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Byron Shire
March 31, 2023

Flood-prone ‘affordable housing’ development in Mullum pushed by Byron Council

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The MoU’s plans by Council come without public consultation and do not include any new open/park space for Mullumbimby. Image from MoU

Buckle in Mullum, councillors bulldozed ahead at last Thursday’s meeting to ‘note’ a concept plan to develop the disused, and very valuable, rail corridor. 

Council’s General Manager, Mark Arnold, under delegated authority, signed a secret deal in November 2022 with the CEO of Transport Asset Holding Entity of NSW (TAHE) to get the ball rolling. The town’s chamber of commerce, and the wider community, were not informed until it became an agenda item for last week’s meeting.

The non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Council and TAHE for the corridor was eventually ‘noted’ by councillors, but not before some emotional and divisive debate.

Calls to include the known flood risks in a motion by Cr Duncan Dey were ignored his calls shut down, with Cr Asren Pugh interjecting on occasion to urge councillors to hurry up and vote.

After Cr Dey presented his motion to provide historical context to the area, including recently imported fill and known flooding issues, Mayor Michael Lyon launched a personal attack on him, but later withdrew the comments.

As Cr Dey’s motion did not get support from a second councillor, it was not debated.

The MoU’s map (pictured) identifies land as mostly ‘affordable housing’ and no open space is proposed other than the existing Apex Park adjacent to the station.

Two car parking spaces are pegged; one with 50 lots is proposed opposite the service station on the corner of Prince and Argyle Streets, while the other is for 100 lots across the tracks and opposite Council’s building.

The existing pod village is slated for affordable housing.

Byron Shire Mayor councillor Michael Lyon. Photo supplied

Cr Lyon has so far not provided any assurances that any ‘affordable housing’ would become genuine under current NSW policy. NSW Labor, if elected on March 25, say they would prohibit building on floodplains (see page 3 story).

Cr Peter Westheimer, who was elected under Cr Lyon’s ticket, moved the motion, which ‘communicates’ to TAHE that Council, ‘places high priority on public transport initiatives’.

He told councillors he wanted to retain the railway for future use. He refused to debate the flooding risks when asked by Cr Dey.

Cr Westheimer’s motion reads, ‘This is to ensure that the current rail corridor not be compromised so that there is no impediment to a functioning rail service at Mullumbimby. The corridor may need to retain its width to the extent that there are dual tracks and room for a siding’.

The Echo asked Cr Westheimer, ‘How will Council assure the public the rail corridor affordable housing project won’t become another Lot 22 fiasco, where Council time and energy was spent over many years developing plans only to be told – as suggested by many all along  – that it is flood-prone and an unsuitable location?’

In a long and rambling reply, he accused The Echo of being a Greens mouthpiece and said, in part, that, ‘I do agree that “affordable housing” is overused in the current climate and that rather than subsidies, new paradigms of land trusts may, in the long term, be one of the better solutions to the problem’.

‘And it’s because of this partly, that I only wished to focus on ensuring the train paradigm was not lost in the outcry about affordable housing and flood levels etc’. 

‘My view is that the MOU was partly to assist in identifying parking areas for Mullum, including park and ride for the new rail services, and for a town bursting at its planning seams.

‘It’s partly because of the Lot 22 failure (which I was never comfortable with), that I was avoiding muddying the waters, so to speak, in the rail corridor, and chose to focus on one issue at time’.

When asked if there was legal advice that underpinned the MoU ‘whereby the railway lines can be retained for future use, while also “affordable housing” is built on the same land’, he replied, ‘There was no legal advice as far as I knew’.

‘My thoughts were just to ensure that, in the frenzy of affordable housing efforts, the important issue of rail services was not left out’.

The Echo also asked ‘How is it good governance to ignore known land limitations [with flooding], and expect those issues to be addressed at a later stage?’

He replied, ‘In no way was I ignoring flood issues’.

‘They remain a given, and need to influence more and more of the new planning on floodplains… like not proceeding with an upgrade to Mullum pool for example. A shame, but a reality’.

Emotional debate

At the end of a long, emotional, and at times awkward debate, all voted in favour, except Cr Dey.

Cr Sarah Ndiaye was not present for the vote, and Cr Sama Balson was absent from the meeting.

The debate is available at www.byron.nsw.gov.au.

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  1. Oh great, what a tourist event. People can come to Mullum and see the ‘poor people’, preferably behind chain wire fences. We don’t want them getting out and mixing with the community. Planners, you have hit on an excellent idea, lets have a ghetto. I guess you got the idea from Ken Burns’s epic on SBS recently.

    • Don’t be ridiculous. Mulliumites have bolt cutters, they cut locks off things all the time. We’ll have to do better than simple chain link.

  2. Hate to say I told you so,… but these are just the first few salvos in turning the rail corridor into a real estate bonanza. The excuse of creating a horsey, bike-riding wonderland is not even considered anymore, you have been duped !
    Cheers G”)

    • Ken is clearly not well informed. The Council is in fact already investigating the extension of the Rail Trail from Crabbes Creek to Mullumbimby. The Tweed section of the trail opens on Wednesday next week (1st March at 12 Noon) and the chorus of support for the stage to Mullum will continue to escalate as its success becomes obvious. to all.

      The Council has also decided that the Mullum to Brunswick Heads cycle path will use the Northern option which includes 2.5 km along the rail corridor north from Mullumbimby.

    • If you placed ex-fracking dongas sideways across the tracks, you could pack them in like sardines. We could then rent them out 90-days at a time to Boer, Ukrainian….at this point Swedish, refugees , all paid for by the government out of the Resilience funding. We may have to build the dam finally, and a few power plants, but we could have the streets filled with those needy blonde hotties in no time. Good idea Kennith.

  3. “As Cr Dey’s motion did not get support from a second councillor,” and “At the end of a long, emotional, and at times awkward debate, all voted in favour, except Cr Dey.”

    That says it all really.

    Then there is, ‘In a long and rambling reply, he ( Cr Westheimer) accused The Echo of being a Greens mouthpiece ‘

    Well, he got that correct, didn’t he?

    As for ‘rambling’ he obviously got that from reading too many articles in The Echo.

    With the threat of flooding, Woolworths must have been fairly stupid to build where they did or did they forget to ask Cr Dey and The Echo?

    • Jimie, Jimie, Jimie Gimme Strength !
      I must agree with you, Woolworths do seem to be a bit slow on the uptake.
      You and your ilk are hilarious in the way you conflate any idea that is serious and logical or demonstrating forethought and reasoning, is thus attributed to the work of the Greens or the Echo. I’m sure both would be flattered by the distinction you make between their reasoning and the stilted , parochial, she’ll be right attitudes of the local yokels.
      Cheers, G”)

      • Kenny, Kenny, Kenny , ken ya get a clue.
        You and your ilk are pitiful in the way you conflate any hyper-emotional talking point you are given by your stakeholders with some well explored logical concept related to objective reality, and then you repeat it ad nauseam in robotic fashion and call that religious chanting some sort of rational argument.
        Oh, and ‘yokel’ is a racial slur.


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