Carving up paradise: Plan could double Byron's population

IT'S one of the most desirable lifestyle locations in the nation - but developing Byron Shire to allow for more residents has always been controversial.

Now with the release of Byron Shire Council's new draft rural land strategy, that controversy just ramped up another notch.

The new document has identified seven entirely new areas for urban subdivision which together total 746ha of potentially developable land, according to local conservationist Dailan Pugh (pictured below).

Mr Pugh said this could create another 15,000 properties - doubling the number of dwellings in Byron Shire today.

Dailan Pugh. photo David Nielsen/The Northern Star
Dailan Pugh. photo David Nielsen/The Northern Star DAVID NIELSEN

He has called the draft plan "outrageous".

"It's really a land release strategy, aimed at growing Byron Shire beyond it's capability," Mr Pugh said.

Five of the zones are in the Shire's north - west of Brunswick Heads on Saddle Rd, three surrounding Mullumbimby on Clays Rd, Dudgeon Rd and Coolamon Scenic Drive, and one west of Billinudgel.

BROAD STROKES: A council map of five areas identified for potential
BROAD STROKES: A council map of five areas identified for potential "urban" residential subdivision in the future (marked by horizontal red lines) around Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads/Ocean Shores. Contributed Byron Shire Council

Mr Pugh said the other two new "towns" near Byron Bay - one southeast of Ewingsdale on Balraith Lane, the other at Skinners Shoot on Yager's Lane - would be even bigger than the controversial West Byron development.

"Byron (Bay) can't even cope with West Byron let alone another two towns four times of West Byron," Mr Pugh said.

He said identifying new land for development would "let the genie out of the bottle".

"There will be people buying those properties with the hope of developing them," he said.

"It's a nightmare for the future of Byron."

But Mr Pugh's criticisms have been rubbished by Byron councillor Diane Wood (pictured below), who has dubbed them "misinformation" and "scare tactics".

Diane Wood. standing for Byron Council
Diane Wood. standing for Byron Council

Cr Wood said the draft plan was only a "broad scale" identification of areas suitable for some kind of subdivision in the future, based on general criteria like the quality of the roads and its proximity to schools and services.

While she said she would probably oppose any urban-style rezoning in the areas Mr Pugh referred to as new "towns", Cr Wood said Byron Shire needed to take control of its development in order to thrive.

"We need to do something definitely to stop all the illegal development going on out there, where people are building dwellings, council aren't getting their rates, (but) we have illegal sewerage, and we have more cars on the road," Cr Wood said.

"I know someone who's got three houses on his property, and I bet you he hasn't been to Council to get approval for two of them."

"How about you allow some development so we can get a bigger rate base… and stop people doing it behind our back."

"We need people to know that we would give fair consideration to a proposal."

She added that there was huge parcels of arable land lying fallow because its owners weren't able to work it, would be better off subdivided into smaller manageable plots.

And she said "fear-mongering" about development in Byron Shire had a long history.

"This is another ploy coming into a new election to come out with these furphies and mistruths to make everyone think we're all running to develop the Shire… it's just not going to happen."

Thumbs up from planning expert

Southern Cross University planning expert Dr Elizabeth O'Brien said Byron Shire Council was facing a "multi-dimensional and very complex balancing act" in its quest to manage its development.

But she said the draft plan stacked up from a planning point of view.

"They've followed the letter of the planning law in terms of how they've progressed the strategy," Dr O'Brien said.

She said Byron Shire Council had to consider how to boost its relatively low socioeconomic ratings and poor financial outlook while preserving its environment.

"If you're going to lift yourself out of that… you've got to have employment, you've got to have the infrastructure," she said

"I'm not [simply] pro-development, I'm not pro-growth, let me go on record as saying that, but you've got to look at the future interests of the economy combined with residents and combined with the income groups that you've got.

"You can't just pull up the drawbridge and think everything's going to be hunky dory."

She also said the clusters of potential urban subdivisions identified in the plan made sense.

"The more you have these little hubs… where you've got a critical mass of housing and people, you've got a greater ability to access services," she said.

The areas identified in the plan, situated close to key towns such as Mullum and Byron Bay also worked well for an ageing population, Dr O'Brien said, by ensuring people could live in rural areas that were close to essential services.

The draft rural land strategy is on display on Byron Shire Council's website until May 20.

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