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.