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September 22, 2023

Bureaucrat threatens to remove Byron Council’s planning powers

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Sydney-based Deputy Secretary NSW Planning, Marcus Ray, is threatening to remove Council’s planning powers.

Byron Shire Council risks losing its planning powers to ‘independent intervention’ if it does not ‘demonstrate how it intends to improve its housing supply’. 

In an aggressive letter to Council’s general manager, Mark Arnold, Sydney-based Deputy Secretary NSW Planning, Marcus Ray, outlined what he believes is Council’s failure in fast-tracking housing supply for the area, adding that Council’s development application (DA) processing times ‘are among the slowest in the state’.

In the letter, which was provided to The Echo, Mr Ray demands that Council outline ‘commitments it intends to make over the next three, six, 12 months and beyond, to deliver at least 4,522 new and diverse homes to 2041’. 

It’s a target that he says Council will fall ‘well short of’. 

Where is the flood data?

The demand comes despite his own department still sitting on the long-awaited 2022 flood data that will underpin further developments. 

In previous years, the NSW planning department told The Echo that housing targets are set by councils, are flexible, and not enforceable. 

Regarding the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) report recommendations on short-term rental accommodation (STRA), which are yet to be adopted/rejected by NSW Labor Minister Paul Scully, Mr Ray says, ‘it remains critical for Council to demonstrate how it intends to improve its housing supply before any decision on Council’s planning proposal can be made’. 

The Echo asked the office of NSW Planning Minister, Paul Scully (Labor), whether these directives were from his office, ‘or has Marcus Ray taken it upon himself to make these threats and decisions on the minister’s behalf?’

Additionally, The Echo asked: ‘Will these directives align with NSW Labor’s commitment that no development will occur on floodplains?’

Instead, the questions were handballed by Scully’s office back to the planning department.

A DPE spokesperson said, ‘The IPC acknowledged that managing the impacts of short-term rental accommodation is only one part of addressing Byron Shire’s housing supply and rental affordability issues’. 

The DPE spokesperson said, ‘Council has been asked to provide advice on how housing targets can be met, taking into consideration constrained areas and opportunities for infill or more suitable land’. 

‘The department is working with Council to inform its understanding of how the IPC’s recommendations will be met before providing advice to the minister to inform his decision on the planning proposal.

‘The government is also proactively planning and mitigating against the impacts of floods by drafting new rules and streamlining planning processes to stop inappropriate developments on dangerous floodplains.

‘Working closely with the NSW Reconstruction Authority, councils and the Greater Cities Commission (GCC), the Department of Planning and Environment has begun exploring  changes to the planning system, which is consistent with implementing the key recommendations of the 2022 NSW Independent Flood Inquiry (O’Kane-Fuller report), without hindering the supply of housing and critical infrastructure.

‘Council’s forecast housing demand to 2,041 is based on DPE’s 2022 population growth forecasts. 

‘The housing target is the implied minimum dwelling target needed to meet that population growth and that demand for housing will stand, regardless of any new flood level data. 

‘Council has been asked to provide advice on how those targets can be met, taking into consideration constrained areas and opportunities for infill or more suitable land’.

In response to the letter becoming public, Mayor Michael Lyon released a media release on Monday night, assuring the NSW Department of Planning that ‘We are 100 percent committed to meeting the delivery of housing [targets] in the Byron Shire’.

Council staff have submitted a late report on the matter for the August 10 Council (Planning) Meeting.

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  1. This is absolutely true, Byron council has not even got together to finalise their residential strategy (see their website), its already been 12 months since the flood, Lismore did theirs in a matter of months following the floods. meanwhile I hear that plenty of council staff have been on holidays of late…they all need to get sacked and get new people in, its an absolute joke if people knew what was going on in that place.

    • Under state legislation a development application is taken to be refused if it is not determined within 40 days. And Byron
      Shire Council is now taking +200 days to make a determination. What a joke.

    • Mark, it is not Byron Council that is holding it up – we voted to approve it over in 2020 and then sent to NSW Dept of Planning for endorsement. They wouldn’t sign off on it because they wanted changes, which we undertook. Bear in mind this government has done nothing to improve our short-term rental issue or provide any funds for real infrastructure which you must have before you start creating new suburbs. They are more than happy to take the billions of dollars in stamp duty that is the profit from Byron’s real estate boom. If there’s any question as to why they want us to have more houses, look at the revenue possibilities. And what did they give to us?
      Here is what the timeline actually looks like and why we don’t have a Res Strategy adopted.
      1. Council adopted the Residential Strategy. 10 December 2020
      2. Residential Strategy was forwarded to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) for final endorsement late December 2022. DPE did not endorse.
      3. Instead, DPE requested a peer review of the Strategy in mid 2021.
      4. Peer review finalised with DPE supporting a revision of the Strategy, with greater consideration of the number of future dwellings required to 2041 and the capacity to meet this target consistent with state policy position.
      5. February / March 2022 flood event.
      6. Report to Council updating the status of the Residential Strategy and Lot 22 Mullumbimby. This included the peer review report.
      9 June 2022 Planning Meeting Report
      Council’s decision was to support, subject to funds being allocated, the adopted Residential Strategy being updated as per the peer review report and that a draft of the updated Residential Strategy be reported back to Council.
      7. Byron Shire Housing Forum held on 17 June 2022
      8. Australia Bureau of Statistics commenced a staged release of 2021 census data in June 2022.
      9. DPE updated North Coast Regional Plan 2041 from July 2022 to December 2022:
      10. NSW government released NSW Flood Inquiry Report recommendations and the Parliamentary Committee report in August 2022.
      11. Community consultation and findings on the Discussion Paper ‘After the 2022 Floods: Working Out Possibilities Together’ from October to December 2022.
      15 December 2022 Council feedback and findings report Council’s decision from 15 December meeting
      12. Preparation of Housing Options Paper to inform updates to the Strategy

  2. Planning politics from the state gov ; Council needs to approve more subdivisions for more housing (that will be prohibitively expensive for normal residents on wages); Don’t talk about the state buying land for state housing; Don’t push the state on flood and fill planning maps which are, lets face it, huge. Don’t talk about global warming impacting development, infrastructure and where its safe to live; make some threats to bring the state in to sub-divide over the top of council. Pretty hard to work out the competing interests! I wonder if NSW Planning has some ideas exactly whose blocks should be approved for sub-division and what agenda the state is on. We are all in a hard place right now, disaster planning has to be on top.

  3. The Echo needs to also up its game with reporting these issues. The IPC report very clearly told council they are not delivering enough housing. That there turn around for DAs is outrageously slow. But the echo is biased towards slowing down development and against medium density. The echo does not deliver balanced reporting on housing matters.

  4. Good, get Byron Council at of the planning/approval process and put it in the hands of NSW Planning. Byron Bay needs a heap of housing developments similar in size to what’s happened and happening around the Lennox/Skennars Hd area – about 8 developments should do it

    • “about 8 developments should do it”

      That would have to be annually, one assumes, from your statement.

      Sydney running Byron, wouldn’t that be fun!

  5. Couldn’t agree more. Sack them all especially the compliance team.
    Byron council have been kicking people out of perfectly good alternative homes since the flood and systematically sending non habitation & demolition orders to flood effected Families.

    This has to stop.

  6. Yes a few more subs on flood free land would be good — add in views and let ’em roll — would that be 500 or 800,000 per 700m2 block? Ballina shows the way … anything under 500k?

  7. The minister has it arse about – he needs to bring in legislation on holliday letting, otherwise potentially every new house can be used by investors for holliday letting. His ‘Residential Housing Targets’ are completely meaningless if all houses constructed are used for Holiday Letting Tourist accommodation instead of for residential use. And whatever its deficiencies, Byron Council has ALWAYS met projected residential housing supply targets, both Councils and the State Govts Far North Coast Strategy, and any allegations from the Minister otherwise is just lies. Any elected Labour Party politicians with Holliday letting properties acting in breach of LEP zones that prohibit Tourist Facillities? Is it that that is pushing his agenda, noting in a shire of aprox 35,000 residents we have aprox 2.m million tourists and events of up to 58,000 ( ie we may not have enough houses for tourist accommodation if every house is uses for holliday letting, and that is where use of present and any future constructed residential houses will go, if the investors ( and the Minister?) have their way)?


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