The Pacific Highway’s Ballina to Woolgoolga upgrade will be constructed through the middle of the region’s most intact koala colony after the state government approved the proposed western route last week.
And in response to public concerns over the endangered marsupial, the NSW roads and freight minister Duncan Gay announced that ‘a team of experts will be brought together to develop a detailed koala management plan’ for the upgrade. He says the appointment, ‘allows the next stages of early work to start, while the overall project is considered by the federal department of the environment.’
In a letter from Mr Gay to local MP Don Page (Nationals), the roads and freight minister explained why his department has ignored public calls to keep the highway’s current alignment. The minister said the route suggested by koala advocates was not ideal. ‘While a shorter route, the southern section cuts into Broadwater National Park, which has also been identified as having an important koala population.’
He also claimed such a route would be along a flood plain, would traverse underlying soft soils and therefore earth fill would be required.
‘It would require acquisition of high-yield canefields, residences and farm infrastructure… and would pose a considerable engineering risk at a much greater cost.’
But koala campaigner Garry Owers claims widening the existing highway would be the quickest and cheapest solution and would affect far fewer koalas. ‘They just have to add more lanes which they have room for, and it can be done quickly.’
Mr Owers, who works at Richmond River County Council, says he has studied acid sulfate soils and specialises in wetlands.
‘Contrary to the minister’s claims, trimming the road’s edge would not result in having to acquire a lot of canefields and residences.’
More significantly, Mr Owers says the minister’s proposal would see more flooding risk than the aligning with the current highway.
‘Dingle Creek is subject to three-metre flooding, which is far greater than the route along the current alignment,’ he says.
Mr Owers concluded by saying that by 2005 he suspected the government had already made the current plans and was just playing lip service to give the appearance of consultation.
Meanwhile Friends of the Koala president Lorraine Vass says she is concerned about the long-term decline in koala numbers as well as the actual construction phase.
‘There are no mitigation measures while the road is being built,’ she says. ‘During the construction of the section at St Helena in Ewingsdale, RMS (Road Maritime Services) records only roadkill as impacting on koala populations.
‘Our experience from this is that there will be a spike in mortality rates. Other places where upgrades have been done, for example at the Yelgun to Chinderah upgrade in the early 2000s, we were hearing that the numbers of koalas dropped dramatically.
‘But generally population decline takes time; you can construct underpasses etc but there’s no guarantees on maintaining the populations.’
‘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.’
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.
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.
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.