Byron Council will forge ahead with its plan to investigate using large areas of land in the Shire’s north for business and industrial use, in defiance of the NSW Planning Department.
During a heated planning meeting last week in which Mayor Simon Richardson tried unsuccessfully to limit the debate, a majority of councillors voted to continue with the proposed Business and Industrial Lands Strategy (BILS), ignoring the department’s concerns.
The BILS involves earmarking more than 40 hectares of land across the Shire for possible industrial development.
Around half of this is contained within three separate areas, known as the Gulgan Road precincts, located on vacant land near Mullumbimby, Tyagarah and Brunswick Heads.
In a recent letter to Council, the NSW Department of Planning said that it did not approve the investigation of these precincts for industrial use.
In a similar argument to that made by local opponents of the BILS, the department noted that ‘the estimated yield in the endorsed investigation areas and existing vacant industrial areas will exceed the 8–12ha total projected demand, which Council estimates will be needed by 2040’.
But at last week’s meeting, a majority of Byron councillors voted to follow a recommendation from their own staff to the effect that Council should dismiss this advice from the department.
Councillor Alan Hunter said there was nothing wrong with Council including extra land in the strategy.
‘We’ve lost jobs in this Shire and we’ve lost investment because we haven’t had parcels of industrial land big enough to meet the requirements of businesses,’ Cr Hunter said.
‘There’s no cost to having more land in the investigation stage of the process than we need.
‘The more we can equip ourselves for the future, the better off we’re going to be.’
However, Matthew O’Reilly from the Saddle Ridge Local Area Management Planning Association said that Council staff had misrepresented how much land was needed by failing to include existing vacant industrial land in their calculations.
‘I think you [the staff] should be ashamed at how this is represented in this report,’ said Mr O’Reilly, who is planning to stand for Council at the next election.
‘It’s very [Donald] Trump-like: if we say the false thing enough, people will believe us. Well, the department is not going to believe you, and neither is the community.’
Council staff defended the report by saying that a significant proportion of the Shire’s vacant industrial land was no longer deemed suitable for use, and so it was not useful to include this in future projections.
Independent councillor, Cate Coorey, did not accept this argument and moved a motion that Council redraft the BILS in accordance with the ‘qualifications and amendments’ requested by the department.
Mayor attempts to stifle debate
However, Mayor Simon Richardson then intervened, in a bid to prevent any debate on the amendment, using his position as chair of the meeting to immediately put the amendment and the original motion to a vote.
When Cr Coorey questioned whether this was permitted under Council’s code of meeting practice, Council’s legal counsel, Ralph James, advised that it was not.
While this allowed debate to continue on the amendment, it made little difference to the final outcome.
Greens councillors Simon Richardson, Michael Lyon and Jeanette Martin joined with Cr Hunter and Labor’s Paul Spooner in voting down the amendment and supporting the motion recommended by staff.
Cr Coorey, Cr Basil Cameron, and Cr Sarah Ndiaye (Greens) voted against.