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Byron Shire
November 30, 2022

Consideration of state significant farmland for SUGA development leaves bitter taste

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Land in bright green denotes state significant farmland suggested by Ballina Shire Council and endorsed by councillors in August as a new Strategic Urban Growth Area PIC Google Earth/Eve Jeffrey

One of Ballina Shire Council’s independents is continuing to argue against suggested expansions of development between the plateau villages of Alstonville and Wollongbar.

‘Yeah, I’m totally against what’s been proposed,’ Councillor Jeff Johnson told The Echo last week, ‘it’s quite important to the communities out there to maintain that green zone and buffer between the villages’.

The villages of Alstonville and Wollongbar sit four kilometres apart on the Alstonville Plateau, separated by a stretch of mostly messy vegetation with relatively little development.

Council staff have previously suggested investigating the use of land about halfway between the two villages for industrial development.

The vacant land is next to and appears roughly the same size as the existing Russellton Industrial Estate on a map shared by council staff.

Developing it would therefore significantly diminish what Cr Johnson described as a ‘green zone’, at least on the southern side of the Bruxner Highway.

But while outlining various bureaucratic ways the land could eventually be approved for their proposal in agenda notes for last month’s Ballina Shire Council ordinary meeting, staff ended by recommending a decision be deferred pending more briefings.

Ballina’s strategic urban growth areas reviewed

Staff agenda notes said there were 27 strategic urban growth areas [SUGAs] across the shire, all included as land for ‘investigation’ in the state government’s North Coast Regional Plan 2036, but the plateau land in question hadn’t previously been identified as one.

The regional plan was under review, staff said, meaning it was an appropriate time to review the SUGAs and update related documents including the Ballina Local Environment Plan 2012, the Local Growth Management Strategy and preparation of a housing strategy for the shire.

SUGAs weren’t intended for development in the short-term, staff notes said, but were mapped in Ballina’s LEP ‘with the intention being to ensure that their longer-term potential is not jeopardised by inappropriate short-term actions’.

‘It is important, therefore, that each of the identified areas has a realistic potential,’ staff notes said.

Staff had reviewed the SUGAs, deciding on eight to be removed and another eight to be ‘refined’, and needed councillors to vote in support of the changes before they were sent to the state’s planning department for approval.

One new SUGA was added to the list and described as ‘potential employment land’ next to the Russellton Industrial Estate in Alstonville.

The proposed changes to the SUGA list had been exhibited, staff said, with 28 responses from the public.

Russellton Industrial Estate draft SUGA PIC supplied

State significant land and village character threatened by SUGA list

Five local residents had each formally objected to the inclusion of the plateau land as a SUGA, as well as a solicitor on behalf of an ‘unnamed local landowner’ and the Wollongbar Progress Association.

Objectors said the proposed development would have a ‘major visual impact’ on Alstonville and a ‘buffer zone’ was necessary to maintain the ‘village character’ of Alstonville and Wollongbar.

Former Greens-turned-independent councillor Jeff Johnson echoed the objectors’ concerns.

‘What we’re looking at there is state significant farmlands, which is less than 4% of the land in New South Wales,’ Cr Johnson said.

‘That is the best soil, the best rain,’ Cr Johnson said, ‘for the council to consider concrete in that area for increased industrial land, I just can’t believe it’.

‘We’ve had deputations previously from local farmers and community associations, all on the same page, saying they do not want that farmland compromised and for that industrial estate to be expanded.’

Cr Johnson voted against the staff recommendation to defer discussion of the SUGA review, along with the two current Greens councillors, Simon Chate and Kiri Dicker, and fellow independents Stephen McCarthy and Phillip Meehan.

Cr Jeff Johnson. Photo David Lowe.

State gov’t to have final say on developing farmland

But the council vote was evenly split, with the mayor using her casting vote in support of staff, backed by Crs Eoin Johnston and Eva Ramsey.

Cr Rodney Bruem led the motion, seconded by Cr Nigel Buchanen.

Had the motion failed, staff notes said, staff could have continued to examine the land for development potential anyway thanks to its inclusion in the Wollongbar Strategic Plan.

Cr Johnson said while the council had resolved to investigate further expanding the site it would have to exhibit planning proposals and carry out community consultations.

‘They’d have to seek gateway approval from the state government.,’ Cr Johnson said, ‘there will be widespread opposition’.

‘You would think that government wouldn’t look at it favorably, given it is state significant,’ Cr Johnson said.

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  1. Why do these Nationals councillors hate anything not concreted, hate green spaces & hate using common sense?
    Why do they keep proposing developments that fly in the face of modern environmental management
    Whose land is this anyway & what links do they have to these councillors ?

  2. Maybe Mia should have a look at the area, mainly messy vegetation with little development sounds like it came straight out of Rod bruems mouth. As a resident of this area I know there is pressure from some landholders to subdivide or build over 50 s community on swampy land.

  3. Imagine if we had an environment-focused political party – with say, a state MP and state MLC from the region – that cared enough about ecological sustainability and the survival of humanity to be speaking up loudly against this stupidity


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