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Byron Shire
June 25, 2021

Independent councillor fact-checks housing supply in the Byron Shire

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Mia Armitage*

Independent Byron Shire Councillor Cate Coorey has won approval for a new reporting regime she says will offer clarification on dwellings approved in the shire. Photo Eve Jeffery.

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 use of formatting, such as bold type, to emphasise staff notes on council agendas is against Byron Shire Council rules.

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

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  1. Thank you Cate, real progress on transparency. The housing and development issues in Byron Shire are complex and of great interest to many residents. We have all seen the expansive changes to what development is permissible in the shire. We know that many approvals are granted by council staff and or private certifiers without being reported to council or being determined by councillors, as this isn’t required. We also see that there’s much more density in new housing (most foisted onto us and gifted to the development industry by State Government, both ALP and Coalition) and bringing with it greater impacts. But still we have an ever increasing housing crisis. We see newly built or renovated properties being turned into Airbnb and a State Government who has made legal the use of dwellings in residential zones when it never was because dwellings were meant to provide for residents. Its crude but overlooked that the value of residents over visitors is significant. It’s difficult to define in dollar terms but just think about the value of the essential workers, volunteers, carers, artists, activists etc and the fact that permanent residents actually provide a secure and regular economic injection into the economy. In the past it was seen as a primary role of council to advocate for the community and deliver outcomes in the best interests of the citizens of Byron Shire. Are we hoodwinked by arguments of growth, progress and economic modelling when there are real values that are priceless. It’s about community being viable and as someone has said recently, the local permanent resident is becoming an endangered species in Byron Shire. We need to think carefully about how we move forward and to do that, information and data can be revealing and valuable for future planning. So thank you Cate and the councillors who supported this, it will at the very least provide another piece of the puzzle to try and achieve an Ecologically Sustainable Future and that includes caring for our community.

  2. The old adage springs to mind:
    “If you don’t measure it, you cannot manage it”

    Could this be a case of too much politics and not enough managing the actual issue ?

    As for the bureaucrat being a stick in the mud, rather than worry about bolding the text, she could have just provided a link to the publicly disclosed reports that sit on the council website.
    It is there, right ?
    I mean this is an emergency situation with council on an emergency footing – so full and automatic disclosure of all relevant data is what honourable public servants do.

  3. People can’t live in, rent, or buy, an “approval”. People don’t drive past blocks of land and say, “wow, that’s a nice approval”. If you want true “transparency” you need to measure dwellings completed each year not approvals, otherwise we are patting ourselves on the back for providing accommodation that doesn’t exist. Statistically, the correlation between approvals and completed dwellings varies across LGA’s and completed dwellings are always lower than approvals. There is no obligation for an approval to be built. Measuring approvals doesn’t get the answers the community needs.

  4. Just measure the certificate of occupation from planning-nsw-portal , feels like a simple solution to catch both DAs and complying Devs.. now if you could buy the full-time rental ads database from domain.com.au (which you can for quite cheap) and the primary residence database (from ato) and you have a fairly accurate differential picture of the reality and STA situation in the shire.


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