We need to Talk About This: Good Development vs Bad Post Flooding

April 27th, 2022

Our region is on the cusp of some serious decision making. Post-flood, the state government is asking us to come up with some ideas on how to rebuild. The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation is a new entity created by the state government to orchestrate post-flood recovery. This could be a big opportunity to fund some much-needed housing but we will have to be quick and nimble to take advantage of it.

The NRRC is offering funding and support to the seven Northern Rivers shires to build back better. They are able to fast-track major infrastructure and flood-proof residential developments. It will have the power to compulsorily acquire land and rezone it. For a region with a dire housing crisis, this could be a unique opportunity, and the NRRC is seeking submissions from the public on what we want to do. We have to have ideas ready as this will all start on July 1st. As a shire with such a history of division and procrastination, will we be ready to move on this?

Council ALSO has a plan

Coincidentally, Byron Shire Council just closed the public exhibition and submission process for its Community Strategic Plan. This plan takes us through to 2032. It’s pretty inoffensive and bland. A lot of it was devised through a community consultation process which heard that what the community wants is more mundane than visionary.  We want things like potholes fixed, better public transport, improvements to parking and traffic, reliable waste and sewage services, etc.

These are all worthy requests but they are a long way from far-sighted planning. This is not a problem just for us here but is an issue around the world. When you ask most established, affluent communities what they want the usual answer is “No big changes please”.

The Two Paths

We are at a crossroads. We can proceed with business as usual and make minor tweaks as outlined by the council’s strategic plan. Or we can decide to take up the opportunity being offered by the NRRC and future proof with some changes.

The council’s plan will mean we stay on the current trajectory with the by-product being we become a super-wealthy enclave keeping development at a minimum. Property prices will remain out of reach for most and key workers and service providers will have to commute from Lismore and Tweed shires.

The alternative is to opt for a more diverse and demographically mixed shire. This will require not only higher density living, but also compromise and listening to the needs of those who do not currently have a voice. The present planning regime means new housing gets built where people do not want to live. No new housing is built where people want to live because the well off and established already live there and object to it. Is that fair?

Our community is currently split between the anti-development left and pro density left. Unfortunately, the left never gets to win elections or set the agenda because they can never agree. I too would like to turn back the clock and live in the sleepy, hippy town from decades ago. But as I pointed out in the last issue, that is now out of reach as Byron is simply not that place anymore. Opting for change is the least bad of these two alternatives.

Better planning

Development is understandably a dirty word in our region because most of the development forced upon us is ugly and benefits a few over the many. There are plenty of examples of excellent planning around the world but this is hard to introduce here as the process does not favour innovation or master planning multiple titles.

Also, community consultation never really delivers good planning. This is because the community you are consulting mostly wants self-preservation and the status quo. Any really visionary elected local official does not get to stay elected because major changes are opposed by the voters. This dilemma is very neatly outlined here in this article in The Atlantic. I encourage everyone to read it.

We have been doing some good planning already. The Byron, Mullumbimby and Bangalow master plans have been happening very successfully. Some of these changes have now been introduced and embraced by the community – after initial resistance. These master plan panels include volunteer community members who are contributing ideas and input. What we now need is a shire wide LGA master plan. Are we up for it?

3 Replies to “We need to Talk About This: Good Development vs Bad Post Flooding”

  1. Thanks Michael I live in Byron and understand that change is coming however as a community we need to embrace and manage the change, we cant stop it… I also support Chris comments and Mark dream vision.

  2. Thanks Michael. This begs us for a vision bigger than any individual or group. Mark Swivel posted a dream vision well worth absorbing into planning decisions. Damon Gameau’s films offer practical steps for a better planet (not much on housing but he could take this on) and we need that larger type of vision to be set and to inform all actions moving forward. With VISION then planning aligns. Does this add to and support the big picture or not? Then easy to Move quickly to say yes and or no as needed and save time and money on bad decisions that push up costs and stress.

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