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Byron Shire
April 24, 2024

Injury, insult and very bad planning

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Site R&D’s (locals) approved West Byron development. Image Dailan Pugh.

It was a week when the worst ever natural disaster hit our Shire; then came the news that the Commissioner of the Land and Environment Court had approved the subdivision for the remaining half of West Byron – another disaster that, unlike the floods, we should have been able to stop. 

The timing of the announcement was not the landowners’ fault, but the rest of it is. Aided and abetted by a corrupt planning system, the ‘local’ landowners ignored local voices of knowledge and experience, community wishes and Byron Council. Having got their land rezoned by the State government in a spurious process, they continued down the path of the bully developer, using the courts to get for them what the legitimate processes wouldn’t. The Northern Regional Planning Panel gave 20 reasons why they refused this subdivision. Apparently these reasons are now ‘resolved’ by the Court – without any substantial changes. 

Gross overdevelopment

The landowners put forward their proposal to rezone the site and the Department of Planning gave them all that they asked for. I had been inclined to think that these local people, seeing the opposition from their community, might opt for something that was not destructive at West Byron. But any hope that a ‘locals’ concern for their own town and its residents, human and otherwise, might prevail was dashed when the subdivision development application (DA) appeared. It was a gross overdevelopment of the site – pitched for maximum profit and minimum care for the community and wildlife.

It is interesting that these landowners bought their patch of land decades ago for what would be a verse, not even a song. Given the increase of values here of late, their return on investment will be similarly exponential. It’s ironic that Terry Agnew, who paid $10 million for his half of West Byron, did listen to the local community and halved his development and is now selling his 149 lots for around $1.5 million each.

We have all had a difficult time these past weeks – we have cried and hugged each other, donated time, money or essential items and mucked in to help our friends, neighbours and complete strangers who have suffered. The majority of our community shows care and love for this place and its people

Unlike in the floods, nobody has lost their home because of the ‘win’ by the West Byron landowners – except the endangered koalas (the court accepted that they don’t exist on the site) and the threatened wallum frogs (whose problematic presence is to be dealt with in biodiversity offsets). Yet again we want to weep and hug each other in disbelief at this outcome. Will the cut-off wildlife corridor, surrounded by homes and dogs, mean that koalas will cease to exist in Byron Bay in our lifetime? Can hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fill on a flood plain actually be allowed? How can the roads, footpaths and concrete slabs of hundreds of dwellings not have a serious negative effect on the way stormwater flows from the site? Water doesn’t disappear – it is just displaced to be someone else’s problem or to overload the Belongil estuary, forcing it to stay open and obliterating the nesting sites of shorebirds at the creek mouth. How can we cope with the massive increase in traffic that will result from the development? 

It is hard to understand how our lawyers were not able to make the case that this development is profoundly unsuitable on that location. It seemed abundantly clear, from expert and community submissions and the brief prepared by Council staff for the NRPP, that there were multiple grounds to argue the case refusal. 

‘Locals’ you can do better

It’s not too late – the ‘locals’ can follow Terry Agnew’s lead and do a better development that doesn’t wreck Byron and threaten the survival of our koalas.

Perhaps they think that the decision of the court legitimises their position; a court deciding in your favour means you won – it doesn’t make you right. Byron deserves better than this. 

♦ Cate Coorey is a Byron Shire Councillor.

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  1. Kate it is a bad outcome, however largely brought on by ourselves, including all past Councillors from recent terms.

    Instead of saying ‘NO’ to everything for politics sake, why didn’t you help work with Council to design a more suitable, sustainable housing development in this location? That way we control our own destiny.

    Needs to be a change of thinking, saying No to everything doesn’t work, better to design something less impactful ourselves.

    • Mick – Council studied the site and Adopted a Council Planners Report that the site was unfit to be developed. After [a planner that worked on that report] then left Council, and worked for these developers, they brought out a new Report saying it could be developed. The developers got into State Govs ear and Frank Sartor came out with the site as a POTENTIAL land release area. Council planning staff and community reps were then on a State Gov planning panel, that was dominated by the developers, where everything we said was ignored. I bought up increased flooding within the usual 100 year planning scenario and the State gov responded by telling Council to only look at a 50 year scenario. Councils Planner Ray Darney raised that the development would push flood waters elsewhere, and got the response “that there will only be a few extra millimeters across the catchment” ( even if true it is the choke points that additionally cause the flooding). This development has purely run from a State Gov proposed potential land release area, to just rolling on to development with fake community consultation, and ignored Council planning opposition

  2. Apparently the peatlands of which I believe this is one, absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than rainforest. Are we serious about global warming or not, do we want more serious & frequent weather events or not. There are ways to provide affordable housing, which at 1.5mil for land only this is not, without compromising such a environmentally sensitive site.

  3. can someone please provide the names of the Locals DA . who they are , so we can avoid the businesses they operate in this town , as they have chose to DESTROY our town and wildlife for profits , Belongil estuary is already under STRESS , when in the last 6 weeks , have you seen Belongil beach north of Elements , in a clean state for swimming ???? The solution , add more storm water run off to this area , SERIOUSLY >> WTF….

  4. No, won’t accept your assumed truths, Chris. The jab’s my business. The Ukraine & Russian is a ‘by your leave’.
    None’s okay of the last 2 . . . plus Council. An open cut glut case I’d say.

  5. Does anyone even live in Byron now days to care. Who are you people in you multi million dollar homes to complain. You all say NO to everything then fight the council in court.


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