The railway’s fate
Mayor Simon Richardson is looking for suggestions to keep the railway tracks from being ripped up for a rail trail, but the odds are that it’s going to happen anyway.
And here’s why:
The Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) is the peak body representing Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed councils.
It is the obvious organisation to head a Trust to oversee any use of the 130km Casino to Murwillumbah line.
NOROC’s president is Tweed Shire mayor Barry Longland, and I asked him his position on light rail and rail trails and guess what – he is right behind a rail trail.
It took a bit of persistence, but Cr Longland reluctantly acknowledged the absence of light rail in the 2013 Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study.
Taking the less-than-courageous position, he said, ‘If the state government wanted light rail they would be doing it.’
Cr Longland then pushed the rail study’s rhetoric as to why light rail was not possible. ‘For example, there’s 67 bridges along the line which need replacing…’
‘But such a claim is baseless as no formal study of light rail was ever undertaken’, I replied.
‘There is a real threat that the railway lines will be sold off,’ he then said. ‘Who is making that threat?’ I asked.
It was around then that the line between pragmatism and acquiescence appeared. As state MP Don Page (Nationals) has the ear of Treasury and is armed with supporting ‘studies’, rail trails are all but inevitable.
And thus the track will go, although it appears likely light rail will run from North Byron Beach Eco Resort into Byron.
‘I just want to see something happen on the tracks before I die,’ Cr Longland said in somewhat sad desperation.
Another problem is that rail lobby group TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks) is nowhere as resourced, connected and organised as the rail trail mob. It’s unfortunate but true.
Yet ripping up railway lines is an abomination. Especially this one. In Byron Shire, it’s fairly straight and flat with only a few (mostly small) bridges. I recall that, when at Mullum High, we could jump on the train to Byron – it made all the difference growing up in a quiet town. To think we are now at this point is not just depressing but embarrassing.
Regardless of the lies and deception that the last two government-sponsored reports provided, rail track removal signifies defeat to a community in desperate need of more public transport and a victory for lazy and inept politicians.
I’m no lawyer, but…
The third rejection of a long-running development application (DA) in Bangalow by Council last week will likely lead to a showdown in the Land and Environment Court, we are told.
A proposal for a two-storey building with eight dwellings, three shops with basement car park and attic has pushed Council’s planning policies beyond the max; it would cover almost the entire block and sits on the relatively quiet Station Street adjacent to the historic A&I Hall.
Submitted by Sydney-based developers Gordon Highlands, It received a lot of criticism for being out of character with the rest of Bangalow, and public meetings were held. It’s arguably out of character with just about anything in Byron Shire, really.
Anyway, confidential legal advice was given to councillors regarding their chances of defending the rejection. It’s interesting that staff opinion changed to now recommending acceptance of the DA since the last rejection, despite only minor changes being made this time.
And whatever legal advice was tabled, it clearly rattled Crs Cubis, Woods and Hunter; they voted against Council holding ground and supporting community objections. They wanted instead for it to pass and ask general manager Ken Gainger to mediate.
While voting to minimise the chances of expensive court costs is prudent, the double edge is of course is that it messes with the fine balance of public amenity and sets precedents.
And in this case the majority of councillors are rightly concerned at the impact traffic may have given the building’s size; the primary school is opposite the back laneway.
Holding ground can lead to wins of course; at Thursday’s meeting, the mayor pointed out other DAs that were defeated: KFC, Dan Murphy’s… and even a development on Mullumbimby’s Station Street that was averted just before it went to court.
Regardless, a lot of this hinges on Council’s Development Control Plan (DCP). But what is it? According to Byron Council’s website, a DCP is supplementary to the Byron Local Environmental Plan (LEP), ‘by providing more details, guidelines and controls applying to the various forms of development permitted…’
Incidentally, the DCP was also adopted by Council last week, which is a key issue that divides mayor Simon Richardson and Cr Sol Ibrahim over West Byron.
While the mayor says it’s a ‘useless’ policy that has been ‘gutted by the state government’, Cr Ibrahim says he’s confident that the DCP, ‘coupled with other statutory instruments and plans of management, can produce a great outcome.’
So doth this policy contain magical powers?
One comment gleaned was from Council’s executive manager of planning, Ray Darney. He said of the policy last week that, ‘While only a guideline, some provisions are prescriptive and must be met when submitting a development application such as sewer, water and communication utilities. Other provisions allow flexibility and innovation in design to be accommodated such as landscaping.’
So there you have it. The court will presumably, along with other factors, examine how this case applies to the DCP.
The question is: like sport, will this be a game of two halves? And instead of sport being the winner, in this case will it be the lawyers?
Bruns plan fallout
One of the biggest ever development plans for Bruns was quietly adopted on June 2.
Being quiet about this is expected considering the strong and clear public opposition, but adding to the fiasco has been appaling public relations by North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP).
It was a sloppy and rude campaign by the dubious government-run corporation; it tried to sell us the idea that major holiday parks and Crown reserve upgrades are needed but failed to convey anything of meaning through long, complex bureaucratic documents and an information session debacle.
It’s something residents in Evans Head are also facing, with major upgrades planned at their holiday parks too. And like here, they are responding with a strong community voice.
Crown lands are inherently designed for public, not private, use, but we have been continually insulted by NCHP manager Jim Bolger arrogantly telling the community what public lands are accessible and which are not.
Should this absurdity just be ignored? And with boundary-encroachment issues also remaining, it’s clear money will be made for the state government at community cost.
It’s inevitable we will see a price rise for accommodation.
The key to the entire issue lies in the independent audit that examined the public submissions that Bolger collated.
Author Dr John Mackenzie said, ‘Several significant and frequently raised issues that were beyond the scope of the planning process have not been included in the analysis.’
‘For example, issues raised concerning park governance, the inconsistency of the POMs with the regional character and the community-engagement process featured prominently in the reviewed submissions but were not included in the analysis.’
His suggestion is that ‘Inclusion of these issues in the Issue Categories should be considered. This would not result in any changes to the recommendations, but could also provide decision-makers and the community with a more comprehensive understanding of points raised in the submissions.’
But for NSW Crown Lands bureaucrats to concede that point would inevitably result in more questions.
The Echo asked specifically if the minister responsible would respond to that recommendation but was ignored.
So bravo to the bureaucrats in the NSW Crown Lands department. The appalling trend of privatising public assets is almost complete and it’s unlikely this would have been legit without big changes to Crown Lands legislation too. Bravo!
Best practice please
It was a surprise to learn the West Byron Project developers have yet to address Council staff concerns from 2011 over traffic, housing density and flooding.
One has to wonder what type of development this will become.
A positive so far, however, is the developer’s offer to pay $7,000 per residential lot which would go a long way towards an estimated $8.2 million bypass. But offering the community infrastructure such as roads to get your way – even in good faith – typifies what is wrong with ignoring due process. Why bother with councils at all? When you leapfrog Council to get to the state for large-scale approvals – like Splendour’s Yelgun site or Mullum Woolies – it means developers are instead wearing the boots that popularly elected representatives should be wearing.
It means the community’s voice comes second to the state government and the developer is doing what they want on their own terms.
Ultimately it’s a risk–reward ratio exercise. Almost all developments are for financial gain, so social capital (the public’s goodwill) is weighed up against perceived financial outcomes.
Losing a little social capital here or there is okay if the final outcome means a good cash return. It’s similar to political gains.
But it doesn’t work that way here: many who have ignored the wishes of this engaged and savvy community have failed before. It’s a community with a proven history of repelling inappropriate development.
And that’s where local NSW Nationals MP Don Page comes in.
As with the Brunswick Heads residents currently dealing with an 800-page ‘grand design’ document for their town, the West Byron decision rests with Don, we are told. Still, there is an opportunity for the West Byron Project landowners to make that suburb the envy of all.
One example is just up the road: the Currumbin Eco Village. It’s a community that is based around sustainable housing principles.
Retaining Byron’s unique character should be at the forefront of this development. Let’s hope the developers work with all of us so we can avoid the dull visionless consumeristic urban sprawls that are unfortunately part of the mainstream Australian urban landscape.
Public submissions close this Friday at http://bit.ly/westbyronplans.
All reports lead to Rome
If I were tasked with reviewing local government (councils) throughout the state, it would be in my best interests to write something that maintained centralised state power. It’s called keeping your job.
As Leonard Cohen sang, ‘Everybody knows that the dice are loaded.’’
Yes, my report would hose down accusations by councils of state cost-shifting and promote amalgamation of local governments.
And that’s exactly what we have in the local government review, which was released last week. Presumably it provides the region’s state representative (Nationals) and local government MP Don Page with the mandate to promote those recommendations.
Amalgamating shires has never been popular and is of questionable benefit. The Queensland shires of Noosa, Douglas, Mareeba and Livingstone reversed their decision to amalgamate with surrounding shires last year.
As for cost shifting, the state government refuses to explain to The Echo why it won’t return the Brunswick Heads caravan parks and reserves it stole from Byron Council, despite proof it resulted in our local government being financially worse off.
Of course the state wants to maintain power and will take more power from local government/community at every opportunity.
It’s something that is achieved with an uninformed public and complicit media.
But if the state’s 152 councils were to commission a review instead into the NSW government, would that result in better cost savings and efficiency outcomes for the public?
The rorting in NSW Rail, the belligerent NSW Forestry Corporation and the toxic North Coast Holiday Parks would be a great start.
If you look closely, there’s a sentence that remarkably made it into this local government report: ‘People appear satisfied with the performance of local government – more so than with state and federal governments.’
The state’s constant power grabs only help to reinforce that view.
The end of 2013
Thank you, 2013, it sure was a gas. Much like the all natural, organic, juicy, colourless, odourless gas that lies beneath our vast lands and has corporations and shareholders salivating. And it sure is good to cook with. But I digress. Here are some interesting events throughout the year (in no chronological order):
Farewell to those who passed and welcome to those anew.
Happy new year and a safe 2014 everyone!
Hans Lovejoy, editor
Like, zoned out
While NSW government departments and Liberal/National politicians distance themselves from taking any responsibility on holiday letting (see news, page 3), where exactly will tourist and visitor accommodation be permitted in Council’s new planning document, the draft 2012 LEP (local environment plan)?
Taking Byron Bay’s existing business and residential areas, the town has been zoned broadly into R2 (low-density residential), a little of R3 (medium-density residential) and B2 (local centre). Zone B2 (local centre) is the only zone that permits all forms of ‘tourist and visitor accommodation’ with consent and predictably covers Byron’s CBD. But that’s a small area; zone R2 (low-density residential) covers much of Byron’s residential areas, including Wategos, and lists ‘tourist and visitor accommodation’ as prohibited but ‘bed & breakfast accommodation’ and ‘boarding houses’ as permitted with consent. Zone R3 (medium density residential) is similar to R2 in this regard, with exception that R3 also permits ‘serviced apartments’,
Council may say what they consider is illegal through LEP ‘provisions’; however, any authority it has is being undermined by those who holiday let in non-holiday-let zones. Will this new LEP provide any more certainty? It will if Council bothers to uphold it in the courts – otherwise why not drop the charade?
Residents don’t have to wait around for councils, however. In a case brought to the Land and Environment Court over a holiday letting at Terrigal, the Dobrohotoff family, fed up with disruptive short-term neighbours, had a win despite the reluctance of the Gosford council to prosecute. If our council continues to dither with ‘consultation’ when it’s action against illegal letting that is needed, then it can’t be too surprised if residents see the courts as a source of more reliable justice.
Wins and losses in 2012
As in previous years, Byron Shire again danced the mambo of environment versus development while holding ground against outside political and corporate interests. And so sets the stage for a year of wins and losses.
A big win in 2012 – which favours a more sober Shire – included Byron’s unanimous rejection of a Dan Murphy’s mega-booze outlet in the CBD.
While Byron’s tenacity paid off, that decision was ultimately at the behest of the NSW liquor and gaming authority. But reasonable given the national media attention last year over alcohol-fuelled violence on Jonson Street.
As for Council, they marched onward and awkward despite teetering finances and a public barney between the then-mayor and general manager. It culminated with the GM’s sudden departure and an election in September.
Council correctly defended knocking back a 27-room boarding house development in Bruns too. But its draft local environment plan (LEP) copped a lot of public flak over out of date mapping and complicated zonings.
And there was a reversal on Council’s decision on its flawed tender process for surf schools and kayaking. Thankfully that allows the Byron Bay Surf School back in the water. Large festival events also featured last year, with Splendour’s site in Yelgun being given the go-ahead for this year by an independent panel, despite equally noisy opponents.
Public infrastructure pressed ahead with the opening of Council’s $17 million Byron Regional Sport and Cultural Complex (BRSCC), although many teething issues continue throughout the year such as soggy fields.
Heavy rain washed away a section of Wilsons Creek Road on Australia Day but Lighthouse Road fully reopened – six-and-a-half years later – in February.
But by far the most frustrating part of the year was the slow churning bureaucratic pace at which the state government operated. Still to be sorted is the Bruns caravan parks saga, which is wrapped in state government inaction, arrogance, greed and belligerence. Another was the mooted video-conferencing replacement of Mullum Hospital’s night doctor, which took from May until November to be decided. But hey, at least that’s a win.
So it wasn’t all such a bad year, as long as you don’t count the planned expansion of the non-renewable CSG industry by the state government.
Thankfully public activism against the insanity of polluting land and water gained momentum throughout the year.
Will we see the continuing austerity measures the state Liberal/National government has assumed? Most likely.
At least Byron Shire maintains a point of difference against the bullshit narrative that economic rationalism delivers. And finally, farewell to all those we lost last year and welcome to all those that are found.
Murphy’s law foiled
Woolworths – owner of Dan Murphy’s – is a company that is used to getting what it wants, as Mullumbimby discovered when the supermarket giant insisted on jumping the development queue and built in Station Street before sewer connection was available.
This time, the liquor giant was so confident of securing its Byron licence that it signed a 25-year lease with the owner of the Jonson Street premises before approval.
While the state government is ideologically, commercially and politically aligned with developers, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) – which rejected Dan Murphy’s – is thankfully a genuinely independent body.
Its chairperson, Chris Sidoti, has been Australian Human Rights Commissioner (1995–2000), Australian Law Reform Commissioner (1992–1995) and Foundation Director of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1987–1992).
Can the the NSW planning department’s Joint Regional Planning Panel boast such quality of independence?
As some may know, Woolworths also makes significant profit from poker-machine addicts. But a new study by activist group GetUp! says it targets socially disadvantaged areas (see www. getup.org.au/profiting-from-poverty).
Farmers squeezed by a tightening supermarket duopoly and alarming suicide rates in the bush are rarely reported in the national press; its newspages are instead filled with colourful full- page ads by Coles and Woolies undercutting each other.
With retail, perpetuating the illusion that cheap is always best only serves the retailer and consumer, not the producer.
Competition, while a bedrock of western prosperity, has diabolical consequences if it isn’t regulated or examined. One could well expect a renewed liquor licence application from Dan Murphy’s in due course, if not a supreme court challenge. With unlimited legal funds available, why wouldn’t they?
How Green is that Paper?
Environmental worriers and warriors have been critical of the NSW government’s Green Paper so far, which aims to overhaul town, rural and city planning.
But let’s just pause and look at the state government’s own propaganda. Its website’s statements include ‘promoting a “can do” culture’ and ‘reducing red tape and delay’... and so on.
Despite the motherhood claims of transparency and efficiency, it also claims to have ‘community consultation at the forefront of planning decisions’.
And the 30-year-old planning document needs to be revised, according to www.planning.nsw.gov.au, as the ‘legislation has been modified over 150 times’.
Okay, fair enough. But here’s what the paper says about streamlining development: ‘To depoliticise decision making, it is proposed that development applications be streamed
to appropriate independent and expert decision makers. State and regional scale development will be assessed by the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) and the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP). One option being considered by the
NSW government is for local level development applications to be considered by an independent expert panel... There will be targets set for timeframes for different types of assessment and the achievement of these targets will be monitored and reported, with implications for poor or inefficient decision making.’
The state government is disingenuous to say that community consultation will be at the forefront of planning decisions.
Its stated aims are to take away a community’s right to decide state and regional scale development.
Despite public feedback being now closed, NSW councils have their chance to have input until October 5. Hopefully councils across the state will apply what little wedge they can to resist innapropriate developments that the state plans to enforce in the name of economic rationalism.