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Byron Shire
September 25, 2021

Tony Maxwell, West Byron and fighting for our community

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Catherine Coorey, Byron Bay

Thank you, Wren McLean, for the beautiful piece about Tony Maxwell; a remarkable local man who died too young.

Few people would know that this community owes Tony a big thanks. Back in 2015, Tamara Smith organised for members of Byron Residents’ Group (BRG) to meet then planning minister, Rob Stokes, to talk about West Byron. We thought that if we took Minister Stokes a site plan that showed what could be done there, taking into account the environmental constraints, that he might act and stop this mess from happening. Even though we would rather have not had any development, the rezoning had already been approved and the best we could hope for was something on the site that was tolerable.

But getting plans done costs money and we didn’t have any. Serendipitously, Clayton Holmes, (aka the Orchid Whisperer) who works on Tony’s property got in touch to let me know Tony wanted to do something about West Byron. I called Tony and told him we needed to do up a proper plan to take to the meeting with the Minister. I had no idea what it was going to cost but Tony said to just go ahead and he’d take care of it. I was a bit surprised about being given a de facto blank cheque, but what was most surprising was Tony’s warmth and encouragement towards a complete stranger and his trusting me to get this thing done. He was so animated and passionate about safeguarding Byron’s beauty and biodiversity.

Using Dailan Pugh’s mapping of all the environmental constraints – the koalas, the acid sulfate soils, the wallum frogs, the Belongil impacts – Bill Payne did us up a plan and we took it to the meeting. The minister moved to another portfolio and we got no joy from his replacement.

After the Northern Region Planning Panel (NRPP) refused Villaworld’s development application, BRG’s Dailan Pugh, Andrew Murray and I went to visit the CEO of Tower Holdings, the company which owns the site. We took the plan that Tony Maxwell had funded and suggested it was a better way to use that site. Surprisingly, they listened and that plan became the basis for what was finally agreed, by council and the court, could go on the site. Villaworld’s new development will do pretty much everything we showed on our plan; among other things they halved the number of dwellings, removed development from the area around the wallum frog habitat and moved the development back 30 metres from Ewingsdale road rather than building an ugly wall.

Sadly, the remaining landowners of West Byron persist in trying to use the courts to reject the planning panel’s refusal of their dreadful DA, but the Villaworld half will be a vast improvement compared to the massive overdevelopment originally proposed. The role Tony Maxwell played in helping us get to this outcome was significant.

Combined with the exquisite wetlands and the massive replanting and rehabilitation of his property Seapeace, Tony’s legacy to the environment here in Byron is enormous. My deepest condolences to Robyn and his family and friends who are mourning the loss of a very good man.

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