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November 29, 2023

Why is Byron Council losing in court?

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Is Council’s legal strategy reflective of community wishes or are costs being minimised by folding on court cases?

While that is not entirely an easy question to answer given closed-door negotiations between lawyers, there are some clues within court judgments where Council have been taken to court.

In recent years, Council have lost many court battles against speculating developers.

Council candidate for 2021 and lawyer, Bruce Clarke, is asking Council’s legal team to explain why it appears they gave up the fight on the recent West Byron decision ‘by instructing its solicitors to make significant concessions’.

According to Mr Clarke, Site R & D Pty Ltd, or the ‘locals’ consortium of developers, gained almost all the concessions they sought for their West Byron DA by Commissioner Michael Chilcot in March.

As of going to press, no reply was provided by Council’s legal counsel, Ralph James. A reply is expected next week, however.

Mr Clarke says that as one of the seven objectors who provided evidence in the recent Land and Environment Court hearings, he shares the concerns aired by Councillor Cate Coorey about the Court’s approval of the West Byron development.

The consent authority, the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP), he said, ‘unanimously rejected the development application’.

‘It had meticulously dealt with the important issues including flooding, impacts on the Belongil catchment, traffic, visual amenity and effects on fauna and native vegetation.

‘Bearing in mind the strength of the decision by the NRPP, I would have thought there would be good grounds to appeal against the Land and Environment Court’s decision, until I read Commissioner Chilcott’s reasons’.


He says, ‘Put simply, it appears that Council had conceded on virtually all the grounds that the NRPP had based its refusal of the development’.

‘The Commissioner, therefore, did not have to make a formal finding on these significant issues, and therefore no legally acceptable grounds for an appeal were created.

‘Our community was overwhelmingly opposed to the development and many of us, including some 2,000 who put in written objections, worked hard to protect the Shire from the many adverse effects that would result from this development.

‘I spent many hours researching the proposal, writing detailed objections and preparing my evidence for court.

‘Council did instruct competent solicitors to fight the development, but failed to inform either me, my fellow objectors, or the community at large of its decision during the hearing, to apparently back down on the key objections to the development.

‘We deserve to be told why Council appears to have given up the fight by instructing its solicitors to make those significant concessions’.

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  1. Gobsmacked !
    Thank you Bruce Clarke for raising this matter . An explanation from the mayor and an appeal vis a vis facts in the NCPP findings must be made . The about face of Ralph James must be the biggest sell out ever.
    Surely there is a money trail here.

  2. Exactly the same thing happened in the recent Land and Environment case concerning the Terrace Reserve in Brunswick Heads. Legally Byron Council had the ability to stop the over development of this land by Reflections Holiday Parks and their encroachments onto public land and foreshore areas.

    Byron Shire Councillors and the local community had been fighting Reflections for years about their land thefts and this case was an opportunity to legally minimize this development. However, years of work was totally wasted when Councils court representatives led by Ralph James controversially granted Reflections numerous encroachment concessions despite the State legislation and the numerous negative impacts these concessions had on safety, public foreshore access and overall community amenity.

    These concessions were totally against the wishes of the community and 15 years of Councillors who had unanimously rejected Reflections development proposal for The Terrace Reserve (hence why it ended up in the L and E court). The actions by Council staff in this case showed a clear bias in supporting the developer by withholding evidence from the judge and keeping key information and witnesses from being presented. Ralph James also agreed to keep all Reflections encroachment plans confidential so neither Councillors nor the community had any idea what was being proposed and agreed to until he had signed it all off.

    It is appalling governance when a “rogue” or non informed Council employee decides during a court case to reject Councillors directives and adopt their own agenda. Something is very wrong in Council if its representative in court purposefully keeps the community and Councillors in the dark and then ends up supporting the developer they are supposed to be fighting on our behalf!

    There are millions of dollars at stake in these land decisions and plenty of room for corruption and collusion when 1 council staffer can derail such important court decisions. Our new Councillors need to investigate these recent court losses ASAP and ensure they choose representatives who are transparent, trustworthy and who will properly defend Councillors and ratepayers wishes.

  3. Sounds like a crackpot conspiracy theory.
    Next you’ll be saying the pharma corporations donate to politicians in every country in the world to get them to approve deadly and damaging treatments the don’t work.
    Conspiracies don’t exist because we are constantly told they don’t, therefore the council can’t be up to anything, because government officials never let people die to line their own pockets.
    This story sound very anti-vax.


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