Byron Council’s Housing Scorecard

April 27th, 2023

The reasons for the housing crisis are varied and complex. Local councils have very little control over many of the levers that cause this problem but it can influence the supply side. Byron Shire, both council and residents, understandably want to protect the environment against inappropriate over-development. But it is necessary to also recognise how no, or minimal development, can restrict housing supply and community cohesion.

False Narrative

The housing crisis we are suffering from has engendered much discussion and debate. But what does Byron Shire Council’s housing history and future really look like? I appreciate all our councillors’ hard work doing a difficult job with very little support or financial benefit. But a couple of our local councillors have been consistently promoting a narrative that is not what is actually happening on the ground.

The Byron Residents Group is an umbrella organisation of local activists who are very vocal and opinionated. They have become the mouthpiece for unrestrained NIMBYism. They formulated a document in 2019 that lays the claim that ‘BSC is constantly exceeding its housing production targets’. They then go on to state that all of these houses that are being constructed are quickly siphoned off into the Short-Term Holiday Rental market and that is why we have such an acute housing shortage. There is no evidence to support this.

Planning realities

1. All NSW councils are required to have a planning strategy that outlines housing and employment lands to be provided for future needs. The NSW Department of State Planning has to endorse and approve the plans to help roll out infrastructure like schools, roads, and hospitals. Byron Shire Council is supposed to have delivered a planning strategy to take us from 2016 to 2036.  It is now 2023, year 8 of this 20-year delivery period. No endorsed strategy exists and no committed completion date is known. In contrast, Lismore City Council after the flood, prepared and completed a new strategy for housing and employment lands within 12 months.

2. Because Byron Council has not completed its required strategy, the state government’s North Coast Regional Plan is not able to identify an essential supply of housing and employment lands. Question: is Byron LGA missing out on infrastructure upgrades and grants as a consequence of this failure? It would be nice to know.

3. One successful initiative of Byron Council is that it has completed and gazetted an Affordable Housing Contribution Scheme: 20% of newly zoned land for residential purposes is placed in public ownership and used solely for affordable housing in perpetuity. This potential pipeline of serviced and zoned land for community-owned housing is waiting for Council to finally zone something, somewhere, anywhere. 20% of nothing is still nothing.


With this in mind, it is hard to reconcile that BSC is in oversupply with its housing pipeline. This Byron Residents Group report already mentioned claims that 40% of the housing proposed in the Draft Residential Strategy (2016-2036) has already been supplied in 2022. Therefore, the council should be resting on its laurels.

However, Byron Shire does not collect, or make available, local data on the delivery of housing and employment lands, so it cannot be verified. Why is this data not available? There is now a digital portal and collecting this information and putting it onto a Housing and Land Supply Monitor for community input should be pretty simple.

There seems to be a wide disconnect going on. The housing crisis is certain to get a lot worse but we seem incapable of even planning for, nether mind delivering, anything that could help. There is no evidence to support the claim that we are delivering sufficient housing already – especially in relation to a residential strategy that is fiction at best

The actual Scorecard

Since BSC has failed to deliver its residential strategy there are no new major development projects on the horizon for Byron Shire. We still have some historical rezonings that have commenced but are yet to be completed. Here is the scorecard:

  • Tallowwood Estate in Mullumbimby has only one or two more stages of approx. 50 house sites to deliver before being full.
  • West Byron and Brunswick Bayside are new residential rezonings that were passed through state planning. They took over 20 years to work through the system so should not be called new. Because they went through State there are no affordable housing components in them.
  • Two smaller greenfield subdivisions (30-40 large residential lots) were allowed to proceed in the previous rural residential strategy. One is on Alidenes Road to the west of Mullum, and the other is McAuley’s Lane, just to the east. Both should be coming online in the next few years.
  • There are still a few remaining Community Title subdivisions in Coorabell still in process from the old MO2CT rezonings that happened years ago.
  • Nearly all of the above will be residential land retailing at steep prices. The affordable housing menu is even more woeful. A handful of units in The Rail Yard development south of BSC chambers became available and managed by a CHP (Community Housing Provider). The affordable housing unit development proposed above the car park at 57 Station Street Mullumbimby has met with problems as they can find no Community Housing Provider to partner with.
  • All of the shire’s industrial estates are full and bursting at the seams. The demand for new business parks and industrial units is as extreme as it is for residential. In October 2020, BSC released a BISL – Business and Industrial Lands Strategy. This now sits on a shelf in the council and many of our thriving businesses have left the shire, taking their rates and workers with them.
  • As of 2021, 46% of workers live in Byron Bay. 28.6% live and commute from our neighbouring shires while the remainder live in the hinterland. This will be increasing quickly with the lack of local housing and rental.
  • The flood recovery temporary pods installed in Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads were completed by NRRC so do not count as wins on the BSC ledger.
Not Easy

Solving the housing crisis is not easy anywhere. Especially in a place with high demand and exorbitant real estate prices. It is starting from a high bar. Byron Council’s housing scorecard is a fail at best. Getting caught up in false narratives and giving oneself a higher score when not warranted is not a good start. Learning from what others are doing in other places is a better place to start. Here are a few proposals that are happening – in other locations!

South London, UK

This example from The Guardian explains how a citizen’s housing committee led the way in developing a housing block on publicly owned land. The group instituted an excellent way to fund it and how to keep it permanently locked in as affordable housing in a Community Land Trust. Ironically, ex-Byron Councilor, Paul Spooner and ex-mayor Simon Richardson spent a lot of time and energy creating a CLT – but nothing has happened with it.

Lexington, Massachusetts, USA

This story from the New Yorker outlines how a town in the USA, much like Byron Bay, managed to build a community-owned affordable housing development that was first proposed in the 70s. It is interesting to see that the resistance and opposition to multi-family developments are the same everywhere. The planning solution they used in this one is very neat.


This Sydney Morning Herald article follows the conflict over density rezoning in the inner west. It is interesting as the newly elected Greens candidate for the seat of Balmain in the NSW parliament came out in favour of the plan and was predictably heckled. The Greens are starting to realise they are losing support from the youth (their primary demographic) who are the sufferers in the housing crisis. Younger voters, who are naturally inclined to the Greens, are turning into YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yard) in opposition to the older Green voters who are usually NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard).

What to do?

Byron Shire needs to look this problem in the eye. It is not Airbnb that is taking all the houses. Yes, it does have a small part to play but at 8.5% of all housing, it cannot be the main cause. We are not over-delivering on housing supply. We need to accept and be comfortable with more medium-density, multi-family dwellings in our towns and villages. We need two or three new villages. We need more of us to be YIMBYs, not NIMBYs.

8 Replies to “Byron Council’s Housing Scorecard”

  1. bring on villages in Myocum. 200 houses in each. Others in the pocket. Tyagarah road, Main arm rd, Left bank road
    I read a statewide story re developers buying land zoned for housing, then holding onto the land to increase price. At any given time there is 7 years worth of rezoned land waiting for developer – point is that developers cry that land is not being released by govt when often shortage is not real, simply developers pushing shortage idea to increase prices. It may be different in Byron. If only council could buy land at farming acres price, (ie, at $4-5k/acre, tops, then affordable housing can actually be affordable, not just pegged to % of regular pricing) then rezone, then go into partnership with developer, rather than rezone so land now $200k+/acre. ie, prevent developers from making windfall profits.

  2. Excellent article. Council have omitted to purchase land for decades until now we have unaffordable prices for them to pay also.

  3. Totally agree with being a Yimby Micheal, and bring on the LCT!
    As a home and Business owner in Mullumbimby I feel the council is restrictive and blind. More land more housing. Why is it so difficult for BSC?

  4. A great article . Land supply for housing in Byron Shire is very limited. Between the community objections & the cumbersome planning requirements of the State Government we have reached a situation where essential workers cannot afford to reside in the Shire.
    We all want to protect our environment but between the Council and the State Government there needs to be a honest think tank as to suitable locations for medium density as well as locations for single dwellings.
    It can be done, but the resistors thinking they improve the world by not allowing sufficient housing supply are not actually improving the environment

    1. Thank you, Ray. That means a lot to hear coming from such a well-informed ex-council management member.

  5. It all seems unnecessarily complicated, and in the extreme.

    Rather than seeking insight and inspiration from highly dense populations that are failing worse than we are (UK, US and big Australian cities), we need a bit of humble pie and should look to some of the simple lifestyles of rural Asia.

    While some of us sit back with our 1st world problems, surveying our surroundings worried about cosmetic appeal, urban sprawl and maintaining value, our fellow Australians, many of them to be our children, will never own and will either leave or work themselves to an early grave just trying to maintain the most basic of human rights… shelter, food and the right to raise a family. That’s the ones that we love who don’t become homeless and die.

    In this day and age, with the obvious onset of homelessness and inevitable collapse of a capitalist approach to securing a comfortable life we have to ask some important questions?

    Why can’t people put several self-sustained tiny or mobile homes that have no impact on services whatsoever on their properties?

    Would we rather see them in the street, sleeping in bus stops, beaches, vans scattered all over the place? That arguably places more pressure on services. Perhaps we’d sooner usher their “unsightliness” out of the shire to make them someone else’s problem? That’s more like Byron residents who are “alright Jack”.

    Ask anyone under financial duress and at risk of homelessness or who is actually homeless, almost all of them would take a thatched hut behind a hill any day of the week, short of being resigned to their terminal homeless predisposition brought on by mental illness, developed by the stress of becoming homeless, rejected by their own people.

    Dying an early death from homelessness is real. Dying from the cold or illness arising from it or being homeless is common.

    Why too are there properties with no dwelling entitlement? Honestly, this is positively criminal as well.

    Why can’t someone with scores of acres sell off smaller parcels for the express purpose of self sustained living that follows a fresh and simple set of enforced self-sustainable guidelines?

    Is it any wonder why people are so angry, on behalf of their kids if not on behalf of themselves.

    Talk of “relief” walks a fine line between enough to make people not question the perks and comforts they do have, vs picking up a pitch fork and walking onto peoples’ properties and taking some space by force. There is only so much people can take and the burdened community will snap at some point.

    I don’t think we all realise just how increasingly angry people are, in the face of all the BS that doesn’t simply deliver simple rights for every day people, and now.

    Who are we to judge these people for taking matters into their own hands when they literally cannot survive because the system has regulated them out into the cold.

    What a cluster duck indeed.

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