managed’.

Growth focus

While the strategy focuses on growth, there is little mention of other land values in terms of agriculture or environment. 

There is also  little detail of infrastructure service planning within the strategy. 

This is despite Direction 21 of the North Coast Regional Plan (page 50) requiring councils to undertake detailed infrastructure service planning, which includes Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) capacity, to support proposals for major new land releases.

Mayor Simon Richardson is yet to reply to The Echo as to why the document is before councillors, considering the public were not informed about these new details. 

Senior staff replied on deadline that ‘At the June 20, 2019 Council Planning Meeting, in considering submissions and updates to the draft Employment Lands Strategy, Council resolved to add these inclusions’. 

They claim the inclusions are consistent with the submission to the Department of Planning Industry and Environment.

Justifiably inconsistent

Remarkably, staff justify support for the entire controversial strategy by claiming it ‘is consistent or justifiably inconsistent with State policies and directions and the North Coast Regional Plan (NCRP).’

Yet that plan only briefly mentions business and industrial lands and focuses on residential growth. 

Regarding whether this strategy meets or exceeds growth targets, it appears Councils are at liberty to develop as much land as they like. 

No growth targets 

A spokesperson from the newly formed NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE) told The Echo, ‘The North Coast Regional Plan guides strategic planning for the Byron Shire. The North Coast Regional Plan does not establish growth targets. Rather, it estimates the number of dwellings that may be required to meet projected population growth to 2036.’

Council’s Business and Industrial Lands Strategy has not been referred to the DPIE for comment, they say.

Matt ‘Cleva’ O’Reilly adds ‘During the exhibition of the Byron Rural and Residential Strategies, the NSW planning department encouraged Council to combine all rural, residential, business and industrial land strategies into one document. 

‘It’s what Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour have done, and they have also included significantly more information on tourism and infrastructure within their draft strategies’.

Staff reply

A reply to questions  from The Echo was provided too late for the paper. Those questions and answers appear below:

The Echo asks, ‘It appears there are land inclusions within the plan that were not included in the original exhibited document’.
Land around the Byron Central Hospital is pegged (page 82), along with ‘knowledge- and creative-industry precincts and co-operative business and innovation hubs’(page 83).
If adopted, these hubs appear to give staff discretion via ‘capability assessment’ for spot rezoning.
Why was this document not re-exhibited given these new inclusions?
And – is there support from DPIE for this document?’

Council’s director Sustainable Environment and Economy Shannon Burt replied, ‘Under the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1997, proponents can already make an application to change a zoning or to seek approval for a development. The Business and Industrial Land Strategy (BILS) cannot and does not change this situation.

‘In the past, applications have been made to Council for such types of development. This has necessitated Council considering them on a one-by-one basis without an overarching strategic Byron Shire guiding policy.

‘What the BILS provides is context to assist Council in moving forward with a planning framework for determining such applications.

‘At the 20 June 2019 Council Planning Meeting, in considering submissions and updates to the draft Employment Lands Strategy, Council resolved to add these inclusions.

‘Their inclusion in the BILS is the first step, in a process as outlined in Direction 4 Action 15.

‘The next steps are to:

‘Update development control provisions to incorporate:

  1. business and industrial land suitability principles
  2. business and industrial design principles

iii.     health services anchor criteria

  1. knowledge and creative industry precinct criteria
  2. co-working and innovation hubs criteria

with an intent for the principles and criteria to be applied when:

  • reviewing planning framework provisions (such as LEP and DCP) for business, industrial land use, employment anchor activities and associated infrastructure.
  • assessing appropriate locations for new or expanded business, industrial and employment anchor activities areas
  • assessing development applications within proximity of the Byron Ambulance Station and Central Hospital
  • assessing development applications for business, industrial and employment anchor activities.’

‘The next steps will include community consultation such as on subsequent LEP or DCP amendments.

‘The inclusions are consistent with the Department of Planning and Environment (now Department of Planning Industry and Environment) submission. In 2018, the NSW Government released a Northern Rivers Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS). REDS promotes Byron Shire as an attractive business environment for diverse, high-yield low-impact, innovator and incubator businesses and industries.

‘Furthermore, the Healthcare and Social Assistance sector is one of the Shire’s top four employing industries experiencing growth of 605 jobs since 2013’.


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