The Development Application (DA) for a driveway redesign on Cemetery Road Byron Bay looked pretty innocuous at first glance.
Even the applicant’s request for permission to use a non-compliant carport – which Council staff said should be refused – was pretty run-of-the-mill for the Byron Shire.
Then it emerged during Council’s planning meeting, held last Thursday, that the application had been lodged by independent councillor Cate Coorey.
The other councillors knew that of course – one had even recused himself from the vote, along with Cr Coorey, on the grounds that their close friendship represented a possible conflict of interest.
But it raised an interesting question: should Byron’s councillors be assessing DAs that have been lodged by their Council colleagues?
It is far from the first time this has happened – many of the current crop of councillors have had a DA come before Council at some point in the last four-and-a-half years.
This time though, some councillors elected to speak up, perhaps because Cr Coorey was asking for permission to step outside the strict letter of the rules.
‘I don’t think we should be in the position of determining other councillors’ development applications,’ independent councillor Michael Lyon said.
‘I went to the site inspection this morning, and I did my best to put myself in the position of “well, if this were someone else and not a councillor, what would I decide?”.’
‘What I came up with was that given there were no major complaints against the proposal, I would let it go even, though to the letter of the law, it’s not compliant.
‘But I think this kind of thing should be taken out of the hands of councillors.
Staff’s funny looks
‘I think it should either be put in the hands of staff, or given to a third independent body. I don’t quite know how that would work, but I don’t think it should be up to us, because, while I wouldn’t say that I feel conflicted, I do feel uncomfortable.’
Cr Lyon also noted that there had been ‘a couple of funny looks from staff’ during the meeting because ‘they’re not recommending what we’re proposing’.
But Cr Alan Hunter disagreed.
‘I don’t give a stuff who put the application in, to be honest,’ Cr Hunter said.
‘It could be the Queen, it could be the King, it could be the Prime Minister.
‘I’m no more uncomfortable with this than I would be with any other DA.
‘The key question to ask is, “Who’s hurt, who’s in danger” and in this case, no one is.’
In the staff report on the DA, planning officer Ivan Holland said that the carport on Cr Coorey’s property was ‘inconsistent with (less than) the current street front setback pattern’.
It was also longer and higher than required by Australian Standards.
‘For this reason and the other issues… the carport structure is not considered to adequately meet the objective and is not supported,’ Mr Holland said.
But the councillors voted unanimously to approve the application, with a number of fairly minor alterations.