NSW Business Chamber not informed over govt’s plans for ‘two votes for business’ bill
The NSW Business Chamber joins the state’s peak body representing local government (LGNSW) in being left in the dark by the NSW Shooters & Fishers Party and the coalition over Sydney’s CBD voting reforms.
The City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 has been widely criticised for advocating that businesses receive two votes, giving them a greater say in local elections. Typically such a move is considered to be a gerrymander.
‘Giving business a voice’ is the catchphrase, and supporters such as local MP Don Page (Nationals) say that it would remove ‘significant bureaucratic barriers’ and allow businesses to remain enrolled.
The legislation includes provisions for the scheme to be rolled out state-wide, and has the full support of the NSW Business Chamber.
But the Chamber’s policy manager Luke Aitken confirmed with The Echo that the legislation came as a surprise to his organisation. He backed calls by executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Patricia Forsythe, saying the government needs to justify the ‘two vote’ proposal.
‘The Local Government Act has always provided a mechanism for non-residents to vote in council elections,’ he said. ‘The principle behind this, however, is one person one vote. If you live in the city of Sydney and also have a business in the city, you can only vote as a resident.
‘If your business is in the city of Sydney and you live in Bondi (ie Waverley LGA), you can vote in the city of Sydney as a non-resident business owner and in Waverley as a resident.’ When asked how such a program would work across regional areas, he said that it’s a ‘little too soon to say exactly how things would roll out across the state, but simplifying the enrolment process for non-residents (who are currently required to re-enrol at each local government election) by implementing a permanent roll (so they enrol once and stay on the roll like other electors) would need to be a feature.’
But the Bill is also mired in politically motivated; ICAC recently heard disgraced Liberal MP Chris Hartcher explain that his former staffer Tim Koelma was preparing ‘a local government strategy in relationship to the City of Sydney.’
Meanwhile, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardon will seek councillor support at Thursday’s meeting to oppose the bill. He is calling for Council to ‘commit to the basic democratic principle of “one-person one-vote” in local government elections,’ and if supported, he will express Council’s concerns to government heads and parliamentary representatives.
Residents prepare for bypass fight
Butler Street residents in Byron Bay say they are gearing up to save their street from becoming a bypass after a majority of councillors voted against a proposal to pursue the unused rail corridor.
A motion at last Thursday’s meeting by Cr Duncan Dey requested written confirmation from the state government to ‘make land permanently available within the multi-modal rail corridor’.
But it gained only the support of Dey and the mayor; Crs Ibrahim, Cubis, Woods, Cameron, Wanchap, Spooner and Hunter instead voted against.
And while proceeding the current course reflects advice from the general manager Ken Gainger and staff, the Butler Street Community Network’s Paul Jones says that Council’s failure to ‘fully explore bypass route alternatives’ is a fundamental requirement of their application to state planning for the project approval.
‘We feel Council is its own worst enemy as they are so afraid of appearing to be indecisive and delaying the process that they vote to proceed into a legal and procedural quagmire,’ says Mr Jones.
‘As a result this will certainly have the effect of delaying the outcome and wasting precious financial resources’.
But the town’s chamber of commerce, Byron United, remains hopeful of a rail corridor outcome.
Vice-president Adrian Nelson said in a newsletter to members, ‘What was an encouraging outcome is that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study for the bypass will need to consider possible alternative options. This may provide for the state-owned and unused land adjacent to the rail line to be considered for multi-modal use.’
During Thursday’s debate, Cr Sol Ibrahim turned directly to the Butler Street residents in the gallery and said, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late.’
He said that Council had already allocated and spent much of the $250,000 on exploring the current route.
‘Will the current government say yes? Most likely they will, but we would go back to square one.
‘We don’t have the money for a new EIS. At the start of this council’s term, the bypass was on everyone’s lips. The previous council debated it for four years. All Butler Street residents have known for the last four years if not longer that this was likely.’
It was around that time that Council pest Fast Buck$ interjected from the gallery and demanded to know if a cost analysis of the proposal had been undertaken.
After repeated bellowing by Buck$, the general manager eventually said that the state government asked Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) for one but Council have yet to see it.
Cr Basil Cameron received applause from the gallery when he said that ‘it doesn’t stack up to spend a lot more when we are not going to address the traffic problems in the long term. We are geographically constrained, so it doesn’t matter how many bypasses are built.’
Meanwhile Mr Jones says that he and fellow residents will now ‘object in every possible way to prevent approval of the project EIS submission as Council has left them no alternative.’
He says Council also failed to acknowledge the work done by the GTR proponents in clarifying so many misconceptions and in tabling an innovative proposal that addresses most if not all community, business and environmental concerns.
‘GTR has provided a superior bypass plan that avoids the Shirley Street roundabout bottleneck and enables extension through to Cemetery Road addressing the increasing traffic congestion approaching from the south of town and helping to retune Bangalow Road to far better residential amenity.
‘Butler Street Community Network will continue its work to protect our town’s cultural and built heritage.
‘We love this place in which we live and we will strive to ensure a workable, inspiring bypass solution that will enhance and support our town’s unique people-friendly character.’
n See letters page 11
While proponents of rail trail continue to spruik repurposing the region’s disused railways, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson (Greens) is calling on ‘potential providers or users of the rail line for proposals and plans that utilise the rail corridor in Byron Shire, while not removing the tracks.’
He’s organised a meeting at the Byron Community Centre, on Thursday July 17 from 6.30pm and says it’s a chance for the community to come and hear what other options may exist for the rail corridor, ‘aside from a far away train return, or the track-removing rail trail proposal.’
The call follows the second government-funded study on the region’s tracks; the first explored the plausibility of returning rail, while the latest released mid-June examined the possibility of rail trails.
And while that report recommended the track’s removal to accomodate rail trail, it also spruiked a possible $200 million per year injection for the region.
Cr Richardson said, ‘Whether it be festival sites seeking ways to bring attendees to a site via public-transport rail-line options, or developers seeking to establish housing clusters along the line, it is also important that possible users of track-based transport options can outline their vision.’
MP ignores light rail
But that view is not shared with local state MP Don Page (Nationals), who recently told Parliament that he is ‘keen to see a rail trail established on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line,’ and has been lobbying to have the rail trail funded from the $110 million Regional Tourism Fund.
Interestingly, Mr Page failed to tell parliament that the 2013 independent report into returning rail did not include the potential use of light rail.
According to Hansard’s transcription from June 19, he said, ‘[The report] indicated that any combination of train services on the line would not meet the public transport needs of the region because two of the three largest urban areas – Ballina and Tweed Heads – would not be serviced.’
He said that Treasury and Infrastructure NSW ‘are currently examining the [current rail trail] report to verify the consultant’s cost-benefit analysis and after this is done I am confident further announcements regarding funding for this project will be made by this government.’
Meanwhile the mayor says, ‘It is time now for the community to join the discussion of how best to provide transport options for our community, especially our youth.’
‘It is time for all those who have formalised or well-considered ideas or projects that utilise the rail tracks to come forward and share them with the wider community.’
‘A town square beheading without even letting the public bear witness,’ was how Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson described the quiet adoption of large-scale development plans for Brunswick Heads holiday parks and reserves last week.
And while fellow councillor Di Woods also condemned the contentious plans by the government-run NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust corporation, our locally elected state representative, Don Page (Nationals), is remaining mute.
When asked by The Echo for comment on the independent audit’s questionable findings about the public submission report, the retiring MP instead suggested that questions be passed back to the organisation that compiled the report.
It’s unclear if Mr Page even read the submission report and subsequent audit; his reply was, ‘[The Crown Holiday Parks Trust’s media officer] is in a much better position than I regarding any details.’
The mayor slammed the long-serving MP with, ‘I presume Don Page’s silence over the matter is due to utter embarrassment.’
Broken election promise
Notwithstanding the 2006 holiday parks takeover by disgraced NSW minister Tony Kelly from Council and loss of revenue, the mayor also took aim at the government’s claims when elected that it would ‘put locals back in control of planning matters that affect them’.
‘Not only have the Brunswick Heads Plans of Management (POM) kept control over the holiday parks in the hands of the state government appointed “Trust” seeking the highest return; they have put the same operators in charge of ensuring compliance, the setting of public access widths and overall reporting. For example, what was once public access that allowed fishing and picnicking, could, if the manager sees fit, be as narrow as 1.8 metres wide.’
Meanwhile Cr Woods told The Echo, ‘While some concessions have been made over all the parks, there is still no access being granted along the foreshore at The Terrace Reserve Caravan Park, but rather an adjusted plan for the public to walk through the park.’
According to the public submission report – which is of questionable validity due to the audit review – there were 80 supporting submissions to, ‘Provide public access to and along the foreshore at Terrace Reserve’.
Cr Woods said river access and access outside the park boundary was a ‘major point’ from all the public submissions.
She says another issue along the riverbank is the ‘continued erosion along the edge, which is compounded by the permanent residents’ structures that almost hang over the edge.’
‘The Trust representative said that the permanent residents along the edge of the river will be moved by natural attrition.
‘However, there has been a sale to a resident during the last couple of years, with no indication to the purchaser that their structure was in fact in a position that the Crown had previously informed Council during its control was inappropriate, and Council had been informed that the structure had to be moved and in fact had asked that Council relocate all the residents living in structures that were hanging over the edge of the river bank.
‘Council had begun the process, prior to the Crown assuming control of the parks.
‘Under the Trust’s management, it appears that they do not believe that this problem needs urgent attention, and I find that quite at odds with the instructions given to Council, and wonder what is really in store for those residents.’
‘There are a number of concessions that contain a get-out clause, which basically says they could change their mind. For example, a fence being erected along The Terrace Road, while not in the immediate plans, could be seen to be necessary at a later date, while access through the park could be stopped if deemed unsafe.
‘I am of the opinion that once the plans of management have been implemented, and the parks have been given the majority of their upgrades, then the state will see them as a very attractive piece of real estate to be offered up for sale to private enterprise.
‘Not just in Bruns, but places like Evans Head, Ballina, and many other parcels of land, particularly along the coast, will be seen as a way for the state government to get some fast money. Just like the sale of the NSW Lotteries, the electricity infrastructure, the Newcastle port etc.’
NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust CEO Steve Edmonds has defended his development plans for Bruns, despite similar plans sparking public outrage at the Silver Sands caravan park in Evans Head.
He echoed NSW minister Kevin Humphries reply last week that ‘41 amendments were made to the plans of management as a result of public input,’ and repeated that subject to ‘reasonable conditions’, public access through The Terrace Holiday Park and to Simpsons Creek will continue.
He told The Echo, ‘The public car park and kayak launching facilities will be upgraded as part of this plan.
‘The Trust will progressively relocate existing structures away from foreshore sites to enable the re-establishment of a natural bank profile and the protection and restoration of the vegetation communities as part of its foreshore environmental restoration project.’
While ignoring public concerns over access, Mr Edmonds spruiked the development, saying, ‘Additionally, the Torakina and Banner Park Reserves will benefit from $1m worth of improvements such as playground facilities, boardwalk platform and upgraded amenities which will benefit the local communities, businesses in the area, tourists and other visitors to Brunswick Heads.’
Asked why there was no public announcement over these major developments, Mr Edmonds replied, ‘In accord with due process, it is appropriate to firstly brief local councils in relation to the adoption of plans of management before public announcement. The meeting with Council was arranged to fit with Council availability.’
The mayor meanwhile said that during the last year or so of negotiations with the Holiday Parks managers, ‘it was clear we would struggle to achieve anything like the outcomes the community deserved.
‘But with the state government requiring Council to negotiate, we did so in good faith. I thought if we could maintain public access, we had secured at least something for the community, knowing that ultimately we were being forced to play the tune created for us by the state government.
‘Though tenuous, the community have managed to keep public access along the Brunswick River in front of two parks, with a touch more public access gained on the eastern side of Massey Greene, but access through The Terrace Reserve will be at the discretion of the managers.
‘There is absolutely no compulsion whatever for the permanent dwellings to move away from Simpsons Creek and allow for public access as appropriate. To rub salt in the wounds, this disgraceful management model has been promoted within the wider review of the Crown Lands Act as a model example of efficient and successful management.’
Brunswick Heads chamber of commerce president Peter Wotton told The Echo their reply was still in progress, as ‘one person on this committee is ill at the moment, we have not been able to consider all the issues as yet.’
‘We will have a statement for you on this very important and complex matter soon.’
A legal showdown between the developers pushing for a large-scale Bangalow mixed residential-commercial building and Council is likely to return to the Land and Environment Court after councillors voted to reject a compromise proposal recommended by staff at last Thursday’s meeting.
The two-storey building proposal is adjacent to the A&I Hall and would include eight dwellings, three shops with basement car park and an attic.
It would take up almost the entire property. When the plans were initially revealed it riled residents, including the Bangalow School P&C, and public meetings were held in response. Residents claimed such a large-scale building would set a precedent and was not in keeping with the town’s low-key planning strategies.
Crs Cubis, Woods and Hunter voted against, while Crs Richardson, Cameron, Dey, Spooner, Ibrahim and Wanchap voted for the legal clash.
The vote re-affirms a previous decision, which was based on concerns for ‘bulk and scale,’ among other factors. And despite some concessions by applicant Gordon Highlands, the development still contravenes Council’s development control plan (DCP). The vote comes despite staff recommending to approve it if the general manager undertook conciliation. Confidential legal advice was also presented. Ex-councillor and vocal opponent Jenny Coman told The Echo, ‘We are very proud of those councillors who supported their community by voting against the staff recommendation [to accept the development]. I know how difficult it is to do that and we thank them.’
Bruns plans adopted
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.
A most exciting Thursday spent
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.
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.
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.’