The ‘current strong business and employment growth’ of the region is driving Council’s push to open up large contentious rural land for future development.
Plans to rezone around 40 hectares of rural lands to commercial and potential residential use in Byron Shire will be again thrashed out at the upcoming Council meeting on February 20 in the Mullumbimby chambers.
While the controversial Business and Industrial Lands Strategy was adopted on December 12, 2019, independent Crs Catherine Coorey and Basil Cameron, along with Labor’s Cr Jan Hackett, have lodged a motion to rescind the strategy. This would remove the controversial Saddle Road precinct and redraft the strategy to include an ‘overarching servicing and delivery framework’ and growth scenarios, among other issues.
Greens mayor Simon Richardson and Labor’s Paul Spooner inexplicably voted for its adoption, despite voting against a similar large-scale rezoning strategy while in opposition during the Council 2012–2016 term.
Like the previous 2016 Rural Land Use Strategy, the current plan is fraught with geographical constraints, has raised concerns by government agencies and contains late inclusions which were never publicly exhibited.
If adopted, land around the Byron Central Hospital may be rezoned, along with new staff powers to approve ‘spot rezonings’.
Cr Coorey told The Echo if the stagey is approved, ‘It says to our community that we know better than all the data we have, the business community that we consulted, the findings of the consultants we asked to advise us and the broader community who made submissions’.
‘It is the very thing we hated about the last Council, and why we worked so hard to get rid of them’.
Staff report questioned
Within the upcoming agenda chief Council planner Shannon Burt claims, ‘A parcel’s inclusion in Business and Industrial Lands Strategy does not automatically mean it will be zoned for business or industry.’
It’s a position that has been repeated by the mayor and Cr Sarah Ndiaye and rejected by former Greens mayor and NSW MLC Jan Barham.
Burt is yet to reply to The Echo’s question of how Council can prevent a developer – who has land flagged under this policy – from lodging large DAs before the NSW planning panel or the courts.
Barham is also critical of the staff report underpinning the plans and justification.
She challenged Burt’s assumption that ‘only around 11.9ha (i.e. 50 per cent) currently has capacity to accommodate some of projected demand’.
Barham told The Echo, ‘So where is this assessment, and how have they defined the ability of the land to accommodate demand?’
‘I couldn’t find a reference to guidelines and how could this be considered an adequate assessment, when no infrastructure analysis has been done eg. roads, sewerage, water etc.
She also questioned whether the strategy is categorised as a Local Growth Management Strategy (LGMS). ‘If so, what guidelines were used to develop the document? Have infrastructure issues been assessed in relation to the lands identified eg. sewerage, water, traffic and road capabilities?’
Greens MP not supportive
Further to concerns that councillors are ignoring process, local Greens MP Tamara Smith has told The Echo that such a strategy is ‘putting the cart before the horse’ in terms of strategic planning.
She says, ‘Before the 2019 state election, I called for a pause on rezoning land in Byron Shire until sufficient long term and strategic planning was completed. This was similar to what the member for Ryde and Ryde Council had called for in 2018 in response to a dramatic rise in property prices, unfettered Airbnb and extreme housing stress for residents. These all directly parallel to the pressures on Byron Shire, with the extra impacts of tourism on public amenity and liveability.’
‘The second tranche behind the call for a pause on development was to give our community a chance to piece together and see the cumulative effect of a number of key planning strategies being updated and changed by Byron Shire Council in quick succession.’
‘In March 2018, changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 required all councils in NSW to consult with their communities on a 20 year vision for land use in their local government area. Byron Shire Council is starting that process in March 2020, and the minister for planning has set a deadline of July 2020 as the cut off for submissions of Local Strategic Planning Statements from each council.
‘The purpose of the Local Strategic Planning Statement is to set out a 20 year vision for land use in the Local area, the special characteristics which contribute to local identity, shared community values to be maintained and enhanced and how growth and change will be managed in the future. ‘I’m concerned that we have put the cart before the horse. Why not start with the big picture planning statement with detailed community input and then that statement becomes the touchstone for assessing the details of say a rural residential strategy or an industrial land use strategy. Not the other way around.
‘Byron Council has not even started the conversation with the community on the development of our Local Strategic Planning Statement, yet council has approved and is in the process of approving a number of key land use strategies.
‘What if the community input says clearly that a shared community value is that Byron Shire is at capacity in terms of residential and/or industrial growth for the next decade? How easy will it be for future councillors to legally act on that value and the Local Strategic Planning Statement when residential and industrial growth strategies have already been adopted?’
In support of the stagey is Labor Cr Paul Spooner, who rejected the question of hypocrisy given he voted against the similar Rural Land Use Strategy (DRLUS) during the 2012–2016 term.
The DRLUS was later rejected by the state government.
While both policies included late inclusions, government agency concerns and were without potential impact assessments, Cr Spooner said, ‘The adoption of the two strategies is as different as chalk ’n’ cheese.’
He repeated planning staff talking points: ‘The process for the adoption of the BILS has been ordered, transparent and thorough. Importantly, any lands included in the strategy will require rezoning through a proper planning process. This includes environmental and other assessments along with public consultation. The costs for this are born by the developer and not Council’.
‘The alternative to not managing this demand will see more businesses pushed out of the shire, as business and industrial zoned lands escalate in price as we have seen in recent years’.
Similarly, the mayor also rejected hypocrisy claims, given his vocal opposition to the poor process and a lack of impact assessment for the Rural Land Use Strategy while in opposition during the 2012–2016 term.
In 2017, The Echo reported Cr Richardson’s position on that strategy. He said, ‘We are talking about dwellings where we don’t know how many we actually need.’
He said the DRLUS has ‘no strategic environmental or economic projections… This document only says where houses can go, that it’s a fluid document and we will figure it out later. So why do it?’
The Echo asked the mayor, ‘Why should the community believe you on this issue when you were against this type of policy while in opposition?’
Also: ‘How do you consider your support of this pro-development agenda – which clearly lacks any understanding of the associated impacts – reflective of the Greens party?’
The mayor replied, ‘Pro development agenda’ is a throwaway armchair expert line that is neither fair, unbiased nor accurate. It is an ideologically fixed and ignorant view that sees the world as only black and white and good and bad. If only life was that easy.
‘I am actually pro-acceptable development and anti unacceptable development. I and others have voted against many developments and will continue to do so. West Byron, the end of Jonson street, the Bangalow Food hub, and the Mullum Wellness centre just to name a few. We will continue to resist poor developments are brought before us, and when we can’t minimise the poor aspects of a development prior to it coming to a vote.
‘We will also continue to try and find ways to amend a development by negotiating out poor aspects or negotiating in better aspects. This is difficult and not black and white but necessary and reasonable. The Tallowwood development has been a good case in point for negotiating with good will and fair and reasonable planning. It’s not perfect but not much in life is.
‘I also believe that it is reasonable and true leadership to also say yes to acceptable development If it is presented to us.
‘The BILS does not guarantee any development, it simply identifies pieces of land that have some positive traits for potential business land, along with lists of constraints that would need to be overcome if development was ever to occur. Much of the identified land will never be developed for a whole suite of reasons, including flooding, traffic, vegetation, or community opposition- which is why we have identified more land than will be needed’.
Cr Ndiaye replies
Greens Cr Sarah Ndiaye, who was absent from the last vote, told The Echo she will reserve her decision to the day.
‘Most people objecting will not have read the 100 plus pages, have not attended the multitude of workshops and meetings, wont have toured the sites or listened to pleas from our home grown local businesses that have nowhere to expand to and won’t understand the constraints that a lot of the land parcels identified still have’.
‘Take for example the land around the Tyagrah Air Strip. The whole site is identified however there is no plan to shut down the airstrip, but any industrial land allocation still needs to take it into consideration along with any other constraints on the parcel which may include flood zones and environmental protection areas. From the 40 hectares identified I’d be very surprised if any more than ten could make it through to the next stage for development but they can’t be investigated further without being part of the strategy. Other areas identified as possible industrial overflow areas already have other buildings on them and no plan for them to move.
She continued, ‘As per our staff report in the agenda, “Importantly when considering this motion, it needs to be noted that a parcel’s inclusion in Business and Industrial Lands Strategy does not automatically mean it will be zoned for business or industry and any subsequent rezoning application will require a detailed assessment and public notification. This stepped assessment approach has the benefit of placing the cost of more detailed investigations with the land developer rather than being carried by the community upfront and providing a safety net for changes in land management information and techniques that may come in to play between the adoption of the BILS and a proponent seeking to rezone.”
‘So the people wanting to develop bare the cost, not you. That makes sense doesn’t it?
‘A lot of the issues we face relate to a lack of long-term planning. Having adequate, accessible and appropriate space for our local food, beverage, tech and textile producers and other local businesses helps keep our families local, reduces emissions and provides economic stability for our community. It also provides a diversity of job opportunities for our local population that go beyond tourism based jobs.
‘I hope people can look beyond the limit scope of analysis some are providing and think about the big picture. If it does end up going on exhibition it will require those who do understand this need to speak up’.
Cr Cate Coorey added, ‘I would be more than disappointed to see councillors approve this strategy. As a founder of Byron Residents’ Group and Community Alliance for Byron Shire (CABS),which largely formed and campaigned against the previous Council and their overdevelopment position, it is so disheartening to be dealing with the same kind of illogical so-called ‘planning’. To approve this strategy takes us way beyond our responsibilities and duties as a councillor’.