COMMENT: Looming point of no return at West Byron
BALLINA MP Tamara Smith writes:
WITH more than twomillion visitors frequenting Byron Bay each year, a town with just 10,000 permanent residents and a land footprint of only a few square kilometres, to say that we are being 'loved to death' is an understatement.
In the past 20 years, we have seen a phenomenal increase in both the number of tourists visiting Byron and the value of land located within the 2481 postcode. Certainly, the sleepy little town of my childhood, where businesses shut down for the winter and living was cheap, is long gone.
Yet it is important to reflect that while we are a top tourism destination and that tourism is the major economic driver of the town and the shire, we are not (as the bumper stickers says) a commodity - we are a community. Residents of Byron and the surrounding shire put up with ever-increasing traffic issues along Ewingsdale Rd, ever-increasing numbers of people enjoying our beaches, ever-increasing pressures on the infrastructure of the town - all of this without commensurate support from the State Government.
The median weekly household income for a family in Byron Bay, according to the 2016 Census, is $1197. Compare this to the median weekly household income of a family in Vaucluse, Sydney of $2456. But here's the rub - median monthly mortgage repayments for families in both places are almost identical, as are rents.
Extremely high land values and land tax means that Byron landlords can charge mega-rents that include huge outgoings charged to tenant businesses; businesses in turn have to earn more and more money to stay afloat and they pass this on to the consumer. So, not only do we have Sydney-like housing costs, we also have to pay Sydney-like prices in cafes and restaurants.
The two proposed developments for West Byron, I firmly believe, will tip us towards a state of no return. It will be the largest new urban area for Byron Bay in 40 years and we do not simply need new homes in Byron Bay - we need affordable and secure long-term rentals and affordable homes to buy. However, we all know that the land values in the 2481 postcode will preclude this.
These developments, if approved in their current form, will grow the population of residents in Byron from 10,000 to 12,500 with no commensurate improvements to our infrastructure or capacity to absorb an extra 2500 residents physically, ecologically or emotionally.
For residents and tourists, the West Byron development will generate at least an extra 16,000 vehicle trips a day along Ewingsdale Rd post construction. It's hard to imagine Ewingsdale Rd becoming more congested at peak times than it currently is, but imagine you must. While you are at it, imagine onemillion tonnes of landfill imposed on the Cumbebin swamp in order to build the proposed 1100 new residential dwellings.
There is a risk of extinction of Koalas and core koala habitat as well as threatened frog species on the Villaworld site if the development application is accepted. There is a real danger of further pollution of the Belongil Creek from acid sulphate soils as the result of the sheer mass of infill and flood events.
These developments have nothing to do with supporting people to afford to live close to Byron Bay. With current Byron Bay land values, even the smallest house built on the site will cost close to $1million dollars. It is investors who will buy into West Byron and it is investors and the State Government, through land tax and stamp duty, who will profit the most.
There is a very real risk these developments will severely impact on the desirability of Byron Bay as a tourism destination. With more than 1.5million visitors to Byron Bay each year, tourism provides a significant value for the shire and region by attracting people and then dispersing them to the surrounding area. There is an estimated value of tourism to the Byron Shire of $328million, according to the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research (NIEIR) 2016. This represents the largest economic contributor to the shire and provides significant employment. The fragility of destination-based tourism must be recognised and supported, not destroyed by inappropriate development such as West Byron.
There is a long history of protecting the environment and preserving a laid-back way of life in Byron Shire that has been recognised as one of the key factors that influence the desirability of Byron Bay as a tourism and lifestyle destination.
Approving inappropriate West Byron developments at the entrance to Byron Bay would undermine the very way of life that tourists want to come to experience.
We should not underestimate the impact that this mega-development would have on tourism, as well as the environment.