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.’
West Byron in gridlock
Will Byron Bay’s traffic gridlock be addressed before the first sod is turned on the yet-to-be-determined West Byron Project?
Yes, according to NSW minister for the north coast and Byron resident Don Page MP (Nationals).
It comes as public submissions close this Friday for the proposed estate, located 2.5 kilometres west of the CBD. If approved, it would be the town’s largest suburb in decades.
Mr Page told The Echo, ‘I have told the consultant for the West Byron landowners that I will not support the project unless the Byron bypass has been constructed.
‘We have serious traffic congestion in Byron already and it should not be exacerbated. There are other issues which also need to be considered with their proposal and this is currently happening through the public exhibition and consultation process. I will treat those issues on their merits.’
But are the issues being addressed?
Not according to Council’s planning staff, who say issues remain, which they raised with NSW Planning and Infrastructure in 2011.
Director of Council’s environment and planning, Ray Darney, told The Echo that, ‘staff have recommended within the draft submission that the bypass needs to be completed prior to any residential subdivision proceeding at the site.’ As for residential density, he says, ‘The current proposed allotment size is too small and the overall density of development is not compatible with the general urban form and character of Byron Bay.’
And similarly, the concerns of flood mitigation raised in 2011 also remain. Mr Darney said staff have recommended within the submission that they are not satisfied with the flood planning levels as proposed by the developer.
‘The flood levels and flood planning levels for the development must be consistent with Council’s adopted flood study and flood management plan, which follows the process in the NSW flood plain development manual.’
However on its website’s FAQ, the West Byron Project claims, ‘The department commissioned WMA Water to undertake an independent review, which supported the modelling and flood planning levels.
‘There are no developable lots in high flood hazard risk areas. There will be a negligible impact on offsite peak flood levels.’
But it’s just not roads, density or flooding issues; Mr Darney says there would be a significant amount of infrastructure required to service up to 1,000 allotments.
‘Staff will be recommending to Council that the development should be provided with dual reticulation to recycle water and that the bypass and roundabouts on Ewingsdale road need to be provided by the developer.
‘In addition the trunk drainage system needs to be comprehensively designed and provided by the developer to ensure the quality of stormwater runoff does not impact negatively on the sensitive Belongil Creek.’
Bypass voluntary contribution: developers
The Echo understands that one of the priorities for the current councillors in their first term is to complete a Byron bypass. Given the issue has plagued successive councils for 25 years, it would be quite an achievement.
And with a total cost for the Byron bypass being estimated at around $8.2 million, the developers have said they will make voluntary contributions, ‘specifically earmarked for the bypass.’
They say it’s in addition to regular contributions to infrastructure that developers pay Council for projects.
If the rezoning is approved, they say, $7,000 per residential lot will be contributed under a planning agreement between them and the NSW planning minister.
If approved, it would almost cover the bypass cost if 1,000 homes were built, and would need to be paid upfront.
As for state assistance, MP Page said, ‘Even though it’s a Council responsibility, I have arranged through the minister for roads to pay 80 per cent of the geotechnical study (an important first step in helping to get the project started), estimated at $270,000.
‘The minister has also agreed to assist Council with additional funding for the construction of the Byron bypass once we know what the full cost will be.
‘The geotechnical study will help determine this.’
Meanwhile, mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo he is unsupportive of West Byron, ‘certainly not at the scale being proposed, but that is no matter within Council’s power.’
‘The monies we have do not go remotely towards addressing the long-term traffic and road infrastructure needs in Byron Bay. One roundabout alone is around the $1 million mark. In regard to traffic, there would not be a stupider place to plonk a development five times the size of Sunrise [than the site] proposed on Ewingsdale Road. So if the proponents want it, they need to ensure the rest of the community don’t have increased gridlock because of it.’
Plans for the West Byron Project are at http://bit.ly/westbyronplans and public submissions close January 31.