Last-ditch bid to avoid court battle

By MEGAN KINNINMENT

A MEETING today will determine whether Melbourne developer Becton and the Byron Shire Council are headed for the courts over the development of the former Club Med resort at Belongil Beach.

Becton, the council and conservationists meet today for the final round of a protracted mediation process aimed at avoiding court action over Becton's plans to subdivide the Belongil site into a 379home holiday village.

Last year, thousands of Byron Bay residents took to the streets in protest and mobilised the national media to oppose Becton's plans.

Locals also fought off Club Med's development plans in the 1990s, and Becton had been always prepared for a fight from environmentalists at Byron Bay.

They didn't, however, count on reclusive Byron-based millionaire John Cornell to financially back the anti-Becton campaign in 2003, or a newly-elected Greens council in 2004, or tougher NSW laws governing development of the NSW coastline to be introduced.

Earlier this year, after the Carr Government rejected their master plan for the development, Becton made a pact with newly-

elected Byron Shire Council and Greens mayor Cr Jan Barham.

The council would promise not to rezone the land at Belongil, thus preventing Becton's development, while Becton promised not to lodge a development application while the mediation process was under way.

It has been a high-stakes Mexican stand-off.

"We'll know by (this afternoon) if this has worked or not," Cr Barham said.

"I have to be optimistic."

Conservationist Dailan Pugh, however, criticised how long the process had taken.

"It was supposed to be finished in six weeks, instead we've been waiting for this last meeting for two months," Mr Pugh said.

"There's a community desire for a low-impact development on that site...I am hoping this time Becton will outline their position on the environmental constraints, and answer the key issue on the density of the development."

He may be hoping in vain.

Becton managing director Hamish Macdonald yesterday told The Northern Star he was not going into the meeting with a finished plan to present.

"It's an open process," he said.

"But I think we're close (to an agreement)."



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