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Lifting the lid on Byron Shire Council’s unauthorised dwelling amnesty

Aslan Shand

Byron Shire Council (BSC) say they are about to take a ‘tough stance on unauthorised development’.

A June 30 press release says, ‘Following a resolution of Council, staff will now be preparing an Unauthorised Residential Accommodation Policy’. A 15 month moratorium on enforcement action will take place from June 18 2020, say Council staff, and ‘any development built after June 18, 2020, will not be subject to the moratorium’.

Yet for many, this just seems like Groundhog Day.

And for others, another example of the failure of Council to implement compliance on existing unauthorised developments.

In the early 2000s, Council did exactly this. They put together the ‘Affordable Rural Housing Options’ brochure and created a process for unauthorised dwellings to be bought into line and recognised. Then they were going to get ‘tough on compliance’, according to former Greens Mayor Jan Barham.

Yet just a few months ago, Mayor Simon Richardson stated in a Council meeting that ‘traditionally, our position was to look the other way’ to unauthorised development.

Compliance failures

This appears to be the reason that Council staff have routinely failed to implement compliance across the Shire, from the unauthorised garage and shed conversions throughout urban areas, to the multiple dwellings and clearing activities that take place in rural locations.

One land owner, who asked not to be named, told Echonetdaily that while the site they owned had been made compliant as a community title, many of the neighbours continued to build illegal dwellings and clear high value environmental land for future unauthorised development.

According to documents sighted by Echonetdaily, this landowner has been reporting the unauthorised activities, this time around, to Council since late 2017; yet Council has failed to enforce any compliance.

In fact, further unauthorised building activities continued as they waited for the investigation that BSC committed to in late 2018.

They are still waiting.

‘One set of neighbours are currently in the process of building a two storey house that was originally stopped over a decade ago’, they said.

‘This is in addition to the half dozen other unauthorised dwellings that they have already built and rent out on the property. This is in a high fire danger area that was directly impacted during last fire season.

‘It is particularly galling, as I spent ten years and over $1m getting my property legally approved as a community title. Therefore, we pay rates for each of the titles, whereas the neighbours increase traffic, dust, noise and destroy community amenity, and the environment, with apparent impunity, no action from the Council, and paying only one set of rates.’

A similar experience has been had by former Greens councillor and engineer Duncan Dey, who reported illegal dwellings being built on a neighbouring property since 2016. Council failed to act on the issue, and when the property was for sale, Council staff allegedly told the prospective buyer that it shouldn’t be difficult to get one of the unauthorised dwellings approved.

‘The situation near me in Coopers Lane West is a case study of how to get it wrong,’ said Mr Dey, referring to Council’s process. It has been heartbreak for the property owner and for neighbours; and Council’s planning system has washed its hands of the issues in this case’.

Staff warning

Meanwhile, Council’s Director of Sustainable Environment and Economy, Shannon Burt, warned the community in the recent media release that ‘all unauthorised development in the Byron Shire will be discovered eventually’.

A new ‘compliance schedule’ will be agreed to between Council and the landowner, says Ms Burt, ‘allowing a fair and transparent assessment process of their individual circumstances to be completed.

The ‘compliance agreement’ will be a full user-pays process in accordance with Council’s fees and charges’.

‘There are plenty of landholders who are renting out places, for top prices, that aren’t habitable,’ said a local builder, who has worked on both legal and unauthorised dwellings in the area and asked not to be named.

‘An amnesty in principle is great, but if you come forward, you enter a potential bureaucratic nightmare. It is so convoluted and expensive that it can give people nervous breakdowns.

‘For those who can’t afford the changes to their dwellings, what’s the point?’

Dob yourself in

Another local landholder, who also asked not to be named, asked what happens if you come forward and then are refused permission, or can’t agree on the compliance items. ‘Do you get a demolition order?’

‘Is this an amnesty, or a request to dob yourself in?

‘Where’s the incentive with no safeguard? I doubt I will apply without absolute written assurance of no downside.

‘Maybe my kids can get into it when the next amnesty happens.’


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12 responses to “Lifting the lid on Byron Shire Council’s unauthorised dwelling amnesty”

  1. Rossco Phillips says:

    Council is responsible for creating mayhem out here. People just say “It’s a shed” or my other favourite, “It’s a studio”, and Compliance officers say, “Okay.” Then it is up to the neighbours to have to deal with each other and there is often animosity and, as I have experienced, threats.
    People now know they can do what they like. It’s a bad joke!
    Is this a defacto Council policy of ‘Affordable Housing’?
    But how affordable in the long run? Who ‘pays’?
    Many people have had their health deteriorate from heartbreak as their country dream turns into a rural-slum nightmare.
    Time for a legal class-action against Council for affected COMPLIANT (and ignored) rate payers?

  2. John says:

    Amnesty ends on September 18, 2021, just after the Council election. Interesting to see how many illegal developers take up Council’s offer, and, what happens after the amnesty ends. Council will probably hit them with a feather and turn a blind eye as they traditionally have done. No wonder there is thousands of illegal developments in the shire.

    Direct action by Council instituting class 5 criminal prosecutions in the Land and Environment Court will be the only way for illegal developers to get the message, and a precedent set, to obtain development consent.

    It is human nature for many to try to get away with it if they can.

  3. john jennings says:

    Since the seventies I’ve lived in sheds, caves, derelict buildings, on other people’s verandas or under canvas – and loved it all.
    Eventually I bought a chainsaw and built a house out of local trees and salvaged materials. I signed an amnesty agreement with the local council. They haven’t bothered me in forty years. I have no insurance. I’ve never had to call the SES. My homemade house withstands everything nature throws at it.
    Is this a problem? Not for me. I don’t need a bureaucratic nit-wit with a rule book and polished shoes to tell me how to live. Other people do apparently. That’s sad. They also need hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve never needed that and never been in debt.
    Freedom is everyone’s innate right. Allowing someone else to control you is irresponsible. We appoint people to run the country as we wish to see it run; not to tell us what to do.
    A just person has no obligation to comply with unjust laws. Most laws protect our rights, not take them away. Without road rules for example roads would be too dangerous to use, being full of hoons and ambulances. We need laws. But we are not puppets on strings.

  4. John says:

    John Jennings, if you are living in Byron Shire you are breaking planning laws whether you agree or disagree with them.

  5. Ginga says:

    Ummm… really!!! So where do the people go that are living in these places.. ?
    Just curious?

    Here’s the other thing to the person or people anguishing over the fact you have spent 1m on making your house compliant. Aren’t you lucky you have the money to do that? You have a lovely home, no doubt & a grand investment.
    Not everyone is in that position.
    So let’s go hard on those whom have lived in more humble accomodations for long periods of time, shall we? I mean, really dear you sound so um… hard done by.

    Blessings & love

  6. Katherine Green says:

    Maybe land access is a human right…not a privilege…maybe council should rectify land ownership as a system that allows for people to share land…and put in place an environmental protection policy….and encourage people to be self sufficient by growing food on their land…it only takes two acres for rice crops and wheat crops on rotation…wheres the incentive to live our truth as opposed to the make money on yr home real estate boom and bust economy…. c mon folks…anything else is just a bandaid…

  7. HRH says:

    Byron Council has a priority list for action by the Enforcement Team. Action against illegal holiday letting is given a high priority. In the last five years there has been a massive increase in illegal holiday letting. There has been zero or very minimal prosecutions in this period against illegal holiday letting. The excuse used is that the State Government is going to bring in a policy to regulate. Well, the policy was developed years ago but has not been enacted. As they know that they will not be prosecuted the illegal holiday let operators have acted with impunity.

    Byron Council is solely to blame for this appalling situation.

  8. john jennings says:

    Yes, I know that, John. I’ve been breaking planning laws for many decades. And other laws too.
    many people are in the same position.
    My attitude remains the same.
    Thanks for your comment

  9. BornxRaised says:

    John Jennings, you are delusional. If everyone went and cleared land and chopped down trees like you did this area would be destroyed. You sound like a selfish libertarian who has know idea how things work and what impact people have on the environment. Compliance and regulations exist to protect society from people like you.

  10. Emma Renvith says:

    You clearly don’t use roads or any other public infrastructure for that matter. Or are you just too good to taxes?

  11. Neil says:

    I agree with Rossco’s assessment of the situation. It is a waste of time lodging a complaint with council compliance about illegal developments as nothing will be effectively done. The attitude from them is “forgive and forget”. Council is risk averse, even when they have good evidence of illegal development owners breaking planning laws. The biggest supporter of this is our current mayor.
    Ask former councilor Duncan Dey about the lack of action from council about illegal developments. He most likely will be our next mayor. We can only hope that he will get council staff to uphold planning laws. Yes, give them an opportunity to get development consent, then prosecute if they snub council.

  12. john jennings says:

    BornxRaised
    For your information: my environmental impact is extremally small, and deliberately so. I did not ‘clear land’. I live in a forest. The trees grow back faster than I can keep them at bay. I did not ‘chop down trees’ – I used a chain saw. And in my original post I acknowledged the value of law. I am not an anarchist.
    And your ‘slippery slope fallacy’ – that ‘if everyone cleared land and chopped down trees… this area would be destroyed’ makes you delusional, not me. There are a great many things that would prove catastrophic if everyone did them. But everyone doesn’t do them. Therein lies the fallacy.

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