A brief lifting of the political iron curtain has revealed what NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner (Nationals) really thinks of those who oppose gas drilling at Bentley.
‘Mark my word we were prepared to go head to head with that protester group,’ was just one of a few comments made to Jenna Cairney, deputy editor of The Land (Fairfax) newspaper, at a recent Nationals convention.
She shared the comments on social media site Twitter, with other comments reading, ‘It broke my heart that some of those professional bludgers thought they had a win.’
The belligerent and pro-gas mining stance comes despite Mr Stoner having not travelled to meet with the farmers who may still be affected by Metgasco’s drilling attempts just outside Lismore. The Echo previously reported some of those farmers were prepared to be arrested and had ‘locked on’ to concrete devices.
And while the comments were condemned by Lock The Gate’s Michael McNamara, Mr Stoner’s office confirmed with The Echo he was quoted correctly. ‘I said words to the effect that it was a large protest which included a core of hardline protesters who had travelled to the area but also some good local people.
‘At no stage did I suggest that all the protesters were professional bludgers.’
The ‘head to head with that protester group’ comment remains without elaboration. Mr Stoner is also on record as saying he would not want a gas operation near his property.
Perhaps the biggest-ever development of Brunswick Heads has been approved by the coalition state government; however, it remarkably comes without any press release, publicity or notification.
Additionally, the independent audit that accompanies the public submission report casts doubt on the state government’s decision to approve ambitious plans to develop the town’s three holiday parks and Crown reserves.
The decision came as the government’s Crown Lands White Paper (www.bit.ly/1rllofw) closed for public submission on June 20. It recommended privatising large swathes of public lands for commercial activity.
A tip-off from an Echo reader pointed to the announcement for Bruns on the NSW Crown Lands website (bit.ly/1kvpYov), which says the plans of management (POMs), have ‘been approved and adopted by the minister on June 2, 2014’.
The website also contains the POMs for Ferry Reserve, Massey Green and Terrace Reserve holiday parks and other Brunswick Heads Crown foreshore reserves.
Audit casts doubt on approval decision
To gain the minister’s approval, a public submission report and audit were required to examine the methodology employed to collate the public’s comments over the proposal.
The submission report claims that the issues have been addressed for 1,425 individual issues that arose from 158 public submissions and two petitions presented, one of which had 2,095 signatures.
But the audit that examined the report is critical of the lack of recognition of ‘significant and frequently raised issues that were beyond the scope of the planning process’.
Authored by Dr John Mackenzie, the audit also questions the methodology used in collating the submissions, undertaken by North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP) manager Jim Bolger.
It’s the latest in a long-running dispute between the NSW government and locals and councillors, sparked in 2006 after the government took control of public assets from the cash-strapped Byron Council, resulting in a loss of revenue.
The revamp plans went on exhibition late last year, and NCHP’s Bolger faced an angry public at his two public information sessions over various issues. They included the removal of public-access areas previously accessed and the continuing encroachment onto public lands to accommodate holiday park expansion.
And bad press has hounded Bolger for other reasons; The Echo reported that he inexplicably tried to evict the long-established Brunswick Buccaneer boat-hire business with just four days’ notice in April last year. At the time of his POM exhibition period, Bolger refused to answer The Echo’s questions and omitted any reference to the 30-year-old tourist attraction in his POMs.
Bolger’s actions sparked a petition, with thousands of signatures collected in support of retaining the tourist attraction. While then-Crown Lands minister Andrew Stoner (Nationals) refused to comment, local NSW MP Don Page (Nationals) made a remarkable ‘on the run’ policy announcement and suggested the operator apply for permission through Bolger’s POM.
Later a year-long agreement was later reached between Bolger and its current operator, Ilan Schnitzler.
Has Bolger listened?
So with such large-scale changes to Bruns, has Bolger listened to the community?
Not according to Greens MLC Jan Barham and former Byron Shire mayor, who joined residents in roundly condemning the plans.
She told The Echo the plan’s adoption ‘Ilustrates that the state is yet another opportunistic developer, with power to approve its own developments.’
‘The community spoke out on many issues regarding the recent and past draft plans for the idyllic and significant Brunswick sites. What the government has accepted for the low-key village of Brunswick is an over- development that will create a standard of development that is out of character with the town and will change the feel and look of Brunswick.’
Ms Barham also warned the plans ‘will out-compete private tourism operators with development that would not be acceptable by a private operator. Also it appears that the opportunity to display best-practice environmental and community planning principles has not been a consideration.’
Meanwhile resident Patricia Warren described the outcome as ‘peanuts for the peasants,’ and Bolger’s responses to public concerns as ‘purely cosmetic’.
She is just one of a group of residents who have been active in opposing NCHP’s takeover and subsequent expansion plans. Ms Warren told The Echo, ‘The comments/recommendations made [by NCHP regarding the submissions] do not address the contentious issues of boundaries and, by default, the minister and his advisers have opposed the community’s strong and continued opposition to these land grabs.’
Public access ‘conditional’
As for one of the most contentious issues – public foreshore access along Simpsons Creek at Terrace Reserve Holiday Park – NCHP responded to public concerns with, ‘Conditional access… is provided subject to reasonable conditions.’ Ms Warren replied that contrary to strong public opposition, this allows a determination to ‘privatise’ sites for long-term tenants.
Similarly resident Sean O’Meara was outraged at the outcome and pointed to the vague and noncommittal language NCHP used in his reply to community concerns.
Phrases such as ‘Likely to be relaxed’, ‘fences only installed as last resort’, ‘we will endeavour’ and ‘have noted and will consider,’ can be found throughout the report.
‘This response holds them to nothing and they will go on as usual if something is not done,’ says O’Meara.
‘I challenge Bolger to scrape together more than 20 names of Brunswick Heads locals who agree with his actions and think it is okay to privatise our public foreshore areas and block local families and tourists from playing in the parks and swimming in the rivers.
‘They have used [these areas] for a hundred years, so why should they now be fenced off for the exclusive use of those who can afford to pay?’
While the audit concluded the methodology used for asessing submissions was ‘sound, comprehensive, thorough and reliable,’ Dr Mackenzie paradoxically describes that dividing submissions into the categories of support/neutral/object as ‘not considered reliable for statistical purposes.’
Additionally discrepancies were observed, which yielded ‘significantly different results’ and ‘potential confusion’.
But most cogent was that, ‘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. In each case, these issues were considered by NSWCHPT to be beyond the scope of the POMs or the Trust. However, the 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.’
MP Humphries approved plans
Despite the audit’s findings, cost-shifting and the public calls for the return of the assets, the new minister responsible for Crown Lands, Kevin Humphries, is predictably standing by his decision.
His spokesperson told The Echo that ‘there are no plans,’ to change Crown reserves management in Brunswick Heads. And while the spokesperson refused to acknowledge the audit’s claims that major issues outside the scope were ignored, they instead claimed that the ‘methodology used by the Trust was sound and the findings were comprehensive, thorough and reliable.’
They added that the Trust board made ‘41 changes in terms of public access, commercial activities and other key elements of the plans.’
Mayor Simon Richardson, councillor Di Woods and Brunswick Heads chamber of commerce president, Peter Wotten, have told The Echo they will provide comment next week. Comment was also sought from local state MP Don Page, but nothing was received by deadline.
Democracy! Bah! When I hear that I reach for my feather boa! – Allen Ginsberg
1930s US journalist and satirist H L Mencken once told the internet that democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.
Debunking that theory was Council’s meeting last Thursday morning – Mencken would have found it hard to get a seat it was so packed.
There was plenty of fodder apart from West Byron (see page one story), with ALDI’s Byron liquor-licence application, North Byron Parklands noise monitoring, the future use of our rapidly deteriorating railways, the recent corporate Clarkes Beach party and declaring the region gasfield free. Cr Chris Cubis also contributed a motion to abolish the mayor’s park-and- ride pet project (lost by the mayor’s casting vote), while Cr Duncan Dey dragged up the awkward episode of Cr Alan Hunter’s warehouse or distribution centre in a rural zone (Cr Dey lost; it will not be excluded from an LEP amendment).
Again it was a gruelling and long day, made slightly easier with the offer by Cr Wanchap of chocolate in a break at around 2pm. Innocent bribes aside, the meeting did threaten to descend into anarchy at around 4pm when some councillors erupted into a tit-for-tat over whispering comments between factions. What a bunch of babies.
Anyway, on with the show, which mainly consisted of agreeing – or not – to write lots of letters and sign submissions.
The top brass in state government – ie premier and relevant ministers – will be soon receiving letters calling on them to review and consider revoking all Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) and Petroleum Special Prospecting Applications (PSPAPP 55) in the northern rivers region.
They will also be asked if we can pretty please be declared Gasfield Free. Another letter will ask the Aboriginal Land Council (ALC) ever-so politely to withdraw the PEL application that covers the region. All were in favour.
ALDI’s liquor licence
A submission from Council will be made to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) objecting to the proposed liquor licence for Aldi supermarket in Byron Bay.
The submission will outline community concern about alcohol issues and the potential increase of alcohol availability, especially cheap alcohol.
Mute on new liquor licences
Council will also write separately to the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR), ‘pointing out that the Byron Bay Alcohol Action Plan is mute on the issue of new liquor licences and should deal with it...’
Crs Cubis, Woods and Hunter voted against.
For the full run-down, see Council’s revised website at www.byron.nsw.gov.au/ meetings.
The establishment of Crown Lands as a possible public trading enterprise has prompted a corporate law firm to advertise its services to prospective corporations and individuals wanting to maximise ‘the return to the government and the community from the use of Crown land.’
Australian corporate law firm Clayton Utz says on its website that, ‘For the private sector, the reforms have the potential to open up new business and operational opportunities.’
Shift in use
The law firm’s webpage, ‘NSW Crown land – a field of opportunities’, spruiks the recommendations in the state government’s White Pa- per, which is now on public submission.
They say it demonstrates, ‘a shift in the use of Crown land towards private entities.’
‘Tenants under Crown land are currently bound by certain provisions of the Crown Lands Act which make it impracticable to operate standard business and development models.
‘Removing restrictions to enable leases to be granted on terms and conditions more regularly found in commercial leases will provide greater flexibility in the use of Crown land.
‘Roughly 42 per cent of land in NSW is Crown land (not including national parks and state forests), with a total value of over $11 billion.’
The law firm says apart from the public trading enterprise aspect of Crown lands, the new legislation will provide for the pay- ment of market rent as the default position under leases of Crown land (with rebates and waivers applied where appropriate); standardise the way in which Crown land is valued (having regard to the hypothetical value of the land as if it were a freehold parcel); require an entity ad- ministering Crown land to evaluate the expected return to be provided to the government and the community when permitting the use of an asset (and taking into ac- count the opportunity cost of allowing an asset to be used in such a way); and implement stronger compliance and enforcement provisions which will provide penalties for damage and unlawful use of Crown land.
NSW Trade & Investment says on its website that the changes are part of a ‘commitment to cutting red tape and updating legislation to improve outcomes.’
Public submissions in response to the White Paper are open until June 20.
For more information visit http://bit.ly/1ojZhIP.
It’s good news for rail trail enthusiasts, but not for those wanting light rail: a state government-commissioned study released Friday gives a strong case for a regional rail trail but suggests removing existing track to accommodate foot and cycle traffic, ‘in a majority of locations’.
The Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Trail Study comes in at 68 pages, cost $80,000 according to the deputy premier’s office, and estimates a rail trail will cost $75.5 million and that it would add 88,320 visitors the region per annum.
Consultancy company Arup was commissioned after the Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study was released in 2011.
But that study, which cost an astonishing $2m and totalled 130 pages, inexplicably omitted light rail as an option, only surveyed a small percentage of the entire line, bloated costs and estimations which were at odds with previous studies, and largely ignored Byron Bay’s traffic congestion and exceptionally high tourist numbers.
$750k spent on lines
And while the state government and rail contractor John Holland refused to disclose to The Echo the cost and quality of rail maintenance work – if any – being undertaken in the area, the new rail trail study claims that there is an ‘approximate annual budget of $750,000 allocated for the purpose of maintaining the corridor.’
Byron a focal point
The report suggests removing the existing track to accommodate foot and cycle traffic, dashing the hopes of the line co-existing with light rail.
‘In a majority of locations,’ the report says, ‘the removal of track, sleepers and ballast material will be required, where a trail cannot be economically formed adjacent to the existing line and remain within the existing railway corridor boundary.’
But it’s not all bad news; the study says, ‘Byron Bay forms the focal point for the rail trail and it would be logical to consider Byron Bay as the starting point for the rail trail development.’ Additionally, the ‘section from Murwillumbah to the shire boundary at Yelgun could be timed for delivery to coincide with a similar progression north from Byron Bay.’
Grab The Rail supported
Surprisingly the report supports the Grab The Rail proposal, which is at odds with mayor Simon Richard- son’s advice and position.
Grab The Rail, made up largely of residents likely to be adversely affected by a Butler Street bypass, is promoting, ‘an alternative vehicular bypass through Byron Bay town centre utilising a section of the rail corridor from the existing Shirley Street level crossing to Old Bangalow Road level crossing, a length of approximately 2.5km.’
Unlike other sections of the 130km track, it is ‘considered likely that a shared corridor could be laid out that meets the needs of both a rail trail and road bypass.’
Byron’s light rail
Ironically, the fossil fuel sector is leading the charge for light rail in Byron Shire.
QLD-based coal min- ing baron and owner of the North Byron Beach Resort, Brian Flannery, has plans to establish a railmotor service ‘between the existing Byron Bay station and the proposed North Byron Beach Resort located to the north of Bay- shore Drive.’
Entitled ‘Byron Bay Community and Tourist Rail Shuttle’, the report says that as the corridor width is ‘generous’, it will be ‘likely allow for both rail and trail to co-exist for the majority of the proposed operating route.’
Meanwhile, ‘Tweed Shire Council are promoting the connection between Murwillumbah Station and the Tweed Regional Gallery as the ideal “pilot” for the development of the trail.’ Remarkably the report,authored by James Robinson, suggests that the northern rivers region partner with its ‘emerging gas industry’ to help fund the project. ‘For example BHP Billiton contributed over $200,000 to the Victorian Coast to Crater Rail Trail.’
Funded by gas?
But local state MP Don Page (Nationals) told The Echo, ‘The rail trail will be in no way coming from anything to do with gas.’
‘It will be funded by state and hopefully federal government. I’ve done the submission to the state government and I’ve been talking to [fellow Nationals federal MP] Kevin Hogan regarding a federal contribution. The state government announced on Friday a Regional Tourism Fund which contains $110m, [and] I expect after Treasury checks out the Arup report they will indicate the state government’s response financially. I expect this to be positive.’
As for maintenance costs, the report’s author estimates between $6,800 to $8,900 per annum per km. ‘At 130km, this indicates an operating and main- tenance cost of $884,000 to $1,157,000 per annum’.
Meanwhile Greens NSW MP, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, slammed the study as a ‘blatant exercise in justifying a pre-determined outcome.’
‘The estimated cost of the rail trail will be $75 million, which comes to around $600,000 per km’, Ms Faruqi said. ‘Railway lines in regional Victoria have been reinstated at half the estimated cost per kilometre of this rail trail.’
The report can be found at http://bit.ly/TXZ9RM.
Mayor Simon Richardson’s plans for how Council should respond to the state government over the contentious West Byron development were trumped by Cr Sol Ibrahim at Thursday’s Council meeting.
The mayor – supported by the Byron Residents’ Association – was seeking to ask the the state government to defer rezoning West Byron over what they say are inadequate traffic and acid sulfate soil studies. Additionally, Cr Richardson asked that any decision be held off until the Byron Coast Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (KPoM) and the soon-to-be-completed Lo- cal Growth Management Strategy (LGMS) is released. The mayor also called for a baseline assessment of the Belongil Creek and estuary to be completed.
Instead, a watered-down motion by Cr Sol Ibrahim will see Byron Shire Council request that concerns regarding one of Byron Bay’s largest ever urban developments be ad- dressed to the minister’s ‘satisfaction’.
Crs Dey, Richardson and Cameron voted against (Cr Spooner was absent).
The motion by Cr Ibrahim and seconded by Cr Wanchap reads: ‘That due to concerns raised by members of the local community, Council will write to the planning minister Pru Goward requesting that prior to making a decision regarding the rezoning of the West Byron Urban Release Areas the fol- lowing matters will have been addressed to her satisfaction:
‘1. The traffic study has followed
RMS guidelines and reasonably considered all the likely impacts of the traffic generated by the pro- posed residential and commercial developments.
‘2. The Acid Sulfate Soils Study has been produced and considered in accordance with the Department of Planning’s Acid Sulfate Soils Planning Guidelines.
‘3. That all koala habitat on the site has been identified in accor- dance with SEPP44 procedures and that it will be protected from dam- age and disturbance.
‘4. That all other environmental and ecological aspects have been considered in the rezoning.
‘Furthermore Council will seek funding for a baseline assessment of the Belongil Creek/Estuary from appropriate government departments, including from Minister Goward’s.’
Disgusted: Cr Woods
During debate, the mayor said that the development is something that has waited ten years, and should wait a little longer. ‘This is about respecting the community’s wishes for it to be a clear, transparent and a trustworthy decision.’
But Cr Di Woods spoke against the mayor’s deferment. ‘You say ten years in waiting – that is disgusting’.
‘We should be able to determine developments much sooner. Under the previous mayor it was refused, and Council said we didn’t have the resources. The developers said they will supply the resources but it was still refused. I have seen people who own that land go bankrupt. It’s not the proponent’s fault that this is with the minister. Acid sulfate and traffic can be dealt with – let’s work with them, get the zoning and move on.’
At that point, the full gallery murmured ‘shame’, prompting Cr Ibrahim to say it was unacceptable for the gallery to interject.
Cr Ibrahim then moved his amendment and spoke in favour of the development while also expressing a desire for due process and environ- mental protection.
When asked later why a regional growth strategy was not included in his motion, Cr Ibrahim told The Echo, ‘The mayor’s motion asked for a deferment until the strategy was completed. It was always going to be very unlikely that the minister would agree after the years that have been spent on this project. Anyway, the minister’s office will already have considered the regional growth strategy in place which includes Byron.
‘Secondly, with the work- load already stacked up for councillors and staff, I doubt that a new strategy will be completed in the term of this council. Thirdly, the fundamental debate about growth that is being played out regarding WB (West Byron) will be repeated for the growth strategy. So it will be a political decision anyway.
‘Finally, the WB lots will be released slowly over a de- cade or more. Despite the inaccurate claims that our water and sewer won’t cope, we will still have time to plan for expansion if it is required.’
As for how the community will have an adequate say in this or any development, Cr Ibrahim said, ‘Firstly, through their elected representatives. Through submissions about draft planning instruments (LEP, DCP, KcPOM etc). Through objections to DAs. Byron’s community is never shy on expressing their objections to developments.
‘It happens every week, and in many instances I have opposed development approvals (Mullumbimby, Bangalow, KFC etc).
‘I am currently fighting to have our Development Con- trol Plan (DCP) conditions fully applied in a Bangalow development. We have a legal system which allows a court challenge just about any deci- sion of a council.
Confident in DCP
‘Expecting some sort of guarantee from councillors is unreasonable. However, I am confident that our DCP, coupled with other statutory instruments and plans of management, can produce a great outcome.
‘So far, it has been my experience that if Council negotiates in good faith with a developer from the outset, very positive results are achieved (North Byron Beach Resort for example).
‘Council has already ex- pressed to the minister that we want to apply our own DCP to the site.
‘I wholeheartedly agree with this position. We are all waiting and hoping that she will grant this wish. This matter was not raised in the mayor’s motion or mine be- cause the request has already been made.’
Cr Ibrahim says the minister’s decision ‘is quite limited in scope’ and that, ‘All the other details, lot sizes, density, roads, setbacks, construction etc will come to Council within a series of DAs.’
No faith in DCP
During the meeting, Cr Richardson spoke against Cr Ibrahim’s amendment.
‘My motion gives more details: this has no consideration of planning or local growth management; this doesn’t mention a koala plan of management but instead is vague and broad.’ And in Cr Richardson’s right of reply, he acknowledged the need for housing and jobs, but said that the, ‘DCP is useless as the state government has gutted it; it only has to be considered.’
‘To put faith in that is staggering.’
Prominent Sydney CBD property developer Terry Agnew has bought a sizeable portion of the West Byron project, prompting claims by the Byron Residents Group that the ‘locally-owned’ aspect of the development now has little relevance.
Approval for the West Byron project, a 108- hectare housing/commercial estate situated opposite the industrial estate on Ewingsdale Road, is expected shortly from the state government.
Agnew, who heads Tower Holdings with a swag of properties, also owns a Great Keppel Island resort, where a $2.5 billion redevelopment is planned. Tower Holdings bought the resort for $16.5 million in 2008 before shutting it down and unveiling ambitious plans for a luxury resort.
And while his plans were thwarted by environmental concerns such as illegal tree clearing, last year he finally gained approval for a reduced 250-berth marina precinct, 750 resort villas and 300 apartments, a hotel and an 18- hole golf course.
The Echo sought comment from Mr Agnew’s office, but as yet there has been none.
But through communications consultancy company Charliesierra, the West Byron landowners confirmed the purchase with The Echo but played down any negative influence the new co-owner may have. ‘Tower Holdings has joined the landowner group after purchasing Crighton’s holdings earlier this year,’ they said.
‘The entire landowner group, including Tower Holdings, is committed to making West Byron a vibrant community that integrates with the social fabric of the Byron area.’
And while the West Byron group won’t comment on the price paid or the size of land Mr Agnew’s company now owns, title searches by a solicitor on behalf of environmental activist Dailan Pugh put the figure at $7 million and around half the entire property.
Mr Pugh told The Echo that Crighton Properties’ liquidators sold the half-share of West Byron to North Sydney Property Trust (NSPT Pty Ltd) after Crighton went bust in April last year.
He told The Echo that Agnew’s subsidiary NSPT, ‘paid $7,000,000 for the [West Byron] land, as per the land titles office registered transfer. The directors of NSPT are a Terrance John Agnew of Bellevue Hill NSW and Timothy Stringer of Drummoyne NSW.’
Pugh believes that Agnew is now the single biggest owner in the property. Whether that potentially provides a controlling interest in the proposed development is unclear.
Byron Residents Group’s Cate Coorey said, ‘For a long time we have been told that it is local people involved in this development and they have the community’s best interests at heart. Now that a major developer has bought this parcel, it changes the landscape quite a bit.
‘We have always been concerned that the West Byron landowners were simply trying to get the development approved before selling out to a developer who could afford to undertake a project of this size.
‘With Agnew’s purchase of half the site, how long will it be before he expands his holdings?’
Meanwhile, pressure is on NSW planning minister, Pru Goward, and minister for the environment, Rob Stokes, to defer West Byron rezoning after a motion by NSW MLC (upper house) Jan Barham.
Her motion was tabled last week, and says the deferral would, ‘allow for more detailed studies to assess the impact of the development and ensure that the relevant considerations are revealed prior to the rezoning.’
‘[It notes] that the current application does not contain sufficient independent scientific studies and analysis to allow a determination and that the Byron Shire Council is in the process of developing essential strategic studies that consider the future impacts of development on that site.’
The motion asks the House to note that the application for the West Byron Urban Release proposal ‘contains omissions, inaccuracies and inconsistencies.’
But the West Byron developers say they ‘stand behind our application entirely’.
On behalf of the West Byron developers, the Charliesierra spokesperson told The Echo, ‘The proposal that currently sits with the department for assessment has been refined based on feed- back received in two public exhibition periods and been reviewed by all relevant government agencies.’
Followed process to the letter
‘We have followed the process laid down by the department of planning and infra- structure to the letter.
‘We have engaged comprehensively with key stakeholders including Council, and ask that the proposal be assessed on its merits.
‘We are pleased that the Byron Residents Group is not opposing the proposal on its merits.’
A full reply to the issues raised by the Byron Residents Group – including acid sulfate soils, the koala report and the traffic surveys is available at echo.net.au.