Matthew Lambourne, Mullumbimby
The Unauthorised Dwellings Policy (the Policy) appears to be based narrowly on planning issues, and does not take into account other Council policies, the current economic situation, and the extreme shortage of and high cost of rental housing in the area.
The Byron Shire Rural Land Use Strategy 2017 states that any policy for unauthorised rural dwellings should be ‘adopting a holistic approach… including the larger picture of housing affordability across the Shire’ and should be ‘developed in consultation with the NSW Housing and Community services and other housing support service organisations.’
The Policy is likely to particularly affect rural rental housing, and could make possibly hundreds of people homeless unless it recognises and makes allowance for this, perhaps by including a moratorium on enforcement action until the current tenancy ends, up to, say, five years.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting perhaps several years of recession, will make it very difficult for many people to bring their dwellings up to Council’s requirements. A grace period of ten years should be allowed for dwellings that comply with realistic health, safety, and environmental requirements to be brought up to standard by way of an agreed compliance schedule.
The exhibited Policy refers to ‘Enforcement action’ being ‘Orders to demolish/restore to previously approved use’, but Council’s Enforcement Policy 2016 makes it clear, in Sections 4.14, 4.15, and 4.16, that Council has considerable discretion in what enforcement action it takes. In Section 4.15 the Enforcement Policy states that ‘Council will have regard to the impact the unauthorised activity is causing on amenity or harm to the environment’ and that ‘Council will… ensure the action is not disproportionate to the level of harm or damage arising from the unauthorised activity.’ In some cases, the appropriate enforcement action may be to take no action, and this range of responses should be made clear in the Policy.
The intention of the Policy is to encourage people with unauthorised dwellings to come forward, but the exhibited Policy is more likely to encourage people to run and hide. The exhibited policy should be scrapped, and a realistic, rational, and compassionate policy developed that takes into account the issues I have raised and spells out the pathways to regularisation in language easily understood by people who are not familiar with planning legislation and policies.