As the region, and the east coast of Australia, reels from the impacts of the recent flooding that has left thousands of people homeless, the development application (DA) by the ‘local’ group, Site R&D, for West Byron has been approved by the Land and Environment Court (L&EC). This approval allows for extensive filling and development on the flood-prone site and has left locals ‘disappointed’ with Byron Shire Council.
The application was rejected by the Northern Rivers Planning Panel (NRPP) in 2019 following over 2,000 submissions against the DA. The Panel stated that ‘the site is not considered to be suitable for the proposed development in view of the identified constraints (acid sulfate soils, bushfire vegetation, flood-prone land, high environmental value vegetation, koala habitat and threatened flora and fauna)’.
They further concluded ‘the proposed development is not considered in the public interest’.
The West Byron site was split into two DAs; one from Villaworld/Tower Holdings and the other a group of ‘local landowners’ called Site R&D.
Work with the community
The Villaworld/Tower Holdings had responded to Byron Residents Group (BRG) request to ‘work with the community for a better outcome’ while the Site R&D group took the DA to court with a ‘minimally altered development’.
The court approved the ‘locals’ DA on 2 March claiming that it was in the public interest.
The Byron Residents’ Group told The Echo that they and the community of Byron, are deeply disappointed that Site R&D’s (local landholders) subdivision at West Byron has been approved by the Land and Environment Court.
Hard to fathom
‘It is hard to fathom why the local landowners would do this,’ said Cate Coorey, Byron councillor and founder of Byron Residents Group.
‘Belongil estuary, koalas and wallum frogs have lost out, and we are likely to see these habitats collapse from the impacts of this overdevelopment.’
Site R&D intend to subdivide into 162 lots, which includes 25 ‘super-lots’ intended for further subdivision. Three super-lots do not identify what further subdivision is intended, two are proposed for flats, and 20 show an indicative subdivision into 208 smaller lots. Many larger lots are capable of further subdivision and shop-top housing is also intended and there will be a four metre high wall adjacent to Ewingsdale Road.
‘I am glad we managed to convince Tower Holdings to make meaningful changes to the “Harvest Estate” development by halving the size of their development, setting their development back 30m from Ewingsdale Road, excluding the habitat of the wallum frogs and removing development from the eastern koala area. It is ironic that we managed to only achieve minor concessions from Site R&D given that they are primarily local landholders,’ said BRG spokesperson Dailan Pugh.
The koala population
‘What disappoints me the most is the fragmentation of this vital link for maintaining the viability of Byron’s koala population.
‘The Commissioner of the Court agreed with the proponent’s proposals to rectify inconsistencies and change access to the industrial area, accepted the proponent’s claims that there is no core koala habitat and therefore the Koala SEPP does not apply, and accepted the proponent’s claims that the proposed offsets would be beneficial for the frogs.
‘I have been disappointed with Council’s poor performance and multitude of concessions throughout this process, particularly their promotion of the wall along Ewingsdale Road and failure to address some key issues in their DCP. I can only hope they have a hard look at their underperformance on this development and learn from it.’
Local Councillor and hydrologist Duncan Dey told The Echo that ‘It’s sad that ‘swamp-style’ development can still get a guernsey in 2022.
‘West Byron’s destructive impacts on water cannot be overcome – the areas to be filled will shed stormwater onto surrounding areas, doubling their water load and destroying the water balance in those surrounds as well as under the fill.
House people above flood levels
‘The development is designed to State regulations, to house people above flood levels till the end of the century. The hapless residents next century will be living in a flood zone, like the one in which Mullumbimby now knows it lives. When there is abundant dry land, we don’t need to fill wetlands.’
Reflecting on the current flood disaster Councillor Coorey summed up the community response telling The Echo that ‘Given what our community is going through with the floods, the news of this court approval is really so dispiriting. We have all fought so hard against this over-development. It is a sad day for our community and for our beautiful wildlife. It will change Byron irredeemably.’