With no consultation with either the Mullum Chamber of Commerce, the town’s residents association or the community at large, Byron Council and the NSW Liberal-Nationals have announced a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop the town’s disused railway land into affordable housing and ‘associated infrastructure like public spaces, car parks and footpaths’.
A press release announcement on Friday by Minister for Infrastructure, Rob Stokes, and Deputy Premier, Paul Toole, contained supporting comments by Mayor Michael Lyon.
According to Council’s meeting agenda for Thursday February 9, General Manager, Mark Arnold, signed the MoU with a government representative in charge of public rail land on November 24, 2022, in a closed door meeting with the mayor.
Councillors are being asked at this Thursday’s meeting to ‘note’ the MoU.
The Echo asked Council staff why the MoU had not been made public until now, but there was no reply by deadline.
No updated flood data
The joint announcement for the land’s future is also not informed by the latest flood modelling. The DPE are yet to provide a now overdue Post Flood Analysis Report from the 2022 event, which saw much of the area submerged. That report was expected in December 2022.
The Echo asked Cr Lyon, ‘Was there a reason there has been no communication with the business chamber, or the community at large, regarding this proposal?’
‘And, given such development may exacerbate flooding in the area, why isn’t Council seeking flooding advice prior to this MoU? Given the affordable housing SEPP delivers very little benefits for those seeking “affordable housing”, how will Council guarantee that this project will benefit those in need?’
Instead on answering these questions, he said he welcomed the government announcement, adding he has ‘lobbied the state government for some time, including the premier when I met with him last year’.
He added the proposal was in ‘alignment with existing Council resolutions, the Mullumbimby Masterplan and my election campaign commitments. I am hopeful that we can get a result quickly on an extension of the Council car park into the rail corridor to alleviate the significant parking issues in town’.
Yet former Mayor, Jan Barham, told The Echo, ‘The Mullum Masterplan was done in 2019, pre-flood, and should be revisited, as the sites where they propose housing are flood-affected’.
‘This is all a bit suspect in light of an upcoming election, and creating the optic that they are doing something for our Shire’, she said.
Nats candidate supports Council
Given the debacle by the NSW coalition government and Council that occurred with the Mullum pod village and the subsequent flooding affect it will have on neighbouring houses, The Echo asked NSW Nationals candidate Josh Booyens, ‘Why aren’t you calling for better governance in terms of making sure that this land is known to be safe for habitation?’
Additionally, The Echo asked ‘As you’re aware, the metrics around the Affordable Housing SEPP are not fit for purpose. How will you insure that this latest Council proposal for affordable housing (there have been many) will actually deliver what it intends to?’
Booyens did not answer the question around the ineffectual Affordable Housing SEPP but replied, ‘Affordable housing and land availability are significant challenges for our area, and innovative thinking is required. This MOU is the first exciting step in identifying and unlocking land’.
‘Detailed engineering and flood studies will be completed and considered as part of developing any concept plan.
‘If elected, my commitment is to work cooperatively and productively with Byron Shire Council and relevant stakeholders to ensure this affordable housing project is a leading example of helping to eliminate housing pressures and get people into shelter’.
‘The electorate is tired of politicians finger-pointing and playing the blame game. I am committed to cutting through politics and delivering a fresh, constructive relationship between Council and government to deliver critical infrastructure, including affordable housing, for our rapidly growing region. People rely on their elected representatives to get on with the job of working hard and delivering for their electorate, and that’s precisely what I intend to do.’
Dud deal, says local MP
Meanwhile local Greens MP, Tamara Smith, raised concerns because the affordable housing SEPP does not deliver much ‘affordable housing’.
She said, ‘Apart from the glaring concerns I have around governance with a local Nationals candidate announcing a development in Mullumbimby before councillors or the community have had their say, it sounds like a dud deal for us.’
‘Any project proposal where we lose public land should benefit the community 100 per cent, go through democratic processes, as well as flood and environmental studies first, and be designed for the future in terms of extreme weather and social amenity.
‘We need to have 100 per cent benefit, and if it is an affordable housing project, then let us link rents to wages, not the market. And let’s house our essential volunteers and essential workers. With our economy so reliant on tourism, and in an era of ever increasing extreme weather events – our essential worker and volunteer needs are unique to our region.
‘Any housing project on public land must be genuinely affordable, 100 per cent of value to our community, benefit in perpetuity and not the current 15 years allowed , and focus on our essential workers and volunteers. That’s worth announcing.
The emergency housing is already in place! There should not be any further encroachment on this land as there is already a proposal to reinstate the rail to Byron Bay and eventually to Yelgun and Bangalow
The idea of reinstating the old railway is a fantasy, not a plan. Nobody is going to fund it.
Some cling to a small chance of a tourist train to Mullumbimby but going beyond there is completely implausible. The council is now investigating extending the rail trail from the shire boundary at Crabbes Creek to Mullumbimby. Support for this proposal is already large and will rapidly grow exponentially from the opening of the spectacular new Tweed Valley Rail Trail on March 1st.
Anyone who thinks there is the slightest chance of reinstating the railway to Bangalow has absolutely no idea of the state of the old line. Intrepid adventurers can’t even find it through Hayters Hill where it has been obliterated by land slips.
To clarify, Byron Shire is currently considering if it is possible to attract a provider to run a private shuttle from Mullumbimby to Byron Bay and perhaps Bangalow, aimed at tourists, but which locals could use. Michael Lyons originally undertook to conclude that on his first term but that has been extended. So far no one has come forward with any funded proposal.
There are no plans to use the rail corridor north of Mullumbimby for rail,but a path along the railway corridor in the Shire is a Prioriry A in the Shire Bike Plan. All but one councillor present last year agreed to receive a report last year on the benifits and challenges of bringing the rail trail from Yelgun to Mullumbimby , and all councillors present agreed later last year to pursue using the corridor as part of a cycling route from Mullumbimby to Brunswick Heads.
The decisions recognised there was little point in extending the rail north of Mullumbimby now the railway was closed in Tweed. The huge interest being generated by the Rail Trail in the Tweed, and the quality of work done to create what will be a magical experience, should provide the impetus for Byron Shire residents and council to seek funding tobextend the corridor path to Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads.
Why didn’t Michael Lyon put this idea to the community and residents of Mullumbimby before he single handedly decided that he alone can make irreversible decisions about what’s good for Mullumbimby? There is overwhelming opposition to this proposal that involves further filling of the floodplain and literally creating a dam wall through the middle of town. Michael Lyon is like a bulldozer who ploughs through the concerns of the residents who live either side of the rail line, many of whom are still waiting to have their homes repaired. Building on flood-prone land is a bad idea. Filling flood-prone land displaces water higher into surrounding homes. There has been no community consultation and this decision was again made behind closed doors. Byron Shire Councillors are not representative of Mullumbimby residents they are only interested in pushing their own agendas in secrecy.
Because the citizens of Byron elected him as Mayor, together with a Council to do exactly this. We don’t have Council by plebiscite as you should know.
G’day Jimmie, the task as Mayor is to represent the sentiments of the elected Council. This Council of nine was elected in December 2021 and has never had its view of this project ‘tested’, ie brought to a meeting of the Council. The Mayor wasn’t elected for his sole opinion to rule. But good on you for understanding part of the Mayor’s role.
Duncan Dey, Byron Shire Councillor 2022-24
Did you consider that I had tested the waters amongst Councillors prior Duncan? When it was brought to the vote, you were the only one of the 9 that voted against. All 7 others present on the day voted for it. So it would seem in alignment to me with the will of the elected Council.
G’day Michael, the MoU was signed on 24 November and ‘tested’ 11 weeks later, on 9 February. Why wasn’t it reported to Council and hence to the public earlier, eg at one of our Ordinary meetings on 8 or 15 December. The MoU is void of mention of flooding or of the despicable fill you brought to Prince Street. You refused on 9 February to allow flooding to be mentioned as a follow-up to the MoU. Mentioning the truth is easy and could have produced a unanimous vote.
Councillors’ duty first and foremost is to represent the best interests and needs of the community who elected them.
In 2023 AFTER THE CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE DISASTER FLOODS THE COMMUNITY HAS EXPERIENCED THERE IS NO PLACE FOR HOUSING, OR ANY OTHER TYPE OF DEVELOPMENT, ON LAND THAT FLOODS!!!
Duncan, the MOU was signed by TAHE on the 7th December. You seem to be suffering the same problem as Hans in not doing your research and being across how things transpired. The agenda for those two meetings were already published by the time of signing.
G’Day Dumncan, ( I have added an extra ‘m’ , as you did), I have read the follow-up comments from the Mayor, in particular his comment that ..” When it was brought to the vote, you were the only one of the 9 that voted against it. All 7 others present on the day voted for it. So it would seem in alignment to me with the will of the elected Council “. As I stated above, Councillors are elected to govern, not to have a Council run by plebiscite or even the Media, if you don’t get your way when voting. Jimie.
The whole rail corridor within the Mullum township could unite both sides of Mullum with a development of gardens, walking trails, covered childrens playgrounds, a caravan cafe that could. be towed out in the event of a flood, seating around the gardens, access to the bike trail to Crabbes Creek and onto Murwillumbah, there could be strategically placed small car parks integrated within the idea of a central park, It could have an open air event space and an off the leash dog area. All of these things would enhance the experience of living in Mullumbimby. It would beautifully integrate the Eastern and Western sides of Mullum and create multiple pathways for easy access to either side of town. it would also do NO HARM to existing properties which is what the Council proposes when they advocate for filling the flood plain and displacing higher water levels into surrounding homes.
Sally’s is the kind of vision that would be shared by many.
Open spaces in urban areas are often slowly but permanently swallowed up by creeping development frequently on the premise of being for “essential community purposes”.
A great example is Knox Park in Murwillumbah. It was originally a 17 acre field withheld from the subdivision of Murwillumbah by the company that owned the cane fields where Murwillumbah now stands. Over the 43 years I have lived here, I have seen it slowly but surely eaten away by a large car park, then a small community centre, than a bigger community centre while large sections have been concreted over for various facilities. I wonder how much of it will still be there as open space in 2060.
It really amazes me that elected politicians of local and state government have little regard for the people that voted for them, i was born and bred in Mullum, my family were of the first pioneers and growing up in Mullum seeing the floods take out most of the highway side of the town, the sports fields across from the high school, no flood mitigation scheme has never been introduced.
The sweetheart deal done by Lions and the State government must be looked into as a meeting behind closed doors does not cut it in this day and age.
What else was decided in that meeting, why wasn’t the Camber of Commerce, the Press and the rate payers in that meeting.
Whee they have built this emergency housing has always flooded and now the flood will be more severe.
The Mayor has a lot to answer for.
I was wondering what a Brisbane Football team had to do with this Article until I realize that you are not up to speed with the Mayor’s name. After that, your comments descended into fantasy.
Many railway corridors have considerable extra land. Presumably it is surplus land referred to in the MOU. Any alternative uses of surplus railway land must not impinge on the permanent way corridor. The almost 20 year old proposal for a very achievable and relatively quick to build rail trail to be extended from Crabbes Creek to Mullumbimby and on to Byron Bay and beyond is on the cusp of proving its viability. The opening of the Mur’bah to Crabbes Creek rail trail is only days away and will prove to be very popular as was the Tumbarumba to Rosewood rail trail 3 years ago, which recently welcomed its 50.000th user and is in a more isolated part of the state.
Rail Trails for NSW Inc. has always advocated that train corridors must be retained in public ownership, with or without a rail trail, so the valuable routes are not lost to future generations.
Thanks Echo for reporting on this and thanks readers for sharing your views.
FYI I am taking a proposal to Council’s Floodplain Management Advisory Committee on 14 February: that Council develop a Policy of No Fill on Floodplains with a vision of the Policy being carried through into LEP and DCP changes that implement it (i) for planning matters, (ii) for private and government projects including roads and other infrastructure; (iii) for enforcement.
If the Committee advises Council to create this Policy, that advice will go to Council (probably in March).
As background to the proposal, I cite four Fill shockers of 2022: West Byron; Prince Street Mullum; a house pad in North Ocean Shores; and a private rural pad on the banks of Marshalls Creek. All involve filling on a floodplain and each has a variety of consequences.
Never ceases to amaze me how shoddy the ‘journalism’ is from Mr Lovejoy.
Firstly, there was no secret deal behind closed doors. The walk around the rail corridor lands I took with the General Manager and the TAHE representative was on the 30th August. The MOU was signed subsequently on the 24th November by the GM and sent to TAHE, who signed it on the 7th December. I wasn’t at either signing, no meeting was held behind closed doors, no secret deals were done. In fact, no deal was done at all, we simply agreed to work together to investigate the site for uses that are in the Masterplan.
It is worth noting that several Council resolutions informed staff of Council’s position as well. A non-binding MOU to investigate the land further is the natural progression from those resolutions and any design that comes out of this process will be subject to community consultation as well as all relevant flood, engineering and other studies that may be required due to any constraints on the site.
Secondly, the use of this site has been flagged several times, several detailed concept plans have been drawn up over the last 10 years by different community groups and individuals and I and others have spoken often about the need for periphery parking for the town, including when the development at 57 Station St was announced.
These allegations of bad process are unfounded and simply a cloak for the fact that some people, including the dark greens and their media cohort at the Echo, do not want any development, including affordable housing, anywhere. The acronym BANANA springs to mind. Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. We saw another example of this by Cr Dey at last Thursday’s planning meeting where he attempted to kibosh a very reasonable lot rearrangement in Argyle St on some of the more dubious contentions you will see in a proposed DA refusal. Thankfully, as has often been the case, this was not supported by any Councillors on the day.
I appreciate that many are traumatised by the recent flood events and feel that nothing should be built anywhere in the flood plain that is Mullumbimby. However, it is worth noting that anyone who has built in the recent past in accordance with the flood planning levels did not get flooded, in an event that we know was already much higher than a 1 in 100 year event.
I toured the pod village in Mullum on Friday, I didn’t find a fill shocker. I found 16 x 2-bedroom temporary accommodations with people in them, many grateful to have escaped the trauma experienced due to the poor emergency accommodation they were forced to endure post-flood. The lack of empathy and care for those of us in our community from those who will stop any development at any cost is a disgrace and the reporting of it in this publication is the most biased, unfactual, poorly researched and mean-spirited drivel full of misrepresentation and outright false statements that I cannot believe it goes unchecked by an obviously supportive ownership group.
The key component of any development in the Byron Shire relates to the cost of the land. That is what gives this site so much potential, there is no cost of land. This is what will deliver the affordability component and those that purport to represent us at State level need to be across the detail of the Housing SEPP and how it can best be used to deliver the housing our community needs in the best way possible.
The mayor doth protest too much me thinks.
Aside from his personal attacks on me, the public were not aware of this, as reported in the story.
Does this matter? Yes, it of public interest. The mayor seems to consider it appropriate governance to sign off on such things without telling anyone. This proposes a massive transfer of wealth from public to private.
Consultation is vital for trust. Why weren’t the chamber of commerce consulted, Michael? Can you assure that this will be truly ‘affordable housing’ given the SEPP doesn’t deliver it?
Given the site was earmarked for development, it is reasonable to assume that in light of the 2022 disaster, updated flood studies could inform as to whether this is a safe place to develop. It took a long time to figure out Lot 22 wasn’t.
We still don’t have the up to date flood studies.
Michael should really work on his emotional intelligence instead of blurting out dumb statements like The Echo does ‘not want any development, including affordable housing, anywhere’.
The Echo has never stated it is against such things. Why not present transparency, good faith and suggest a good place for affordable housing in flood prone free areas?
NSW Labor, if elected, do not support building on flood plains. What happens if they win? This will get kiboshed.
And as for unfounded statements, this is completely idiotic from the mayor:
“It is worth noting that anyone who has built in the recent past in accordance with the flood planning levels did not get flooded, in an event that we know was already much higher than a 1 in 100 year event”.
Where is that data? We know that after the mayor suggested the Prince Street pod village to the govt, some residents were later informed that their houses have increased in flood risks. This process and governance is appalling, and no amount of huff, belligerence and mindless rhetoric changes that.
The Mullumbimby masterplan took 3 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 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.
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. It is just common sense really.
It is clear to me that you are an echo chamber for the voices against development and I would have thought you had learned your lesson after the last term where despite your very best efforts, your lack of impartiality served to sideline you except amongst that minority of voices your represent. Your publication owes this community more, but is not delivering. I have learnt my lesson after this exchange regarding your relevance and how many in our shire you actually speak to and for. It is some but not many, certainly not the majority.
Let’s revisit this issue again when we have constructed the desperately needed peripheral parking adjacent to Council’s carpark, I expect before the end of the year, as I will be getting on with the job to get that delivered for this community.
What an absolutely amazing statement ..”The mayor doth protest too much me thinks.
Aside from his personal attacks on me,” Wow, personal attacks, I realize are something that you would never do! Especially when you are mentioning Mayor Michael Lyon. However, political personal attacks as the mouthpiece of the Dark Greens do appear to be both acceptable and regular. Am I wrong?
As a woman let me tell you that this rail trail nonsense is for the appeasement of an elitist but very vocal micro minority. Very few women riding alone would feel safe along the isolated stretches of a rail trail. Can my elderly parents ride with me? No. Can my young children cycle to Murwillumbah? No. How about friends with mobility issues? No. Can I use the trail during torrential rain, would I want to use it in a heatwave? No/no. Yet “yes” if these questions are asked of a light rail service instead (something alongside which a rail trail could run perfectly well – what agenda insists that the rail trail must replace the rail corridor rather than co-exist? I smell lycra-clad developers. That’s quite a stench.)
As a resident of Mullumbimby, one whose home was flooded, I am grateful to Cr Dey for his expertise and common sense, and for actually being prepared to act as the voice of the people who voted for him. The prospect of development of the rail corridor – or any infill development on the flood plain – tolls knells of fear through the lives of everyone in town who suffered through the last flood event. I remember reading Michael Lyon quoted on the position of the pod housing, an astoundingly insensitive remark along the lines of “it’s okay if they only get their feet wet”. This alone is surely proof that such a man should NOT be making any decisions affecting this community. Either he’s a sadist, an idiot, or has a hidden agenda. Perhaps all three?
Yes exactly Jem!!
Thousands of locals have signed petitions and attended protest rallies calling for TRains On Our Tracks. the LNP promised to provide exactly that for many years.
Talk of people walking or pushing their wheelchairs, or children cycling to school on an isolated bike track is just so much unrealistic rubbish.
Councillors need to stop wasting ratepayers money destroying a $billion train line for bike track nonsense and DEMAND the state government provide the train service they promised and we urgently need. Just as they demand that the state government honour their promise to allow council, and the community, to make decisions about holiday letting.
Hi Jem, I absolutely did not say that, nor would I make such a ridiculous and insensitive remark. There is no secret agenda, my agenda is in plain sight, to make decisions to relieve the severe housing stress facing our community. I have also been supportive of the return of rail and more effective at getting this conversation heard at the level it needs to be within Transport 4 NSW.
Its a pity this has become, for some, a debate about the rail corridor rather than housing, which is actually far more important. Sadly unsurprising to see some of the usual suspects banging on about their pet hobby horse, even if wildly out of context and laughably self indulgent.
But on the issue that matters here, housing, Tamara is spot on when she says “rents should be linked to wages rather than the market”. If council, and the state govt, are serious about providing sustainable long term housing we need to be talking about public housing, rather than developer driven “affordable” housing, and it needs to be well out of prospective future flood zones.
Hi Mick, we are absolutely talking about affordable housing in perpetuity. That is the model at 57 Station St 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 Affordable Housing Contribution Scheme. Byron Shire is the first non-metropolitan Council in the State that has an AHCS and it will create exactly what you are talking about. Unfortunately while Tamara 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 St. 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 railway line embankment was built by importing fill to lift it above the surrounding floodplain in not only the Mullum township area but even further south . This embankment has acted as a dam wall stopping the flow of the west to east flow of flood waters ever since it was built in the early 1890s.
Adding houses onto the top of the artificially filled railway land isn’t the problem, just bulldoze the whole railway land back to pre 1890 levels .
You can see visually that the railway corridor has been filled , it doesn’t take a Hydraulic Engineer to tell us that.
Even our news correspondents and councillors should see it with a ground truthing walk .
The Masterplan for Mullumbimby is now out of date. It was derived prior to the February 2022 flood, whose peak water levels exceeded the then published 100-year levels in most parts of the town, especially east of the railway embankment. The Flood Study that established those 100-year levels is out of date. There are about 60 years of record on the Main Arm of the Brunswick River. In the simplest hydrologic terms: unless there was a dam break or similar phenomenon that will not repeat, the 2022 flood levels are one in sixty year levels. That is not the case in places like Billinudgel where levels higher than 2022 have occurred. With 2022 being a 60-year flood, the predicted 100-year flood will be higher. And future floods will be higher again, due to climate change.
In a nutshell, the Masterplan on which the MoU is based is out-of-date.
Sadly, that out-dated Masterplan was cited in the MoU but not newer flood information that means the Plan requires review.
The proposal approved on 9 February in Argyle Street Mullumbimby adds a new dwelling which will bring new occupants onto a known floodplain. Even if the floor level is elevated, there is no evacuatuon 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 that issues has not been resolved.
More development on floodplains just compounds the pain we felt in February 2022 and throws more victims under that bus. Wealth must be injected into housing in sensible places that aren’t subject to risks like flood, fire, coastal innundation, etc. That wealth then has longevity.
Whether it is true or not that no recently developed buildings were flooded in Mullumbimby is not know, because we still don’t have a Flood Report for the 2022 event. Of the properties I’ve checked, several built to recent requirements had 2022 flood water much closer to floor level than it should have been. In other words their 500mm freeboard was substantially ‘consumed’.
The Mayor is wrong in saying 2022 was “an event that we know was already much higher than a 1 in 100 year event”. It was higher than an out of date prediction of the 100-year flood. Sadly, we are still waiting for that prediction to be updated.
It is wrong to accuse anyone of opposing housing for flood victims. Nobody does. The problem is putting that housing whether tempoarary or permanent in harm’s way, on a floodplain. And a second problem is the impact of the Price Street housing on its neighbours, who already have their own flood problem and are now at greater flood risk because of the Mayor’s fill. It would have been so easy to find flood-free land for the Pods especially given the 11 months it took to get this flood-prone site up and running. The site may have cost money, but what has the Pod project cost? Where is the economic assessment to say leasing dry land would have made this project more expensive in either the short or long term?
1 event occurring in 60 years does not make it a 1 in 60 year event in terms of probabilities, Cr Dey you really ought to know that. One of the key elements for temporary housing is proximity to existing towns, in particular the town in which people normally reside. This is essential for it to work as a medium-term solution to help people back on their feet. 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.
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 update post-flood. It does not follow therefore that the Masterplan is out-of-date.