Is the vision of a sustainable housing development in the Saddle Road precinct destined for the scrapheap?
The idyllic rural tract, between Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby, has been the focus of various plans for affordable, eco-friendly housing in recent times.
However, a combination of community opposition, poor planning, and the tangle of Council planning regulations for the site has seen each idea fall long before a single brick is laid.
The most notable was the Brunswick Eco Village proposal (BEV), which envisaged an intentional community, featuring a mix of rural-residential and residential lots.
That proposal was shelved following a concerted campaign of opposition by other members of the Saddle Road community.
The dream of a Saddle Road housing village has been dealt another blow this week, with Council staff finding that two plans for affordable housing on the site were also inconsistent with planning rules.
In an agenda item to come before this week’s planning meeting, Council staff have reported back on an expression of interest process conducted earlier this year for the precinct.
In January, Council invited Saddle Road landowners to provide expressions of interest to have their property considered in the Rural Land Use Strategy, as a site for an intentional eco-community that included the provision of at least 80 per cent affordable housing.
Just two local landowners expressed an interest.
The first, a five-hectare site at 1-85 Saddle Road, proposed building granny flats that ‘could be used for affordable housing in the future’.
The second, pitched by Greens councillor hopeful, Matthew O’Reilly, from the Byron Rainbow Farm, was for 20 two-bedroom cottages spread over three hectares.
The proposed average weekly rent for each cottage would be capped at $345, which is 30 per cent of the median household income of the Byron Shire.
However, Council staff found that neither idea was consistent with the relevant planning policies for the site: the North Coast Regional Plan 2036, the North Coast Settlement Planning Guidelines 2019, and the Rural Land Use Strategy (RLUS).
Inadequate road infrastructure
The reasons included the fact that both ideas were, ‘located outside an identified town/village centre’, that they involved the ‘potential fragmentation of regionally significant farmland’, and that they were of a scale that was ‘unlikely to be self-contained and provide a mix of land uses to provide for daily needs of residents’.
Additional reasons included that neither proposal had adequate road infrastructure that was suitable to accommodate the likely increase in traffic.
‘Collectively, these barriers do not justify support for an amendment to the RLUS,’ Council’s planning support office Sam Tarrant said in his report, published in this week’s agenda to the planning meeting.
The very broad nature of these ‘barriers’ raises the question of whether any proposal for affordable housing in the Saddle Road precinct would be considered acceptable by Council.
In a further comment with implications for the future of affordable housing on the site, Mr Tarrant said: ‘…given that only two proposals have been received, it appears that there is limited interest in Area 17 being an ‘affordable housing precinct’’.
Byron councillors will vote on the staff recommendation at this Thursday’s Council planning meeting.