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Byron Shire
April 20, 2024

Prepared to save Wallum

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As soon as the slim councillor majority voted to give the Wallum developer their construction certificate on Thursday, Alyssa joined other activists to protect Wallum from the bulldozers. Photo Eve Jeffery

Dozens of locals are preparing to take non-violent direct action (NVDA) to save the Wallum heathland in Brunswick Heads from development, after Byron Council signed off on subdivision works to begin at the fragile site last week.

As the dust settles following a dramatic Byron Council meeting, members the Save Wallum community say they are ready to stand in front of the bulldozers in order to protect the site and the threatened native species that live there.

‘I have huge hope, because the community is getting very organised,’ one of the leaders of the Save Wallum campaign, James Barrie said.

Protesting outside Byron Shire Council chambers last Thursday were Kailani and Jala. Photo Tree Faerie

Clear game plan 

‘We have a really clear game plan. Part of that is calling on the community to get involved in any way they can, including through direct action, because that is what is going to get this thing called off.’

There are a series of NVDA trainings taking place that will help the community to act safely if they choose to take direct action.

This may well be needed, as the Clarence Property Group now has planning permission and final sign off to clear about 60 per cent of the 18-hectare Wallum site in order to create 124 residential lots and associated roads and infrastructure.

Approval for the development was provided by the Northern Region Planning Panel in May last year. This followed concept plan approval from the state government back in 2013 – a plan that many refer to as a ‘zombie DA’ because it sat in the shadows while the environmental protection landscape evolved around it.

It was only after last year’s approval that people such as Mr Barrie became aware of the development and its environmental and cultural consequences. 

Major movement 

From small beginnings, the campaign to save Wallum has grown into a major movement, as evidenced by the 250-plus locals who gathered at the Byron Council chambers last Thursday to implore Council to join them in the fight.

While Council could not stop the development because it was not the consent authority, it did have some capacity to temporarily halt the bulldozers by denying Clarence Property a subdivision works certificate.

However, with Clarence Property already commencing legal action against Council for deemed refusal of the application, and legal advice indicating that Council had few grounds to further delay the process, there was a push within Council to sign off on the subdivision certificate as soon as possible.

While this was ultimately the outcome of last week’s meeting, it was far from a foregone conclusion. 

As scores of placard-carrying Save Wallum supporters watched on, frequently offering their opinions from the gallery, two distinct camps battled it out for more than four hours with the final result only decided by the mayor’s casting vote.

Speakers Mark Cora, Jenelle Bowen, James Barrie and Arabella Douglas and around 300 protestors gathered at theByron Shire Council Chambers at last Thursday’s council meeting. Photo Tree Faerie.

Evenly split councillors

On one side sat councillors Sarah Ndiaye (Greens), Duncan Dey (Greens), Peter Westheimer (Independent) and Cate Coorey (Independent). They argued that the environmental reports provided by Clarence Property to support their subdivision works certificate, and the development as a whole, were significantly flawed and should be challenged, even if Council was ultimately unsuccessful in Court.

Councillors Westheimer and Ndiaye moved that these reports should be investigated prior to Council approving the works certificate.

They argued the matter was worth pursuing in court, even if the odds were against Council, because it might secure further amendments or concessions from the developer, and because it would help the overall community campaign to save Wallum.  

On the other side were four councillors Mayor Michael Lyon (Independent), Asren Pugh (Labor), Alan Hunter (Independent), and Mark Swivel (Independent).

They argued that it was not appropriate to pursue a course of action that would force Council to spend a significant amount of ratepayers’ money defending an unwinnable court case.

Not only would this likely result in Council having to pay the developer’s legal costs, but it would also mean losing the opportunity to further negotiate with the developer from a place of good faith.

‘I think concessions can be obtained from the developer if we do our jobs today and this goes through,’ Cr Lyon said. ‘If this goes to court, we lose, and it’s done. This is about trying to get the best outcome.’

With the councillor vote deadlocked at four in favour and four against at the end of the debate, Cr Lyon used his casting vote as mayor to support a motion signing off on the subdivision certificate. 

Potential errors

This was subject to discussions to be held to ‘clarify some potential errors’ in the plans for the site.

These errors included updating and correcting the Vegetation Management Plan, and clarifying how many plants of different species would be included as compensatory planting.

Under the motion, the developer will also be invited to meet Council within 28 days to explore further modifications to the proposed development to ‘save as much of the habitat on site as feasible’.

This meeting is also intended to allow ecologist experts for the developer to explain their positions and to ‘work in good faith to resolve the anomalies identified in the expert reports in submissions to Council’.

Council’s decision drew a chorus of anger and dismay from those gathered in the Council chambers.

Adding to the controversy surrounding the vote was the fact that one of Byron’s councillors, Sama Balson, had recused herself from the debate on the grounds of a ‘significant non-pecuniary interest’.

Cr Balson recuses

The nature of this interest was Cr Balson’s ‘personal relationships and friendships with those opposed to the development’, she said.

Cr Swivel was also absent for most of the debate because he had to attend a funeral. He did take part in the final decision, voting with Crs Lyon, Pugh and Hunter.

With Council signing off on the subdivision works certificate, the developer is now a step closer to begin developing the site.

This could potentially bring them face-to-face with members of the Save Wallum community who have vowed to fight on. The campaign will also be continuing away from the front lines.

Mr Barrie and his team are battling to secure state and federal government intervention to protect Wallum permanently. 

This includes having an Interim Heritage Order made in relation to the site, and having it called-in by Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek under the Environment, Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. 

‘We as a community managed to send 1,200 letters to the councillors in 24 hours prior to the meeting,’ Mr Barrie said. ‘We’re now hoping to do the same for [NSW Environment Minister] Penny Sharpe [NSW Planning Minister] Paul Scully, and Tanya Plibersek.

‘We also want to try and get Save Wallum signs outside everyone’s home. 

‘This is far from over. As hard as it might be, I believe that if everyone gets behind this fight we can save Wallum’.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. The sign outside my house will read:
    “SAVE BAYSIDE FROM THE SAVE WALLUM RENT-A-CROWD”.
    The locals have fought this fight and we’re happy with concessions made by Clarence in the last DA .
    We’re not happy with the misinformation, exaggeration and downright untruths being spread by save Wallum.
    Of the 33hectares owned by Clarence Property only 12.3 is being built on. Look at Google maps the block has been cleared for over 20 years , it’s not “heathland” or “wilderness” and anything that lives on it will also live on the adjacent land which isn’t in danger .
    Glossy blacks are in danger , they suffered badly in the bush fires, but their food trees (casuarinas) are not being removed.
    One of the frogs whose habitat Save Wallum claims is under threat lives and breeds (noisily) in my back yard frog pond.
    My energies will be focused on preserving the area of Wallum currently safe from development and making sure it is managed properly by the council or whichever authority is given jurisdiction over it.

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