The new mobile Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital was launched at The Farm last Thursday , after which the purpose-equipped trailer headed to a site on Ewingsdale Road, Byron Bay to start operations the following day. The mobile hospital aims to support local wildlife groups in treating injured wildlife, as well as heading out to areas where wildlife need on-the-ground treatment following natural and human-made disasters that impact wildlife, like the Black Summer fires.
However, like any project in Byron it’s not without its objectors. The project has been two years in the making, according to Byron Wildlife Hospital CEO Dr Stephen Van Mil, who operates as a vet from Lennox Head.
However, Council has confirmed that they don’t currently have approved access or a development application approved for the site.
Dr Van Mil has assured The Echo that they have permission to use the site even though its current zoning is 7(b) Coastal Habitat under Byron LEP 1988 which prohibits development without consent.
Following a meeting with Byron Shire Council staff on Friday, 27 November, the day the facility started operation, Mr Van Mil supplied The Echo with a copy of a letter from Council in which Council staff state that, ‘A pad was constructed as exempt development for the vehicle to park upon’.
The Echo’s sought clarification from Council regarding under which specific legislation the pad was exempt. A Council spokesperson responded saying, ‘There are provisions that exempt hard stand spaces in the Code’s SEPP which will be considered as part of the application assessment process. The vehicle is legally parked so no permission is required to park a vehicle in that location.’
A council spokesperson said that while the site is ‘Currently 7(b) Coastal Habitat under Byron LEP 1988 [the] subject area adjacent to the Island Quarry is to be rezoned to RU2 as part of the Stage 2 E Zoning review.’
During the launch of the Wildlife Hospital the project’s founders spoke to their vision that this is only the beginning for the wildlife hospital with plans to create a more permanent space in the future. The founders said that they see this as serving a dual role as a hospital, as well as an educational facility where locals and tourists can go to learn more about wildlife and their conservation.
Access to the site is currently via the already congested Ewingsdale Road, and the impact of potential future development of this site for education and tourism has been questioned.
‘Access to the land from Ewingsdale Road is dependent on the section 138 application now lodged being approved – this includes both Council and RMS/TfNSW approvals,’ said a Byron Shire Council spokesperson.
‘A development application is to follow for the use of part of the land as a mobile Wildlife Hospital. A DA has been lodged in the NSW Planning Portal but [is] yet to be registered by Council.
‘Council’s understanding is that the mobile Wildlife Hospital will be parked on the land in between its travels to areas of need. When parked, local wildlife carers will be the primary users for wildlife drop off for emergency and or specialist care. It will not be accessed by the general public.
‘When registered the DA will be exhibited. With Christmas approaching this is likely to be in January.’
Additional concerns raised over the removal of some vegetation at the site have also been investigated by Council who told The Echo that, ‘Staff inspected the site yesterday (25 November) and confirmed they had not removed any more trees/vegetation from that which were felled previously and were putting the trees through the wood chipper.
‘These trees/vegetation were on land under the remit of Local Land Services (LLS) who have visited the site and provided separate advice.’
According to a LLS spokesperson,‘Under the Local Land Services Act 2013, landowners on rural land have access to certain allowable activities that permit them to undertake routine agricultural maintenance such as vegetation management for fencelines.’
The maximum clearing area along fencelines has recently been increased to 25m under bushfire regulations.
‘It is understood that regeneration/replanting of this area is to follow,’ said Byron Council’s spokesperson.
‘Staff will discuss the status of the above section 138, timing for DA and any unresolved complaints lodged by community.
‘All complaints logged with Council and substantiated with appropriate evidence will be dealt with as per Council’s Enforcement Policy.’
The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said they are unable to comment on the activity at the site as it ‘is currently an active investigation’.