Byron Shire councillor and realtor Rose Wanchap has quit The Greens party after again siding with pro-development councillors at Thursday’s Council meeting.
Her vote was crucial in blocking an urgency motion by Greens mayor Simon Richardson, which would have seen Council discuss whether to ask the state government to re-evaluate the West Byron development.
If approved, the planned estate of up to 1,100 dwellings opposite the industrial estate would be one of the largest in Byron Shire and the first major development in decades.
Its approval rests with the state government and a decision is expected within weeks.
The Byron Residents’ Group (BRG), who have support from Greens (Crs Richardson, Dey), and independent councillors Spooner and Cameron, are calling on the government to reconsider the de- velopment owing to what they say is a lack of due process and flawed reports.
In particular, the residents’ group say the NSW planning department allowed for consideration of a traffic study that did not follow RTA guidelines and allowed the withholding of studies referring to koala habitat and acid sulfate soil from public exhibitions concerning the rezoning.
During Thursday’s public access Byron Residents’ Group’s Cate Coorey made mention of 2,389 signatories to a petition asking local member Don Page to intervene and stop the rezoning. ‘Of those [signatories], more than half are from people in the 2481 or adjoining postcodes,’ she said.
But concerns by those residents were not shared by councillors Alan Hunter, Chris Cubis, Di Woods, Sol Ibrahim and Rose Wanchap, who voted against mayor Simon Richardson, Crs Paul Spooner, Duncan Dey and Basil Cameron.
In reply to the resident group’s claims, Cr Wanchap told The Echo, ‘Councillors have had briefings from the developers and have been provided with details of studies which they claim are in accordance with the requirements and are of a high standard. We will have to re- view these before the next meeting.
‘There was so little time to research the claims of the Byron Residents’ Group hence my reluctance to agree to the urgency motion.’
Upon hearing the news of Cr Wanchap’s resignation, Greens convener and former councillor, Tom Tabart, called on Cr Wanchap to resign from Council as well.
But that’s unlikely; Cr Wanchap instead told The Echo she will serve out her full term as an independent.
Mr Tabart told The Echo, ‘I welcome the news that Cr Wanchap has finally recognised the irreconcilable differences that have existed between her and the Greens for a long time.
‘Now that she has left the Greens it is her moral duty to also resign as a councillor, having gained that position as a member of the Greens’ election team.’
But Cr Wanchap said, ‘I want to assure the community that despite not being a member of the Greens, I will continue to fight equally for social justice, environmental and financial sustainability that affects the health and wellbeing of the whole community, while striving to create access for the average person to rent or own their own home here in Byron Bay.’
Tensions also ran high during Thursday’s break fol- lowing morning access; a squabble erupted after former Greens council candidate, Jim Beatson, accused Ms Wanchap of a conflict of interest – something she vehemently denies.
Cr Chris Cubis intervened and an argument ensued outside the chambers.
Cr Wanchap told The Echo that she believes there are no pecuniary interests that need to be declared when she votes on the development.
‘I was advised by staff that, as a realtor, there are no financial gains that I could make that relate to West Byron.’
She added that others on Council with day jobs may benefit from the development, which were also not considered a pecuniary interest.
‘It is difficult to make the hard decisions to get the balance right between providing housing for our shire and protecting the environment.
‘With West Byron, we have had numerous workshops, the developers have worked diligently as have staff at the state and local level for years to get the best outcome for the community and this work needs to be recognised and respected.
‘It is clear we have a housing crisis. We need to come together and work on solutions rather than putting up obstacles. I might add that the silent majority could just very well be in agreement. There were 245 submissions in support and 119 against when the application went on public exhibition.’