Independent Byron Shire Councillor Cate Coorey won approval from fellow councillors last week for a new reporting regime she says will offer clarification on dwellings approved in the shire.
The new six-monthly reports are to show how many dwellings – as opposed to other building projects – are approved in the Byron Shire in that time as well as how many new residential lots have been created.
The move came after an earlier request from Cr Coorey was also supported by the council: to see how many dwellings had been approved in the shire between 2018 and 2021.
Right to know: 1200 dwellings approved in the Byron Shire between 2018-2021
Given that time-frame coincided perfectly with an intensification of the region’s housing crisis – think of short-term holiday letting, increased market values and the pandemic influx in the population – not to mention the council’s recent announcement of a housing emergency, you’d be forgiven for assuming the council already knew how many dwellings were being built.
But it seems that’s not the way local government works: instead, councillors must often specifically request to see certain reports and other documents from council staff.
A vote might also be required from other councillors, as it was with the right to know how many dwellings were being approved in the Byron Shire.
Staff said the council had approved 1200 dwellings – which could be anything from one-bedroom cabins to mansions but not studios – in the past three years and the creation of 500 new lots.
Council director makes bold statement against disclosure – literally
Cr Coorey took that information to last week’s planning meeting, asking councillors to note the figures and agree to have staff provide quarterly reports.
But Byron Shire Council Director Sustainable Environment and Economy Shannon Burt wrote in staff notes on the meeting’s agenda that staff weren’t consulted and didn’t support the idea.
Ms Burt had written the comments in bold type, which was, according to other councillors, an unconventional move and in defiance of rules introduced to council staff years ago on refraining from the use of formatting to emphasise notes on agendas.
The council department director said quarterly numbers of DAs approved for dwellings and subdivisions wouldn’t reflect the true patterns of residential development in the shire, given applicants had five years to act on approval and a similar context applied to lot creation approvals.
Ms Burt said there were several other related regular reports staff already did, including monthly construction approval figures for the Australian Bureau of Statistics and DA approval rates for the state’s planning department.
New six-month reports to satisfy fact-checking mission
But Cr Coorey told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom if staff were already reporting dwelling and lots figures, they could share the information with the council and include relevant context in quarterly reports.
‘I’m happy for staff to suggest a means of monitoring that can actually satisfy the aim of the notice of motion,’ Cr Coorey said, ‘and that is to enable councillors to get a picture at regular intervals of how much new housing and what kind of housing is actually being approved or commenced in Byron Shire’.
The independent councillor said seeing how many homes were being built in the Byron Shire was a really difficult picture to piece together.
‘There are a number of sources of data that we use in terms of understanding what’s happening in the shire,’ she said, ’what my notice of motion’s trying to do is to bring them together into a way that is concise for councillors to actually understand and can therefore make informed decisions around planning in the shire’.
Cr Coorey’s idea was debated at last week’s planning meeting, and an amended version was agreed on: staff are now to provide the requested reports, on a six-monthly basis.
*Mia Armitage is a Bay FM member