More details are emerging around plans to develop Mullum’s disused railway corridor for affordable housing and car parks.
As previously reported, the entire railway corridor length in Mullum will become either medium-density ‘affordable housing’ or car parks, under a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) dated 24 November between Council and the state government, which has a three-year expiry date.
The public were not informed of the plans until the MoU was presented as a Council agenda item. The MoU also includes Council’s ‘aspirations’ for access via the rail corridor to its land called Lot 4, enclosed by a bend in the Brunswick River.
The MoU refers to the 2019 Mullumbimby Masterplan; its vision for the corridor was a medium-density ‘Urban Village’ and car parks. Issues remain around the potential for increased flooding in the corridor, how the project will be managed, and whether any housing it creates would be truly ‘affordable’.
The MoU retains the existing Apex Park play equipment and car parks, but does not create any new open park space.
Mayor Michael Lyon commented on The Echo online that, ‘The Mullumbimby Masterplan took three years to develop and involved extensive consultation. The uses identified in that plan are exactly in alignment with the MoU. [The] Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting was held last night [Tuesday] and I put this to them and it was unanimously supported as being in alignment with the Masterplan and there was appreciation for Council getting on with the job, indeed it was an expectation’.
Despite multiple attempts, The Echo did not receive a comment on the MoU from the Mullumbimby Chamber of Commerce by deadline.
Regarding flooding issues, Cr Lyon says, ‘Of course updated flood studies will inform future development, that goes for everywhere in the Shire. We don’t stop working on items in accordance with town centre masterplans to then revisit the entire plan, particularly when it is only an MOU to enable further discussions. We would never get anywhere with that approach… We do the studies like always at the appropriate time when there is a detailed concept design before us.’
No need to change flood levels: mayor
The mayor says that planning should push ahead because ‘There is every possibility that there will be no revision at all to the 1 in 100 flood level. We can agree that it is a shame that we don’t yet have this [flood study] update post-flood. It does not follow therefore that the Masterplan is out of date’.
Within the online comments, Cr Lyon also attacks residents critical of the corridor plan, calling their comments, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘insensitive’.
However, Cr Duncan Dey, who is also a hydrologist, is concerned of further development going ahead without resolution of flooding issues. ‘The proposal approved on February 9 in Argyle Street, Mullumbimby, adds a new dwelling, which will bring new occupants onto a known floodplain.
Throwing residents under a bus: Cr Dey
‘If the floor level is elevated, there is no evacuation route and no flood-free centre to evacuate to. As the Mayor reports, evacuees were forced to endure poor emergency accommodation post-flood in 2022 and those issues have not been resolved’.
‘More development on floodplains just compounds the pain we felt in February 2022 and throws more victims under that bus’, he says.
Housing ‘in perpetuity’
As for the affordable housing model that would be developed, the mayor writes that the new Affordable Housing Contribution Scheme (AHCS) model would be affordable in perpetuity, because the land would continue to be under the control of public bodies, unlike the Affordable Housing SEPP which only requires developers to rent a percentage of their housing at a cheaper rate for ten years.
‘That [AHCS] is the model at 57 Station Street [the carpark next to Hooper’s, slated to also become affordable housing] which is Council-owned public land, and it is the model for all contributed lots that will occur as a result of future rezoning in the Shire.
‘This is not under the outdated provisions of the now defunct Affordable Housing SEPP, it is under new provisions created to deal with lots coming from the AHCS’.
‘Byron Shire is the first non-metropolitan Council in the State that has an AHCS… Unfortunately, while [Greens MP] Tamara Smith is correct about the need to link rents to wages, she is not up to speed on the way we can do this now under an AHCS, or indeed how we will achieve it at 57 Station Street.
‘On public land, such as the rail corridor, the key element that drives affordability is the low cost of land (primarily site preparation costs, no inherent cost other than a low rate of return required by the State-govt owner, TAHE).
‘These projects are managed on completion by Community Housing Providers that lock rentals in at that present-day cost, with adjustments for inflation, but it is affordable in perpetuity, and doesn’t revert to market rent like some of the earlier, ineffective models’.
The AHCS scheme allows Council to identify private land in advance of a rezoning, and require that any development that benefits from an upzoning must contribute 20 per cent of their upzoned land to the public.
The Mayor claims, ‘There is no private land close to the town of Mullumbimby that is suitable for this purpose that could be turned around quickly enough for a project like this’.
The mayor later expanded on his online comments to The Echo regarding whether Council can apply the AHCS scheme to public land such as the rail corridor.
Cr Lyon said Council would place the land ‘into a Community Land Trust or something similar’, then ‘partner with a Community Housing Provider to build the dwellings’, perhaps ‘rented out at affordable rates’, or under ‘build-to-rent models or leasing lots to the private markets (with conditions around level of income/need).
‘There would be conditions attached around re-sale where people can recover costs of construction and improvements, linked to inflation, but they do not get to sell the increased value of land’.
Cr Duncan Dey and The Echo.
The Echo and Cr Duncan Dey.
Always together and usually the only time that Cr Duncan Dey publically appears outside of the Council.
Just imagine if he had actually been elected Mayor!
No, far too scary.
Hi jimie who are you? what’s your last name? what do you do in this community?
Clearly your agenda is to smear my reporting which is fine. But do it publicly. Otherwise it looks gutless.
I’m happy for you to just elaborate. You’ve got me curious. I don’t need to know your name, I can evaluate what you say for myself. I don’t think he is alleging any impropriety on the Echo’s part Mr Editor, but either way, let’s hear it.
Use of rail corridor
If the railway corridor goes, so goes a future rail link between Mullum and Byron. So goes the opportunity for many to live in Mullum and work in Byron. So goes the opportunity for Mullum to participate in the tourist dollar via a train link. I know, the naysayers will be out out in force and rubbish a revival of a train link between Mullum and Byron as not affordable. It’s short sided and narrow minded. And of cause I am in favor of affordable housing. Those two important issues should not wedge the community. Jens Krause, Byron Bay