The Vision Thing, by Cr Mark Swivel

April 29th, 2022

The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation offers a historic opportunity to achieve generational change. It can help us prepare for the future challenges of climate change, try to compensate for policy failures of the recent decades and deliver a real plan for community development. The key will be to sell a ‘Masterplan’ for the whole of Byron Shire and beyond.

Looking Back

On 12 May 2040 for my 74th birthday, I look forward to riding from Habitat where I still live to Billinudgel along the Bundjalung Bikeway for an ale in the beer garden. The town is a-buzz, now the three-time defending Green Wall Vertical Garden champion of NSW. 500 people live here. Everywhere you see is green. The industrial estate is all thriving mixed small businesses pocked by tiny homes on stilts, with a few groovy family capsule homes and even a pet hotel behind the vets. Under the 2032 Food Security Act, the village is ringed by veggie plots. Every landowner must hit market garden yield targets or pay penalty rates to the council. I passed 6 new villages on the way, all built-in 12 months after the 2022 floods …

I’m telling you stories but you get my drift. Our communities will change. But we’ll only get the change we want if we spell out exactly what we want. The alternative narrative is that Byron Shire becomes a hollowed-out holiday town where only the rich live. A tropical Monaco. Rents so high our quirky small businesses were taken over by chains. Our less well-off families moved to Wollongbar and Casino to live on affordable ‘estates’ long ago – between 2022 and 2025. The pressure was too much and money won the day, as it’s been winning for years. But at least the Casino Music Festival attracts the best young acts from around the world since starting in 2031. Legendary Byron band Parcels begin their farewell tour at Casino on 1 June 2040. But that’s enough!

So here’s the plan

A Masterplan for Byron Shire – for the LGA. That is the story we need to tell the world – and the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC). We have the bones in our existing ‘plans’ but not the body we need. We have a masterplan for Byron and Bangalow, and they’re good. We’ve started one for Federal. For some reason, Ocean Shores doesn’t have one (overlooked again!). The whole shire needs a ‘boss’ of a plan covering our homes and farms and businesses. One integrated strategy. Our different plans – the residential, real and business & industrial ‘strategies’ – need to be clarified, coordinated and accelerated.

Byron will be bigger by 2040. We’ll have a lot more humans in the shire – maybe 50,000 (up from 35,000). But our community will be alive and inclusive, supported by flourishing businesses making the most of our people’s extraordinary talents and skills. Our Byron LGA Masterplan must address long term structural problems. Starting with the right infrastructure platform, a proactive plan for our future for business and above all for how we provide homes for our people.

This is where the NRRC comes in. They have the power to cut through red tape and roadblocks. So let’s use that to our advantage. The NRRC need to know what we want. They need to know what they are ‘reconstructing’. A Byron LGA masterplan (assembled at light speed) can orient and direct the work of the NRRC. Without it the approach the results will be piecemeal and minimalist, determined by the agenda of the state government. Their priorities for reconstruction will almost certainly be different from ours. We should position ourselves as part of a regional response that achieves local (LGA) outcomes as part of the overall effort.< I hope on my 74th birthday I can look back and say: we pitched our vision to the NRRC of what we could become and our Byron Shire Masterplan changed everything after years of stagnation and frustration.

We must tell the NRRC that a viable and sustainable community is the best way to prepare for climate change, a growing population and managing the social pressures of the community. For the impacts and the disasters to come. Future-proofing. Reimagining. Resilience is what people already do (putting up with things). Reconstruction is enhancement (betterment if you like) – is starting again and aiming high!

We have around 15,000 homes right now. We’re lucky to grow at 350 a year. If we double that rate we might approach another 10,000 homes by 2040. We can only get there by planning proactively – developing dwellings on government and private land to a clear accelerated strategy to meet complex social objectives – young families and established ones. Single mums and essential workers. Downsizing grandparents and disable friendly places. All at once.

LGA Masterplan

Here’s my outline for a Byron Shire LGA Masterplan. Let’s plan for a population of 50,000 by 2040, with up to 10,000 new homes by then. We have new villages along the railway corridor and one in Myocum. Owners and renters have Landcare obligations to enhance our wildlife corridors and wetlands. We deliver the current affordable projects on the stocks within 12 months (we all know the list). By July 2023. We allow MOs and CTs to have secondary dwellings immediately. We do social housing including an indigenous land trust, women’s refuge, and mental health halfway houses. We use a community – and agricultural – land trust model to decouple from the market (otherwise money carries the day, every day). We invest in infrastructure to modernise drains and sewerage, floodproofing is built into all new development, we do a flood audit to rule out development on flood-prone land.

We incentivise water tanks and wall batteries everywhere. DCPs require green walls and market gardens. We create 2 industrial hubs on the M1 motorway and move the Byron Industrial council depot to Gulgan Rd in 2025. We create a farm co-op owned by council, operated by small farmers serving farmers’ markets. We deliver a house raising plan that applies to all houses (not just those built before 1986) – and move to higher altitudes. Flood compromised properties should be able to be sold voluntarily to the state government as after the 2017 floods. The compulsory acquisition should be an absolute last resort where housing is objectively no longer viable. Mini-buses and bike paths need investment to connect our communities in a nimble, practical way that will deliver maximum mobility to our communities – especially in disaster or climate event scenarios as we discovered in the floods. This, obviously, is only a ’sketch’ …

Future dreaming

In 2040, 10 per cent of our population lives in affordable housing projects and we have smaller medium density housing for young families and older people downsizing. A council-owned community land trust is home across the shire to young families, older downsizers and has rental properties for key workers, along with shops that offer a return for the council. Our council farming coop is booming and has its own market in Ocean Shores. Electric minibuses and bikes keep us connected. Bike paths and bridges link our communities. Every single sports field has a market garden and mini reservoir. Cafes, microbreweries, farm stores, galleries and council-owned electric charge stations pepper the landscape. The Bundjalung cultural centre is the centrepiece of our new tourism experience connected to heritage – for all our rich histories here – as much as ‘fun and sun’.

The Masterplan

Our Byron Shire Masterplan needs to incorporate key learnings and measures in response to the floods. We need extra resources to ‘fast-track’ DAs and financial support for owners who are rebuilding. Temporary accommodation should not be separated from longer-term housing, we need one eye always on the future. We should lobby for fiscal incentives – tax breaks – for investment in new affordable housing. We should lobby for rent reform – controls on rent levels and increases, evictions and the impact of natural disasters. Our disaster risk management policy must be reformed – enabling volunteers through Good Samaritan protection and reinsurance schemes for natural disasters. The West Byron project should be reviewed for increased flood risk by the NRRC. The impact on NCCH (North Coast Community Housing) properties must be addressed – the destruction to our limited and ageing social housing stock is massive. Our Telcos need to step up – we are a globally wired community with obviously sub-standard, patchy tech that was exposed by the floods.

On ‘AirBnB’ or STRA, absentee owners should pay a vacancy tax, all visitors should pay a bed tax and un-hosted STRA should be regulated as businesses with permitted use approvals required from 2025. Stamp duty revenue should be recycled into Byron LGA to help fund the Byron LGA Masterplan programs. We should roll all these things into the story we tell to the NRRC. This, obviously, is only a ’sketch’ …

Emergency Planning

In 2040 we will have mini evacuation centres for every block of 500 people. 100 across the shire. We will have a community disaster drill we are all trained in – and the new Emergency Squad takes charge in any crisis. Understanding chaos and finding order in it, through clear lines for cooperation and communication. Every community has satellite phones. All the agencies have integrated plans to get people working in teams in ‘chaos’. We have insurance for disaster volunteers. There is a regional inventory of pod homes in industrial estates – ready for deployment for fire, flood or tsunami. We run world-leading courses on disaster response. Our drains and sewers are the absolute top priority in council operations.


The Byron Shire LGA Masterplan sets the goal, we then work backwards to change the zoning and rules to meet the vision with the NRRC. The cart leads the horse right now. It doesn’t have to, it really doesn’t. It is ridiculous to work through the dizzying complexity of our planning instruments. The EPA and the maze of planning regulations sit like a festering cloud of acid rain over this beautiful land. It is bad law, badly designed, poorly understood, endlessly contested (with money nearly always carrying the day). It is an unworkable mess. The NRRC is empowered to cut through that mess.

So, let’s go to the state government and sell our vision splendid. We have a housing summit coming up in May. We have loads of great people at council, who know how to do things. We have local architects, developers and builders. We can learn from elsewhere, too – whether it’s the designers of Kyiv making temporary homes in wartime, Nightingale in Melbourne, Alpha house in Newtown or the surprisingly innovative Orange council. We can bring in new blood to complement our existing team. And if not, why not?

Some will say ‘this is social engineering’ – and they would be right. There is always something engineering our communities. Back in the 70s it was the counter culture. From the 90s it was tourism. For the last ten years, it has been ‘AirBnB’ and private property. Over time, money has been the rising engineer of our community. The only way to change that is by developing a plan based on identified and sensible social outcomes. Byron shire will still be an unequal community with a huge disparity in income. That’s life. The market forces unleashed by recent decades can only be managed not stopped. Even a massive planning effort will only achieve a relatively modest outcome. Sad to say.

We have so little time. The floods showed what we can do. So, so much. The cooperation across the community. The philanthropy, the volunteering. The latent energy and teamwork are released for all to see in its creative power. The impulse to help and solve. The job of government is to see and acknowledge what we can do, to enable the community we want to create, and to act today to make it happen. Let’s unleash that energy and creativity on planning our future community.

Let’s tell and sell the NRRC our vision splendid: the Byron Shire Masterplan for the community we plan to be. The people demanded the NRRC and the state government responded. Good on them. The process can deliver for us if we tell the story well. It is an opportunity. All change starts with boldness, with taking your chance. Seeing the hope, not the obstacles (which are always, predictably, there). We have until 1 July 2022 when the NRRC starts work. We can do this. You better believe it. Everyone will have their own ideas and I want to hear them. Our future starts today! Are you in?

Mark Swivel 25 April 2022

Related Articles

How to Vote?
Council Elections – What You Need To Know

4 Replies to “The Vision Thing, by Cr Mark Swivel”

    1. Hi Julianne, Mark is only one councillor amongst nine. It would be best to lobby the other councillors to adopt for a more visionary program than the one they already have.

  1. Dream on. In 2040, Byron will be a cross between Malibu and Monaco.
    Only rich people live there. West Byron is a mess of cookie mega mansion estates for the aspirational working class. Poor people, street people booted up the Queensland. The fights over zoning will lead to a court of the Land and Environment court in permanent session in Byron. There have been shootings of Town Planners and the mysterious death of a ‘connected’ developer. Roads and conjestion are a problem. the fights to build cycle paths is nasty, nasty and pits neighbour against neighbour. Ocean Shores is now a slum and Suffolk Park has voted to become a gated community. There are festivals every other weekend, all profitable and well attended. However everyone lives in caravans and tent cities and in other small towns as there is now a de facto ban on air BnB as you have to have mega insurance to let out accommodation. There are small shops, and a thriving market, which blocks roads every weekend, and the pro and con of continuing the market leads to physical fights in the Council chambers.
    But in 2040….stilll everybody still wants to live there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real Estate Buyers Agent



    • Since 1999

      250+ happy clients

    • $310 mil

      Properties sold across the Northern Rivers

    • 1 in 5

      Properties purchased off market

    Recent Posts

    Recent Comments