Byron Shire Mayor, Simon Richardson, has resigned effective 30 April, 2021 following 13 years as a councillor, the last nine as mayor.
He made his announcement on his social media page on Thursday, 22 April reflecting on the ‘tough personal journey for me during this term’ dealing with both acute anxiety and the death of his wife Jane, which left him as the sole parent to his two young daughters.
Referring to the Council he joined, and later became mayor of, he stated that it was an ‘organisation that was at war with itself, broke and with no staff appetite to take risks in fear of being shot down and very low morale. We also had councillors at war, where it was seen as natural to attack and bully each other. And lastly, we had a community that largely took sides, dug trenches and attacked each [other,] where civil discourse was largely absent and only the loud voices were heard. To my regret, in my first term when solely a councillor, I was a willing participant within these conditions.’
While he sees himself as having built bridges as mayor ‘between councillors, between councillors and staff and between Council and the community’ it is clear that there have also been divisions created.
The Byron byass created both success and failure for the mayor. While the impact on traffic congestion has been recognised as a success, the perceived failure of process and the impact on the wetland and the critically endangered Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail has left both the Greens and the community divided.
The internal division of the Greens became clear during preselection for mayoral and councillor positions for the upcoming Council elections. The failure of the two sitting Greens Councillors, Michael Lyon and Sarah Ndiaye, that Simon supported, to gain preselection to run for mayor demonstrated the deep divides that have been created under Simon’s watch. Cr Lyon came second last in the Council preselection so left The Greens to pursue his Council re-election as an independent.
Leadership is always a challenge and particularly so in an active and passionate community like Byron Shire. Many have praised Mayor Richardson’s commitment over the years he has served, admiring his integrity and support for a wide range of projects, from music and spirit festivals, to his accessibility.
The housing situation has also been challenging with Simon supporting a number of developments, based on the Affordable Housing SEPP, which has left local communities feeling unheard and deserted by Council and its staff. While housing availability has increased, the cost of the ‘affordable housing’ created in these developments is nonetheless not affordable to people on medium to low wages.
However, Simon and the other councillors have sought to find ways to increase low cost housing with the slated increased expansion of land available for Lot 22 housing development in Mullumbimby and community land trust potential. While land release around Mullumbimby is still contentious owing to the flooding issues, the drive towards creating low cost housing and maintaining community diversity is essential.
Simon has actively sought to work with developers, seeing that as a way forward as a means to shape the future rather than ‘creating roadblocks’ to development. This led to his support for the Mercato development in Byron Bay. While the development didn’t achieve its original promised five-star green credentials it was a conscious effort to push development in the town towards sustainable outcomes.
The aspiration to move the Byron Environment Centre (BEC) from Railway Park in Byron Bay, and the process for the removal of mature trees for the park’s redevelopment, led to a concerted community outcry, and eventually Council allowed the BEC rotunda to stay in the park.
Supporting more large-scale development, particularly in Byron Bay, with a push towards increasing height limits has led to a radically changed face of the town. Increasing land prices and potential profitability have increased the pressure on Council to allow more Gold Coast style developments that move away from the BEC-style murals and activism that gave the town its identity from the 1970s.
‘Being a councillor is a tough job and some would argue that in the Byron Shire it is even more difficult, and Simon has never shied away from always advocating for the best outcomes possible for the community he loves,’ said Byron Shire Council General Manager, Mark Arnold.
This sentiment was reiterated by Green MP for Ballina Tamara Smith who told The Echo that, ‘Mayor Simon Richardson has the courage of his convictions and I greatly admire him for that. He is extremely well regarded in political circles and he has the kind of enigmatic passion and determination that vibrant leaders have.’
‘He has devoted 13 years of his blood, sweat and tears to public life and I thank him for that sincerely on behalf of our community. I wish he and his beautiful daughters well on the next part of their journey.’
Mayor Richardson declined to be interviewed or provide comment on his resignation to The Echo.