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Byron Shire
December 3, 2021

Emergency housing prospects ‘low yield’, say Byron Council staff 

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Byron Council will continue to explore the possibility of building emergency housing on Lot 22 in Mullumbimby, despite an independent assessment finding that the site is subject to major planning issues and constraints.

Council has made a number of attempts at finding a way to use Lot 22 – located next to the Mullumbimby Community Garden – to help address the Shire’s housing crisis.

The latest plan involved the construction of up to 100 caravan-style dwellings, that could be used for transitional supported accommodation for those at risk of homelessness, especially single mothers with children.

Major setback 

But this proposal has suffered a major setback, after assessor Mike Svikis found that less than one hectare of the 3.4-hectare site could be used as a caravan park.

‘Moveable dwelling sites are required to be a minimum of 80 metres square,’ a summary of Mr Sviki’s assessment says.

‘With fire separation distances and the need for roads, landscaping and other infrastructure, the actual [housing] yield is likely to be as low as 40 sites.’

Lot 22 was also subject to significant flooding and road access issues, the assessment found. 

‘The costs of extending services to the sites, as well as the cost of filling and achieving a flood resilient access across the railway line and back to Stuart Street, are likely to be excessive and difficult to balance against the low yield while still achieving low-cost accommodation,’ the summary said.

The assessment also found that any development application for transitional supported accommodation on the site would involve considerable time and expense, and ‘would have a low probability of success’ if approved.

However, with the region’s housing crisis worsening, interim Mayor Michael Lyon and a bare majority of councillors were not willing to completely give up on the plan.

Cr Lyon moved that preparation of a development application be suspended, but that Council continue to attempt to resolve the access issues on the site.

This included contacting the landowner to the east of the site, and speaking to Transport for NSW about the possibility of gaining access across the rail line.

‘Yes we need to look for alternative sites, but we’ve been looking for a long time, and there’s nothing there,’ Cr Lyon said.

‘We need to tell our community “This isn’t looking good”, because it isn’t looking good. 

‘But let’s give [hope to] those people in our community that want to try and find a way through.’ 

The shortage of rental accommodation in the Shire is becoming more acute with the approach of the summer peak period, as some landlords chase quick dollars by moving long-term rental properties (and their renters) onto such platforms as Airbnb.

During the public access section of last week’s meeting, Sama Balson from the Women’s Village Collective said that in the space of 24 hours the collective had received requests for help from seven single mothers who were facing eviction to make way for holiday letting.

Not fit for purpose

‘The responsibility for helping people in this type of situation cannot lay solely on the shoulders of not-for-profit organisations,’ Ms Balson said.

Labor councillor, Paul Spooner, agreed that the crisis needed to be addressed, but said Lot 22 was not fit for purpose and should be abandoned as a site for emergency accommodation.

‘I don’t want us to make the mistake of drilling down into something that’s going to be far too expensive and far too difficult, at the expense of other options,’ Cr Spooner said.

‘In an emergency, you don’t go following lines that are not going to be productive. Let’s send a clear message that, yes, we looked at this, but it’s not going to happen. 

‘The best option is to draw a line under it and then move on to other possibilities.’

In the end, councillors were split four-four on the question of whether to continue exploring the plan or abandon it completely.

Cr Lyon used his casting vote to get his motion over the line, meaning that the proposal lives on, at least for now.

 


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1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you Cr Lyon for not giving up on the dream.
    Please consider that because this last proposal did not work does not mean that there are not good solutions out there.

    The challenge is
    – How do we find a great design that will make this dream of low cost housing a reality for us all?
    – How do we get great minds to the table and offer us some ideas as to how to achieve an innovative and best of bread vision for low cost house?

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