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.
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’.
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.’