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Byron Shire
February 24, 2024

‘Endless land releases’ not the solution for Byron’s housing crisis, says Labor mayor hopeful

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Labor Byron Shire Council candidates (L-R): Peter Doherty, Linda Watson, Jan Hackett, Asren Pugh, Mel Franze, Kaylene Chamberlain PIC supplied

Mia Armitage

Northern Rivers-based trade unionist and MBA student Asren Pugh has announced his candidature for Byron Shire Mayor in September’s local government elections on behalf of  Labor.

It’s Mr Pugh’s second foray into representative politics, having run for the seat of Ballina in the 2019 state election.

Mr Pugh is the son of acclaimed environmentalist Dailan Pugh but says he was raised to be an independent thinker and doesn’t share the same views as his father on everything, including the controversial Byron Bypass project finally launched earlier this year.

‘I’m glad it’s been built,’ Asren Pugh told The Echo on Monday, ‘it’s a different job to be the mayor from being an activist’.

But he commended his father’s legacy, especially for his commitment to the fight against excessive development on wetlands in West Byron, and echoed Dailan Pugh’s passion for the environment.

‘Our natural environment is what makes our region precious and needs to be protected,’ Mr Pugh said, ‘our council should be doing more to combat climate change and prepare to adapt to its impacts’.

The Labor candidate said his vision of the shire included less reliance on cars thanks to regular, accessible public transport and paths for bikes and pedestrians within and between villages.

He said he was ‘fairly agnostic’ as to the modes of public transport he’d like to see running in the region but that a return of trains to the old railway lines ‘like they used to be’ wasn’t a ‘viable option’.

The mayoral candidate has also paid his respects to the Arawkwal people, saying he acknowledges their sovereignty and wants Council to support them ‘to live, work, practise and celebrate culture and care for the land’.

Fresh faces, but long-time residents dominate Labor Byron team

Labor haven’t yet finalised the running order of nominations on their Byron Shire ballot ticket but have announced five other candidates to join Mr Pugh’s campaign after winning two seats on the Byron Shire Council in 2016 for Jan Hackett and Paul Spooner.

Councillor Spooner has already said he won’t be running in the September elections leaving Cr Hackett as the only Labor candidate with council experience.

Joining Mr Pugh and Cr Hackett in their local government campaign are Linda Watson, Peter Doherty, Mel Franz and Kaylene Chamberlain.

Ms Watson will probably be the second name on the Labor ticket, Mr Pugh said.

The Ewingsdale resident is an early childhood educator.

Meanwhile, Mr Doherty lives in Bangalow, is known as a co-founder of prominent advocacy group Bangalow Koalas and works in disability support; Ms Franz is a nurse educator from Mullumbimby; and Ms Chamberlain is a long-time resident of Ocean Shores who volunteers in community transport services.

‘We need a mayor that will drive a positive vision that puts our community at its heart,’ Mr Pugh said in a media release this week, before addressing bureaucratic concerns.

‘Our council needs to be better at the boring stuff, at processing requests and responding to the community,’ the statement read, ‘it needs to be easier to follow the rules, but council also needs to be better at applying them fairly and consistently’.

Byron needs a housing plan, not just ‘ideas’ says mayor hopeful

Mr Pugh also addressed the shire’s worsening housing crisis in his media release, saying his family only paid about $180 per week for a three-bedroom home in Baywood Chase ‘on the income of a single mum casual teacher’ when he was growing up.

‘Of course things change but the current housing crisis is ripping the heart out of community,’ he said.

The state government last week released a new Housing 2041 strategy with provisions for public land to be used for housing but Mr Pugh said in his media release he rejected ‘endless land releases as any sort of solution’ to the housing crisis.

‘It was a good announcement,’ Mr Pugh said, ‘but there is a concern developers could again get the advantage’.

An existing Community Land Trust initiated by fellow Labor member Cr Paul Spooner was a good start, Mr Pugh said, but the key to its success was ‘more land’.

The Byron Shire Council has announced a housing emergency but Mr Pugh didn’t sound impressed at the declaration, saying if he was mayor he wouldn’t be ‘just about throwing ideas into the air’.

‘We need a comprehensive housing plan,’ Mr Pugh said, agreeing that a stakeholder group like one proposed recently for the Ballina Shire Council’s affordable housing strategy would be important.

Ballina Shire Councillor Ben Smith told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom last week the group would include representatives from local non-government organisations in hopes of sharing ideas and resources effectively with the council.

Despite having the highest rates of homelessnesss in regional NSW, the Byron Shire has no permanent emergency housing service and Mr Pugh said a proper plan would address that need, as well as means for users to transition to longer term housing.

The government’s Housing 2041 strategy includes options for councils to use abandoned publicly-owned buildings for emergency shelter but Mr Pugh says he doesn’t echo community calls for the old Byron Hospital site to be used that way.

The government sold the site to the Byron Shire Council for a dollar on condition it be used as a community hub for educational, creative and homelessness ‘wrap-around’ services.

A volunteer group has developed a plan for the site but the council has decided to put the project out for tender after the government said the partnership required extra paperwork.

Mr Pugh described the bureaucratic delay as a ‘monumental stuff-up’ by councillors but said he supported the idea of the community hub because artists needed space to create and social services also needed space.

Labor member supports food manufacturing jobs in Byron

When asked how his role as a trade unionist would influence his job as mayor, Mr Pugh mentioned ‘good, stable jobs’ and said he would be working closely with local business chambers.

‘We need to support local businesses to diversify our economy to reduce our reliance on tourism,’ Mr Pugh said in his media release, before naming ‘food manufacturing’ as a possible alternative.

This article has been updated: Asren Pugh says he is running for Labor, not Country Labor as originally written.

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  1. Hopefully Mr Pugh can manage to do some maths to determine how many cars can be taken off the road by miniature trams running at 50 kph on a singe railway track.

  2. Thanks to the ALP voting with the Liberals and Nationals in state parliament to remove the protective legislation from the valuable Casino to Murwillumbah rail line to waste millions of public money to destroy the line for a bike track, there’ll be no chance of a ‘sustainable viable option’ for public transport to reduce traffic gridlock in Byron, or anywhere on the North Coast, despite many towns, including Byron, having a train station in the centre.

    The ALP supports spending billions to build more roads to increase traffic gridlock spewing carbon emissions, destroying the environment and wild life as well as residents’ quality of life.

    The ALP and the LNP have a long history of corruption and can’t be trusted to manage anything, let alone public money or public infrastructure.

    • Thats a very trite analysis of the situation.
      Decisions were made at the time by those in power the rigidity of your views is sadly not on line with constantly changing and evolving policies.
      If you look at Labor in Queensland where they have extended super efficient train services to the Gold Coast, and will be putting in a whole new line for the Jimboomba area perhaps you could rethink your opinions.

      • Yes we envy the building and ugrades of rail infrastructure elsewhere-including Victoria where billions are being spent on fast trains from Melbourne to Geelong-that’s not happening here. Sadly many millions of public money is being wasted destroying valuable public infrastructure locally-by LNP with the support of the ALP. If a private company wasted shareholders’ money in this way shareholders would be baying for blood. So should taxpayers.

        Though Byron Council is doing their best to get trains running on the line-it seems unlikely they’ll get any support or funding from the state who just want to destroy it.

        • I envy Victoria their fantastic rail trails. I’m also a frequent user of their rail services which work really well where they service the population centres and major destinations.

    • It’s probably another ‘training run’ in an Election like his apprentice effort for the seat of Ballina in the 2019 state election.

      One day he may be elected , somewhere , for some level of Government .

  3. “‘I’m glad it’s been built,’ Asren Pugh told The Echo on Monday, ‘it’s a different job to be the mayor from being an activist’. ”

    Coming from the ALP , these are just words , for public consumption.

    However is something that the dark Green Luddites who are standing in this Election just cannot comprehend .

    One cannot govern Byron by simply saying NO at every opportunity .

  4. Wow the greens have shown great leadership on council? Highest rates in area with worse roads . Also who elected 2 realestate agents at different times for them to change sides- great vetting.

  5. What might see a slight movement in reducing traffic gridlock would be full buses, as each seat can potentially take a car off the road. It’s likely to be slight improvement only as most of our day tripper s come from Qld. How much of our gridlocked traffic do you think really comes from Lismore or Murwillumbah? Until we see greater use of our great bus service there can be little confidence that the expense of restoring a train will stack up.

    But Louise, you’ve got someone here who’s slightly on board with your vision. Do you want to bring back trains or play politics?

    • Unfortunately we will see less uses of bus’s in Byron Bay as the significant users (elderly, single parents and young households without cars used to be able to be dropped in the middle of town where they could go to the Post office, dentist and carry their heavy shopping from the supermarkets etc, but now have an extended walk to the new bus station that may be prohibitive. As for Asrens demonstrated priority of dealing with traffic rather than the bypass’ increases carbon pollution from loss of trees carbon draw down and the bypass’s contribution to our wildlife extinction crisis, whatever his other redeeming features, we have gone past voting for the least of the worst. Unfortunately Labours support for new coal and gas as a “transition” is a recipe for a transition to unmanageable temperature increases and coastal innundation of metres of sea level rise. Perhaps he could get his head around that the bypass’s increase in carbon emissions is a part of the problem causing the present erosion of Main beach and that these emisions are driving a sea level rise that will see Byron, Bruns, Ballina etc under the sea. We dont need any more bureaucrats, we unfortunately need to defend ourselves and future generations from them.

  6. I’m not so sure, John that the interchange will be the only drop-off for the elderly and families as the local buses have several bus stops and is also a hail and ride service. Surely Blanches will retain the stop just outside Mercato? The fact is though that they offer a great public transport facility that few utilise.

    There are certainly a range of views in the Labor caucus on energy policy but, as this area has become so toxic and unprincipled in Australia, Labor – wedged by both the scurrilous scare tactics of the Tories and the pragmatism of the Greens (who see Labor as their main rivals) – must tread a tricky path to any chance of avoiding another couple of decades of coalition rule.

    I think for local government candidates though, we’d be better off with people ready to make the hard but principled local decisions rather than grandstand with NOMs about Adane, Julian Assange and Netflix – all with the convenience of knowing that they’ll never have to actually do something about them.

    The way the bypass was achieved was an absolute tragedy but I recall Asren speaking at a “grab the rail” rally on the advantages of the alternative being investigates. No Greens we’re there. An attempt to get this proposition up was floated by Cate Coorey and Paul Spooner but voted down. How much of this resistance was inspired by the TOOT lobby?

    As the wise Gough Whitlam observed, “Only the impotent are pure”.

    • Yes there are other bus stops – if you read the Byron Bulletin Board you will see comments regarding elderly people now being dropped off in the lower back streets of the CBD, meaning they can only get tothe P.O., Bank, Dentist, supermarket etc if they can walk an extended distance with their shopping. There has been no consideration of those with lesser mobillity or who carry heavy shopping. As for “grandstanding” – the first big forest protest in the world happened in the hills behind Byron when there were no Environment Ministers in any world government, and every bit of Environmental legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency, Koala Management Plans and global Ministers for the Environment etc etc etc all flowed from that “grandstanding”. We are not impotent, our grandstanding has driven global and local change. Your support for Cr Spooner, called out in State parliament for his behavior,against small busuiness market operators and left his job at the Community Centre after successful wage theft cases under his management, took developer contributions from a property developer (under and late declared after it was raised),identifies the problem in the Labor Party. Its a pity the Labour Party isnt working with coal and gas workers for a rapid transition to new jobs, rather than ignoring the science of global warming, and ignoring the deaths and destruction happening, which is giong to get much worse. Its too late for a gradual transition, but we can can and have changed the world from Byron, including by “grandstanding”.

  7. John, I totally agree with you about the importance of protest and well recognise what it has achieved, not only in this shire but around the world. But I would never describe what you are referring to – for which I’ll be eternally grateful – as grandstanding. Neither do I have any objection to local Councils making statements of principal on state, national, international issues – I have written in support of Byron Council’s stand on Australia Day celebration (which, when it got hard, they later folded on) It just smacks to me as grandstanding if the same guiding principles are not applied across all decisions being made, especially the ones where there is an actual local concrete outcome. Especially the environmental ones like the trampling of a critically endangered species.

    I was just pointing out a bit of history in terms of this bypass, where the colour of the political party bore little resemblance to the dichotomy of Greens = good, Labor = bad that can prevail. Given this shire’s problematic history of relying on party endorsement to guide one’s vote, it’s worth looking closely at individuals and their history.

    Neither am I a fan of the new interchange – it totally desecrates some of the last remaining heritage areas in the town. But surely where locals are dropped off by local buses can be rectified. They will certainly take them to the hospital, to Ballina and to the industrial estate. It seems a bit counterproductive to boycott the public transport alternatives we have “on principle”, but given the numbers this is what must be happening.

  8. What most people find most exacerbating about the Greens is not necessarily their purist ideology, it’s their uncompromising attitude and their seeming acceptance of 100% of nothing rather than 80% of something, and then blame the Labor Party for selling out the environment. WA. Premier Mark McGowan made a poignant statement to the recent ALP. Federal conference that the Greens would be well advised to listen to; that to wrest control from the Coalition, they have to move to the center, leftist policies will not do it. The last election proved that the majority of voters are worried more about their financial futures than environmental problems like climate change, and will vote accordingly. The Greens at times manage to embarrass the ALP. enough to pinch a few seats, but that doesn’t help one bit in removing the Coalition who are the real enemy. Bob Brown actually helped the Coalition win the last election with that stupid Adani protest to North Qld. during the election campaign, instead of winning seats in Qld. we lost them. It also put the Qld. Premier in such a precarious position that she had to approve the coal mine to save her own job, or would the Greens be happier with the LNP. back governing Qld. And Matt Canavan and Cambell Newman formulating coal mining policy. How about the Greens actually concentrate on removing this appalling Coalition Govt. instead of constantly slagging off at the Labor Party, because this shit is not going to stop until that happens, and at present it’s looking like they are going to buy their way back in for another three years, now isn’t that a scary thought.

    • Dark Green Luddites only know how be be negative and oppose for the sake of activism .
      Your ALP is not far from their position , just not quite as negative ,
      Independents are the best leaders in Local Government .
      They are not beholding to ‘faceless ‘ leaders in a Capital City !.


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