Employment Lands Strategy

March 27th, 2020

Anyone who has visited the Byron Arts and Industry Estate lately will see it is full to overflowing. Equally, all the other industrial estates in Bangalow, Mullumbimby and Billinudgel are close to capacity. One aspect of the North Coast Regional Plan, however, is to provide well-functioning centres of employment. Employment lands strategy may be the next step from business and industrial land strategy but what does it really mean?

This current council strategy, BILS – Business and Industrial Land Strategy, is part of its obligation to the current regional plan. It is a proposal that more locals should be aware and supportive of, although certain activists, sections of the media and a few ‘Just Say No’ councillors seem determined to wreck it. But I believe the strategy is necessary. It will cater to the growing demand for live/work developments, create more appropriate, smaller, sustainable industrial parks and importantly for all, lessen traffic along Ewingsdale Road.

A New Form of Business Park

The new type of industrial estate, or Eco-Business Park, is a built space designed to house the kinds of businesses rapidly becoming the new normal. Old style Industrial Estates house familiar light industry and services – landscape suppliers, mechanics, and small-scale manufacturing. Regionally, these businesses also require more space and we still need to cater to them. The other type of commercial activity, the shops and retail precincts in our town centres and villages, are already fairly well supplied.

But there is growing demand for modern style Business Parks. This is particularly important in Byron Shire, which is rapidly becoming a vibrant hub for Creative Industries and entrepreneurial businesses in such areas as IT, eCommerce, ‘knowledge businesses’, food and specialty produce, bespoke manufacturing, health and wellness and architecture and design studios. The Northern Rivers is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia for the creative industries. You can read more about this in a previous article in this newsletter here – “Byron Dreaming – Where will We Be in 10 Years”.

What does a Business Park look like?

A purpose-built Business Park looks different from a traditional industrial estate, which must often accommodate large-site factories and warehouses. A purpose-built BP would consist of one and two-storey buildings houses clusters of small businesses within a park-like setting. It would have open space and common facilities such as conference rooms, cafés and childcare areas. It would look something like a university campus.

The Byron Arts and Industrial Estate grew organically into what is now a Byron-style Business Park. It is a diverse hybrid of often-unapproved live/work businesses, where many business owners live in the lofts and studios above. (It could be called the land of the illegal kitchen.) A planned Business Park, however, can be purpose-built to separate noisy and toxic businesses away from arts, lifestyle and creative industries. A good example of an established mixed-use development is Habitat on Bayshore Drive, Byron Bay. It is thriving and its new release of small units was quickly sold.

Employment Lands Strategy: Possible Locations

Council is looking at five parcels of land as potential sites to be rezoned. The sites are under consideration are 1 and 2: Expand the present Billinudgel and Mullumbimby Industrial Estates. 3 and 4: Gulgan Road East and West is the land either side of the highway at the Mullumbimby/Gulgan Road exit. Site 5 is the land on Saddle Road, just west of Brunswick Heads, which Council knocked back last year for the Brunswick Eco Village.

Problems to Overcome

One objection is that this is simply too much land. But Council knows that not all these proposed sites will be approved. It has put forward all these sites in order to do due process and pick the most suitable.
Most of the sites will have to overcome flooding issues. Industrial parks generally have to be on flat land close to the highway. While business parks can be on higher or sloping land, the provision of services such as power and waste removal must still be resolved. The options under consideration need to be fully investigated and if found to have merit, can proceed through the appropriate rezoning and DA stages.

This will be a long process and will include a great deal of community consultation. But it needs to start soon, especially in light of the disruption caused by Covid-19, it is clear. Those who have been watching this space will know that the shortage of suitably approved land has become ever more urgent as demand has increased. The situation is now critical and a few of our iconic local businesses and brands may be forced to leave the shire unless something is resolved soon. Especially in light of the disruption caused by Covid-19, it is clear the local economy cannot continue to be so dependent on tourist income.

Related Articles

Byron’s Ongoing Housing Debate
Hipster Housing and Business Parks
Byron Dreaming: Where will we be in 10 years?

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