Our Own Little Brexit?
Most things fail without a good plan. A settlement strategy is the planning process that a council uses to map out where it wants to be in the years ahead. Byron Shire has had a disastrous history of even agreeing upon a plan, let alone implementing it. The last council almost had one ready to pass, only for it to be scuttled in the dying days of its term.
BSC is currently calling for submissions for the ‘community consultation’ phase of its next attempt. I think this is where it all goes wrong. Anyone who has been watching this for a while will know the outcome: no one will agree.
These ‘strategies’ verge on our own little Brexit: proposals which even in their conception divide the community, with detail which creates even more division and outcomes no-one can predict – except that probably everyone other than lawyers will be worse off.
20 years? Tell ‘em they’re dreaming.
The ‘Draft Residential Strategy’ is a ’20 year framework that tackles residential housing’ in the Shire’s townships. This is separate from Council’s “Rural Residential Strategy”, which itself has been lost in space with disputed amendments, obfuscation and delay. Council has already done some community consultation on the residential strategy to ascertain what stakeholders actually want. Here is the community input on what makes a livable neighbourhood:
- allow people to walk and cycle as often as possible
- easy access to work, the village centre and community services
- allow people to grow their own food
- energy and water is used efficiently and waste is reduced
- friendly and safe neighbourhoods
- habitats conserved to ensure biodiversity.
Sounds pretty good so far, yes? But this is where the rubber hits the road. All these ‘feel-good’ proposals sound indisputable in theory but implementing them is a nightmare in practice. That would actually mean the NIMBY’s throughout the Shire would have to agree to allow things to actually happen and Council would actually have to find the funds to pay for them. Which is the reason so many sensible and noble proposals drift off into the never-never.
Where, how and when
However, let’s try not to be too cynical and push on anyway. The North Coast Regional Plan 2036 (NCRP) anticipates that the population of Byron Shire will increase to 37,950 by 2036. Numbers in Byron/Sunrise and Mullumbimby are expected to increase by 30%, Bangalow, Bruns and OS by 10% and Suffolk by 5%.
Council hopes that Byron Bay will supply 650 new house sites on the still unapproved West Byron development, 152 on council-owned land on Bayshore Drive and 20 more west of Kendall St, Belongil. Plus there is space for 143 new lots in Suffolk Park.
Mullum apparently has room for more infill, as well almost 2,000 new residents. One of the new land releases is known as Mullum South. This is the four large parcels of land stretching from Argyle St south of Ann St, and includes the site known as Lot 22 that includes Mullum Community Gardens, and the land east of the Mullum Farm Coop. This may be council’s most bold and controversial proposal as it includes social, sustainable, senior and affordable housing options as well as a town by-pass. See map below. Council also has its eye on the old Mullum Hospital site for a mix of community facilities, social housing and development.
Brunswick Heads has another 280 new sites in Brunswick Bayside. Bangalow is to supply 37 infill sites and 239 new subdivision sites.
Council is right in recognising the need for more diversity in housing options. Past planning has really only delivered two mainstream forms of housing: residential subdivisions providing 2,3 or 4 bedroom houses, or units.
As no single housing type can satisfy everyone’s household requirements, it is important to provide greater housing mix and choice in the Shire. This will make it easier to cater to our residents including young adults and the elderly, people with a disability, empty nesters wanting to downsize, lone-person households and new family units. Housing also needs to be accessible for households on very low, low and moderate incomes.
Who would have guessed in 1999 that in twenty years Byron would have surpassed Sydney with the most expensive median house price in Australia? ($987,500 v $920,000.) Who would have thought 20 years ago that a house in Mullum would be pushing the million-dollar mark? But these things have come to pass.
A Spoon Full of Medicine
Cr Paul Spooner, in a letter to The Echo earlier this month addressing the ‘need to change with the times’ criticized what he called Byron Shire’s ‘ostrich politics’ – our head-in-the-sand approach to decision making.
‘Refusing to adequately plan for community infrastructure [has left us with] crappy roads not out of place in the backwaters of a third-world country … and ‘stopping tourism developments may have saved a snail, but it delivered a town of holiday lets on steroids increasingly devouring a community.’
Will it work?
Both of Council’s planning options – infill and greenfields development – are going to get pushback from the community. Infill development often gets a negative reaction from neighbours wary of density, loss of amenity and extra traffic. But large greenfield residential development is even more on the nose with Byron locals – West Byron being a case in point.
Council has a veritable shopping list of ‘new and improved’ recipes for living in the 21st Century. Lifestyle options can include Micro Home Lots (100m2); Intentional Communities; Pocket Neighbourhoods; Senior and Disability Communities; Live/workspaces (like Byron’s Habitat development, but hopefully not as pricey); New Gen Boarding Houses (12-25m2 bed-studios); Indigenous Community Land Trusts; plus more.
Byron Council is also fighting the NSW ‘Low Rise Medium Density Code’. This will fast track medium density approvals for many urban lots – commonly known as ‘Manor Houses’. Council needs to be supported against this fast track development option as it could destroy amenity and character in our towns and villages. And this is our challenge. If we don’t develop our own way, we risk being overrun by crass, easy, ugly high density.
Byron Shire should be proud of its engaged and passionate community. But too often we jump to conclusions and form opinions about issues before we educate ourselves about all the factors at play. Add to this the dilemma of the present Byron Council as Greens councillors face criticism from other Greens members for losing their ‘Deep Green’ cred, and Byron is facing significant planning challenges.
I think the Shire is at a fork in the road. The pressures of residential demand and escalating house prices require us to make planning decisions for the long-term. Just as we have done for decades, we need to embrace change before it overwhelms us. We cannot afford to stand still – or put our head in the sand.
You can look at the proposals for the residential strategy here and have your say by making a submission by October 11.