Neighbours of Byron Shire councillor Alan Hunter on Pinegroves Road, Myocum, are again putting up a fight over his plans for a road transport terminal at his property.
In response to what they say is inadequate council staff advice, a group of six residents has paid for independent planning consul- tation, which they say is at odds with staff recommendations.
It’s the latest in a long list of attempts by the prominent Nationals Party member to gain development consent; prior to becom- ing a councillor, Cr Hunter was prosecuted by Council and fined $2,000 for illegal construction, which included allegations of illegal earthworks and placing 18 shipping contain- ers on the site. A 2012 Land & Environment Court battle resulted in the councillor having to remove the containers and restore unau- thorised earthworks. And it was only four months ago that residents became angry over the latest DA.
The quite cul-de-sac is home to around eight homesteads, and residents say the large trucks that pick up and drop off farm produce at the end of the narrow road already threaten wildlife and pose a danger to children.
‘Key changes’ to draft LEP
But Cr Hunter’s latest bid has a twist.
His development application (DA), to be determined at this Thursday’s Council meeting, will fall under new draft Council policy. Specifically it will be assessed under both the current 1988 LEP (local environment plan) and the new draft 2014 LEP. It proposes a ‘change of use’ from a farm building to a ‘road transport terminal’.
‘Warehouse and distribution centres’ is part of late ‘key changes’ to Council’s draft 2014 LEP, and includes provision for vaguely word- ed new operations that would be permissible in rural areas. Council’s January 2014 news- letter reads, ‘Additional RU2 rural landscape zones have been expanded to include inten- sive livestock agriculture, garden centres, rural supplies, warehouse and distribution centres, storage premises, recreation facilities (indoors) and livestock processing industries.’
Resident Angus Way told The Echo the late LEP inclusions appear to be ‘written in at the last minute to suit Mr Hunter’s activities’.
He’s one of six residents who recently chipped in together to engage a town planner to examine Cr Hunter’s operation indepen- dently. Mr Way said, ‘We felt that as individu- als it’s easier for the Council to dismiss our concerns, but an expert in the field is harder to discredit. We were not happy with council staff ’s interpretation of the [LEP] changes, and felt that it was worth paying for a second opinion.’
Mr Way says his advice is that surrounding shires have not requested anything similar to those ‘key changes.’
But Council’s executive manager of environment & planning, Ray Darney, told The Echo that there were sim- ilarities with other councils.
He said, ‘By comparison, the rural RU2 zone in Ballina LEP 2012 permits ‘rural sup- plies’ and ‘storage premises,’ but not ‘warehouse or distri- bution centres’, whereas the Lismore LEP 2012 permits ‘garden centres’, ‘intensive livestock agriculture,’ but not ‘storage premises,’ or ‘ware- house or distribution centres’.
‘The closest definition to Cr Hunters ‘road transport terminal’ – under the current 1988 LEP – is ‘freight trans- port facility’ in the new 2014 Draft Byron LEP. That use will not be permitted in the Rural RU2 zones when the new LEP takes effect. Howev- er, it would be possible for the applicant to apply in future for other permissible uses for the building in the RU2 zone.’
Cr Duncan Dey (Greens) however, told The Echo that since the residents’ planner emailed councillors over the matter, ‘the penny is starting to drop.’ He agreed councillors made changes to the draft LEP that will ‘fit the rezone and benefit Cr Hunter’s property’.
He’s called for a meeting with planning staff to clarify the changes and to see whether the decision can be reversed.
In relation to the current DA, Cr Dey said, ‘Alan has two zonings on his property – one for agricultural and one for rural residential. The issue here is around a cross-over allowed under clause 42 of the 1988 LEP of the activities permit- ted in each zone. This sharing is allowed within 100m of the distance between them and the zone boundaries.’
Staff have recommended approval of the development, despite 15 submissions and two petitions against the pro- posal. The report, provided by external planning consultant Dwayne Roberts, also includes an engineer’s report to make the case there would be no sig- nificant traffic, environmental and privacy impacts.
In reply to residents’ traf- fic concerns, the report plays down impacts and referred to the RTA Guide To Traf- fic Generating Developments to claim that an 11 per cent increase, ‘has been assessed and deemed acceptable.’ That increase will see two to three deliveries a day, during day- light hours only, with inter- state carriers making up 10 per cent of the total trucks.
The Echo understands that no wildlife impact state- ments have been undertaken and that the matter has not been referred to Council’s local traffic committee. Ad- ditionally Mr Way told The Echo that a koala corridor exists in the area.
Remarkably the consult- ant took umbrage to a claim there was ‘an intention to slip this proposal through with minimal public scrutiny.’
Mr Roberts reacted that the accusation made ‘is offen- sive and unsubstantiated.’
But Mr Roberts did hand- ball the existing impasse onto previous planning decisions.
‘The design of the origi- nal subdivision is in part to blame for the impacts/con- flict that has been created by this application...’
The Echo asked Cr Hunter if there were any mediation or concessions that he was pre- pared to make with his neigh- bours, to which Cr Hunter replied, ‘I will be happy to respond to your story when I see it.’ Cr Hunter’s neighbours unfortunately won’t have the opportunity to ask him to re- spond publicly as questions to councillors and staff have re- cently been removed from the meeting’s public access.
Stoner deflects fire
A tedious war of political rhetoric broke out last week between Walt Secord MP (Labor) and new north coast MP Andrew Stoner (Nationals) over who is worse.
Mr Stoner replaced Don Page as north coast minister, and comes as fellow MP Andrew Fraser (Nationals) questioned his leader’s ability to be effective given his many portfolios.
In reply, Mr Stoner acknowledged the increased responsibility, but was confident he would able to ‘continue to deliver for regional communities across the state, with a special focus on those along the north coast.’
But what area does the north coast cover? Mr Stoner’s office re- plied that it covers both the north coast and the mid-north coast, to which Mr Secord replied it was a ‘feeble attempt to hide the Nation- al Party’s neglect of the region by clumsily redrawing the definition of the north coast.’
Mr Stoner retorted with, ‘It’s hard to take Walt Secord seriously, especially on the issue of CSG and the north coast.’ Ugh.
Will the newly appointed NSW premier push ahead with privatising the state’s hospitals?
While that remains to be seen, minister for north coast, Don Page (Nationals), says his party – which shares government with the Liberals – ‘does not support the privatisation of public hospitals.’
His response came as NSW La- bor shadow minister for the north coast, Walt Secord, called on north coast Nationals MPs Geoff Provest (Tweed), Don Page (Ballina), Thomas George (Lismore) and Chris Gulaptis (Clarence) to reject outright any possible privatisation of the state’s public hospitals.
Newly appointed NSW premier Mike Baird has given public sup- port for the privatisation of public hospitals, and told Fairfax media he supports Western Australia’s model
where where non-clinical staff were privately employed and public hospi- tals were privately built and managed.
But Mr Page told The Echo, ‘This is classic Secord scare campaign bullshit.’
Scare campaign: Page
‘The fact is that private hospitals and public hospitals have been part of our health system for more than 100 years.
‘In our own area we have St Vin- cent’s (Lismore), John Flynn (Cool- angatta), and Ballina Day Surgery (Tamar St Ballina), which are pri- vate health facilities.
‘They supplement and comple- ment our public hospitals. The Na- tionals have no intention of privatis- ing our public hospitals. There are some circumstances where it can be beneficial to have a private compo- nent to a public hospital.
‘For example, if I can get the $90 million I need to build a new central public hospital for the Byron Shire area in the next budget, the private sector could be in- vited to tender for the day surgery component.
‘Day surgery would serve both public and private pa- tients and would thereby guarantee the patient num- bers to justify having that fa- cility locally.
‘As we know the previous state Labor government let the Byron Shire central hos- pital go unfunded for their whole 16-year term, whereas we have activated the plan- ning to the point where we can mount a credible case to Treasury for funding in the next state budget.
‘I repeat, the Nationals do not support the privatisation of public hospitals,’ said Mr Page. ‘However, private hos- pitals will continue to play a part in our health system and in some cases it is in the pub- lic interest to engage with the private sector.’
There were accusations of ‘blatant misleading information’ over a staff report on Byron Bay’s bypass at last Thursday’s Council public access.
Paul Jones from Grab The Rail (GTR) told a stunned gallery that the bypass report prejudiced his group’s efforts to seek the disused railway as an option.
An awkward silence follwed his speech – councillors were asked if they had any questions, but there were none.
Resident group GTR consists mainly of Butler Street residents who will be adversely affected by Council’s plans to build a Byron bypass up their street, through wetlands and then crossing over the dis- used railway at Mitre 10.
Mr Jones was supported by six other members and claimed there would be ‘no compensation’ over the expected massive increase of traffic past their houses.
‘Initial figures from traffic modelling say it will jump from 80 to 3,000 a day in one direction – so double that to get the estimation.’
He also questioned why the bypass was not included as part of Byron Bay’s Master Plan terms of reference (TOR).
‘We need an integrated approach to this,’ he said.
While Council’s media spokesperson agreed the masterplan did not specifically include the bypass in the masterplan’s TOR, they told The Echo, ‘The bypass is within the indicative study area map included in the Re- quest for expressions of interest (EOI) document and will have significant influences on the masterplan content in regards to how we move about, and through, Byron Bay.’
But perhaps the most damning accusation was that council staff incorrectly stated that there is a lack of support for the disused railway becoming a bypass. On page 68 of its April 10, 2014 ordinary meet- ing, the report by staff states, ‘Preliminary advice received from John Holland, who man- age the rail corridor on behalf of the State Rail Authority, and ARUP (consultants under- taking the rail trail feasibility study) indicates that neither favour the rail corridor bypass alignment option.’
But Mr Jones told The Echo, ‘From my direct approach to John Holland’s property man- ager Stan Knight-Smith and Transport NSW Country Rail manager Dan Champness, that statement is misleading as both managers said that the department was open to ideas, had many arrangements whereby other activities were accommodated within railway property, and the Arup study outcomes could be highly influential in how a beneficial arrangement may come about.’
He also says staff contra- dict themselves on page 69, which says, ‘...such approval [for potential uses of rail corridor other than for rail] was forthcoming at a time when trains still used the rail line and according to the environmental impact study (EIS) was possible...’
As for possible compensation, Mr Jones said, ‘RMS is said to be compensating householders whom they cannot mitigate impacts from their roadworks for the full market cost of their property. Council has little or no means of mitigating the impacts of noise, vibration, air pollution, light pollution and vehicle danger when they put a main road down an existing back street. Grab the Rail has sought a bypass/ service road route that can allow mitigation of all these impacts with homes situated along the route.
Mr Jones says councillors are making decisions based on staff reports and are not fully informed.
‘No mention has been made to date of compensation other than when Grab the Rail first made its proposal and staff tried to use that argument against our route – which we demonstrated was nonsense. So in terms of likely compensation costs, councillors have remained uninformed, even unaware.’
As for leasing or acquiring railway land for a bypass, Mr Jones said, ‘Council cannot fund the bypass, so the major cost will need to be managed by the state government.’
‘In any event, land may not
need to be purchased; lease- hold is certainly feasible and Transport NSW certainly has an eye for a beneficial relation- ship whereby they may find some relief from the maintenance and liabilities associated with the disused corridor.’
During Council’s meeting last Thursday, the mayor did attempt a motion that would see a letter written to the rail authorities to request a change of use but was advised against it by general manager Ken Gainger. The Echo had not received a return call or email from media representatives of John Holland or Arup before going to press.
Bypass idea flops under confusion
A promising proposal to divert traffic past Byron Bay’s First Sun caravan park and past the swimming pool fell into a heap at Thursday’s meeting after some councillors appeared confused with what they were voting on.
While Cr Rose Wanchap’s motion appeared to be supported by most councillors, there was an air of panic when the mayor put it to the vote.
As usual Cr Simon Richardson called the vote at lightning speed.
Cr Rose Wanchap told The Echo, ‘I thought by connecting it to an existing large body of work it would be as- sured of earlier implementation, but alas that is not to be.’
She says that due to the flub, the motion will have to wait three months before re- submission. Alternatively Ms Wanchap said she can ‘take it via one of the traffic com- mittees for presentation to Council after that review’.
Regardless, Ms Wanchap says she sees it as a ‘very affordable solution to the pre- sent bottleneck that could be implemented this year, at least before the next silly sea- son if not sooner.’
‘It seems a waste to have a very substantial road through the First Sun Caravan Park that could be utilised to keep traffic moving. At the moment it provides income from a handful of campers while our town is blocked from all directions trying to accommodate buses, tourists and residents as they cruise around, lapping town looking for parking spots.
‘It is clear from numerous traffic surveys that 85 per cent of the traffic is caused by day trippers and tourists and they just want to get to the beach.’
Her motion requested that a staff report ‘be provided as to the feasibility and cost of creating two lanes into Byron along Shirley Street from the Woolworths Service Station in to the Jonson/Lawson
Street roundabout with one lane turning left and connect- ing via the First Sun Caravan Park with Bay Street at the northern end.’ Instead, councillors voted to continue with the current bypass option of up Butler Street, through wet- lands and crossing the dis- used railway at Mitre 10.
A unified vote by Byron councillors at last Thursday’s meeting will see two letters sent to state government MPs regarding concerns over the rapidly expanding gas mining industry.
It will be requested that macadamia, dairy and beef industries of the northern rivers be classified as a critical industry cluster (CIC). Only horse breeding and wineries in the Hunter Valley have been classified as a CIC – as Cr Alan Hunter pointed out, it was only because they have open cut mines to contend with.
Water threat to region
And likewise, Council will express its concerns with pen to paper that ‘gas exploration is taking place in a location (Bentley, west of Lismore) within the surface water catchment of one of the region’s urban water supply sources.’
Cr Duncan Dey’s motion says, ‘Incidents in recent years such as wastewater overflows in the Pilliga State Forest and at Casino demonstrate that the infant unconventional gas industry is either not willing to, or not capable of averting such incidents, and that the planning for and granting of exploration licences was premature.’ Will this all make any difference? Probably not if done in isolation, as Cr Di Woods pointed out.
She suggested it would be more effective if all north coast councils were aligned. But that’s notwithstanding the public’s discontent which saw thousands turn out at Bentley recently.
One of the most interesting parts of the meeting’s debate was the idea put forward by Crs Hunter and Chris Cubis that Council should instead concentrate on the three Rs: rates, roads and rubbish. We shouldn’t be political, they said.
It’s an intriguing argument: should we operate as non- political vessels and let the state and feds take care of us?
Or, can humans ever achieve a pure non-political state of being? It’s understandable to want less work given the rates of councillors’ pay, but such is the calling to a higher purpose.
The possible contamination of waterways from gas mining at the proposed Bentley site, just west of Lismore, has sparked a motion by Greens Cr Duncan Dey for this Thursday’s council meeting.
Cr Dey, who is also a councillor of water authority Rous Water, warns that Metgasco’s attempts to extract tight sands gas from prime agricultural lands could have ‘catastrophic impacts.’
He says in the upcoming council agenda for April 10 that the risks have ‘not been adequately investigated’.
Additionally, Rous Water, which supplies water to Lismore, Ballina, Richmond Valley and Byron LGAs, has called on the state government to prevent gas exploration in areas it is planning to explore for under- ground water sources. It comes as the state government recently announced a six-month freeze on all new CSG explorations.
Cr Dey wrote, ‘My view is that the risk to water quality is substantial while the necessity for unconventional gas to be discovered or, if found, extracted in this particular locality is negligible.
‘There is gas elsewhere.'
‘Rous and hence Byron Shire Council and their de- pendent water supply community rely on the Lismore source. If it were to be re- moved from Rous’s supply system, our future water strategy would be undermined in that a replacement source would be required almost immediately. While groundwater is proposed as ‘the new source’, it requires several years of investigation prior to use.
But in reply to Cr Dey’s question on possible contamination, Rous staff said, ‘It is unlikely that surface water runoff will have the potential to impact on local tributaries’, but ‘a key question to be ad- dressed concerns the extent to which the upstream migration of contaminants occurs during... intermediate flow ranges, when potential expo- sure could occur.’
‘This analysis requires consideration of the variability of tidal flows that would also introduce variability to this situation.’
Meanwhile Council’s Infrastructure Services director, Phil Holloway, says in the re- port that council staff contact- ed Richard Green, team lead- er of the state government’s Groundwater North, over the issue. ‘He has verbally advised that they have no concerns with the Bentley project.
‘It’s a conventional gas bore in that they are looking for dry gas, not fracking for coal seam gas. He also advised that groundwater flows very slowly and said that it may not be even possible for ground- water to travel from Bentley to Byron.
‘Without further investigation he couldn’t comment any further on the issue.’
But in his comments Mr Holloway provided the federal government’s Atlas of Ground- water Dependent Ecosystems which, ‘suggest the ground- water between Bentley and Byron Shire could be linked.’
State govt refused to fund water test
Regardless, for those living next door, the possibility of toxic spills and runoff are a major concern. Boudicca Cerese from Gasfield Free Northern Rivers claims the water testing that was done last year was insufficient to make any reasonable comparison.
‘What is required is proper baseline data’, she said, ‘not just this one-off testing but actually, over a period of time, through all different seasons.’
Richmond Valley Council, which covers Bentley, commissioned Lismore-based Richmond Water Laboratories to carry out the 2013 testing, with Metgasco paying for the test after the state govern- ment refused to fund it.
No baseline testing
It was done within a two- kilometre radius of the well’s location, and looked at the water quality in two creeks, two bores and two dams adjacent to the property where the company plans to drill for tight sands gas. The tests will be repeated two months after the drilling is complete and again 12 months later.
Cr Dey is asking for Council to write to Macquarie Street- based NSW coalition MPs regarding the dangers of the activity, while Cr Basil Cameron is calling on councillors to support a letter-writing push to include northern rivers agricultural industries as a Critical Industry Cluster (CIC) status.
Currently there are only two CICs in NSW: the horse and wine industries of the Hunter Valley. That legislation protects just those two indus- tries from the state’s rapid expansion of gas mining.
Botched boat eviction plans by bureaucrat change to year lease for Bruns Buccaneer
The tedious and complicated bureaucracy that nearly sank Brunswick Buccaneer boat hire may soon be over. Well, for a year at least.
The Echo reported earlier this year that the manager of the NSW government-run North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP), Jim Bolger, inexplicably tried to evict the 30-year old business and its operator Ilan Schnitzler a year ago with just four days’ notice.
It came without explanation and Mr Bolger told The Echo at the time, ‘the Trust will not take part in discussing licence or legal issues through the media’.
But in a turnaround, Mr Schnitzler told The Echo that Mr Bolger had a ‘completely changed attitude,’ at their recent meeting, and agreed to allow the boat hire business to continue for a year.
And as the licence makes no guarantees past 12 months, Mr Schnitzler’s solicitor, Claire Lovejoy, told The Echo it was possibly because of the NCHP’s controversial plan of management (POM) for the town- ship, which is yet to be determined.
Interestingly, when on exhibition the POM did not include the Brunswick Buccaneer in the plan or maps and instead promoted a deck- ing area at the site.
As for the way in which Mr Schnitzler had to navigate the bureaucratic smoke and mirrors, be prepared for layers of confusing regulation.
While NSW government departments all appear to share responsibility of issuing permits to access the creek, Mr Schnitzler was advised that NCHP controls the embarkation point at Banner Park. At the high-water mark. Still with us?
Smoke and mirrors
Now that a licence has been signed by NCHP, he has to go back to Crown Lands, NSW Marine Parks and Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) to get the technical tick to legally operate.
‘Previously the departments indicated that permits would be grant- ed after NCHP gave the licence,’ said Ms Lovejoy. ‘Now it appears some of these departments are dragging their heels with emails unanswered for over a month.’
Mr Bolger, who is also NCHP’s media contact, was asked by The Echo for comment on the reversal of his previous eviction intentions but as of deadline there has been no reply.
NCHP controversially took control from Council of public parks and reserves in 2006, and The Echo previously reported that the state government took that revenue away from Council.
Additionally, the community be- came enraged at Mr Bolger’s plans to fence off public lands in the town.
■ Disclosure: Mr Schnitzler’s solicitor is a relative of the reporter
Gas mining shake-up
While the state government spewed its usual rhetoric this week, there was one issue that spun at a higher pitch: the rising unpopularity of fossil fuel expansion, especially in regional areas.
A temporary suspension on the issuing of new coal seam gas exploration licences was announced by the O’Farrell coalition government, while the NSW Labor opposition called on the premier ‘to go further and halt all CSG operations across NSW.’
It’s a turnaround for NSW Labor; when in government previously – for 16 hard long years – they were responsibble for the unfettered expansion of the industry, including $1,000 mining licences and royalty-free periods.
Meanwhile two major gas mining companies, Santos and AGL, have sought to address public discontent with a non-binding agreement with NSW Farmers, Cotton Australia and NSW Irrigators Council.
It accepts the right of landholders to refuse miners access to their land for gas development. Notably it poo-poos any neighbour who may disagree, with the agreement stating, ‘The parties condemn bullying, harassment and intimidation by third-party groups and individuals in relation to agreed operations.’
It comes only weeks after a Greens bill to give landowners a say on land access was not only rejected by the major parties, but not even debated.
While welcoming the announcement, Lock the Gate’s national co-ordinator Phil Laird said the commitment, ‘is no comfort to our Queensland members or to communities in the northern rivers facing off against gas company Metgasco, and cannot be relied upon unless it is enshrined in law in NSW.’
‘Our message to the government is this: extend rights and protections not just to landholders, but to the communities that rely on the health of the land and the water. Otherwise a gas company can still undermine the safety and security of landholders by buying high-value farming land for coal seam gas extraction, as AGL has done in the Hunter.’