Helena Norberg-Hodge, Byron Bay
I am writing to voice my strong opposition to Council staff’s ‘hard line proposal to prohibit secondary dwellings on all MOs and CTs’.
Let’s be clear: such projects are not profit-driven proposals from big developers. Generally, they come from groups of ecologically minded locals who have genuine intentions to live in community and renew ecosystems through environmentally sensitive, productive land-use.
And yet, such projects run up against regulatory obstacles at every turn. These are regulations that have been made with big developers in mind, but they have been applied across the board, squashing countless community projects. Of course, the cruel irony is that when a big developer comes to town, all the doors swing open. Local council is bypassed and approval is granted directly by the State government.
This is a clear example of the unlevel economic playing field that favours large-scale, resource-intensive development over small-scale, locally sensitive development. It is the systemic bias I have been opposing my entire career.
We have been spoon-fed the idea that strict regulations are necessary because more people on the land will inevitably mean ecological destruction. We need to open our eyes to the fact that worldwide people are being driven off the land into resource intensive mega-cities. On the land, they are replaced by machinery and chemicals on larger and larger monocultures. Today more people living and working in community on the land is exactly what the world needs. It is the only way we can ensure regional food-security while regenerating land that has been degraded by large-scale, globalised agriculture. At this moment of climate crisis, we need to be doing everything we can to enable those who want to work the land in sustainable ways to do so.
On top of that, there is a more immediate crisis in our community that needs to be tackled: the housing crisis. Throughout the Shire, Airbnb is taking over and rent is rising dramatically. More and more people – even those with stable employment – are being pushed to move away or to live in mobile homes. The displacement of locals, along with their skills and small businesses, results in the rapid erosion of the very fabric of our society.
We as a community, together with our Council, are obliged to examine every possible option. We cannot afford to discard any viable possibility for housing.
Opening the door for more CTs and MOs in the Shire would be an easy, low-cost and effective solution. On such properties, dwellings tend to be owner-built and modest in nature, therefore allowing for lower rents. It would allow people – especially young people who want to work on the land – to have affordable housing, while contributing to our region’s food security.
Of course, I’m not for a moment suggesting that the red-tape be done away with – more than ever, we need to protect ourselves against big development. But it is entirely possible to have a framework for assessing smaller projects on a case-by-case basis. Community oversight could be implemented to make sure dwellings are low-impact and ecologically-sound, and that sustainable and productive land-use is encouraged.
Understanding the vast differences between top-down overdevelopment and bottom-up ecological development is key to ensuring a sustainable and affordable future for our community. Helena Norberg-Hodge, Byron Bay