Byron candidates 2021 Q&A part 2

Buckle in, seats upright, and loosen the belt!

It’s time to see what candidates have to say – in full – about our collective issues and suggested solutions.In total, it is 16,010 words!

Some handy hints for you, the incredibly good looking Echo reader: Look for the succinct answers that address the question. Be wary of avoidance and distraction. And waffle, as it generally hides a lack of knowledge or honesty in presenting a thought through position.

1. Transparency and trust

a) If elected, how will you endeavour to improve transparency and trust? Past attempts include a ’solutions panel’, which cost ratepayers tens of thousands of dollars, yet the exercise avoided any real structural reform within the organisation.

Cr Alan Hunter: Trust needs to be earned, not expected. I need to first identify who and what the concern with trust is before I can address the remedy.

Cr Cate Coorey: If elected, I would instigate regular ‘Coffee with a Councillor’ days, where councillors will be available to meet and listen to residents who are struggling to navigate Council processes and who feel frustrated. We will demystify Council, help resolve your problems and make sure you are heard. Additionally, we ensure compliance is applied evenly and fairly when it comes to development. Some people seem to get punished for things, and others get off scott free.

Duncan Dey (Greens): Trust is crucial and it comes about when elected representatives keep their word and deliver principled decisions and publicly explanation of the reasons and justification for decision making.This is the elected role, to serve the community and ensure that decisions are open and that the community is informed.

Transparency: as Greens, we want open and transparent government.We intend to revitalise community engagement by upgrading Council’s website and restoring its previous one; reforming public access at meetings; making council reports more accessible; reducing confidentiality and giving more open access to information (GIPA); returning Council advertising and notices to The Echo; ensuring councillors and community get answers to question, not just ‘responses’.

Asren Pugh (Labor): Council needs to introduce a Community Service Charter. These are used by many councils to ensure that members of the community know what to expect from council with regard to consultation, communication, engagement, decision making and decision times. There are a number of documents that council currently has, including Customer Service Standards, Community Engagement Policy and others. Bringing these together to a single Charter than empowers community members to demand and expect better from council will help transparency and trust.

Chris McIlrath: If elected, I will set up a system where all moneys received and spent can be viewed online as a monthly statement of income and expenditure.  Also, contracts over $50,000 with outside company’s will be able to be viewed by the public, prior to being signed by Council.  

Cr Michael Lyon: Trust is earned over time as people get to know you and how you communicate, what results you achieve and if you show integrity on things like keeping your word. Being open, honest and transparent is essential in building that trust and I seek to do this in all my dealings. I am glad we trialled those new forms of community engagement and they were successful in their own right with many lessons learnt.

Mark Swivel: The real answer lies in clear strategic planning, setting objectives and performance based reporting. Council provides lots of information, but it is piecemeal and confusing. Transparency around the negotiation of projects, contracts and developments should be paramount. Public discussions with key stakeholders including developers are critical. Elected and staff members of council must engage with the community more openly and effectively as an ordinary part of the role. Frankly, it’s about attitude and ethics, creating a culture of disclosure – not another report!

Bruce Clarke: Council has a poor record on both transparency and trust. I am committed to a full review and restructure of Council’s governance, internal procedures and connection with the community. The anticipated outcome will be a Council that is more efficient in its internal processes, more publicly accountable and more responsive to the community.

John Anderson: I will work for the entire removal of the entire senior staff, lawyers included. No protocol you could devise would have any effect on transparency and trust while these people remain in position. Simple as that.

b) If elected mayor, will you keep a public diary detailing what developers, lobbyists and MPs you meet?There is a requirement for MPs at a state level for this, yet at the local level, there is not.

Additionally, will you commit to inviting at least one other councillor (preferably of opposing ideology) to any meeting with such ‘influencers’? In the past five years of Council (at least), this did not occur.

Cr Alan Hunter: If that is what the lack of trust is about, then that is an option I would seriously consider.

I have no objection to this policy of bringing different views to the table is important for consultative decision-making.

Cr Cate Coorey: Yes, it’s in my policies already. I don’t believe in meeting developers without another councillor present, and never have.

Duncan Dey: Yes, I will provide full disclosure of discussion topics and outcomes and a minuted record. I will not meet with developers on my own, I believe there needs to be staff present and all Councillors should be invited. As above, I will invite all Councillors to such meetings.

Asren Pugh (Labor): I would be happy to diaries any meetings with proponents of any development.

Wherever possible I would be happy to invite along other councillors. I think this would be useful, not just from a trust perspective, but by ensuring different perspectives can be gained from any discussion.

Chris McIlrath: Yes, I will keep a diary of meeting with any person wanting to do business or lobby the Council. I would also put it to Council that they appoint a person to attend such meeting with me on a rotational basis.

Cr Michael Lyon: I have no problem with the idea and if this is the will of the new Council to look at options around transparency and inclusivity of other Councillors in any meetings with developers then I am all for it.

Mark Swivel: I support public disclosure (including a register) of meetings, and I would encourage open meetings generally – public forums in which key stakeholders including developers and other businesses can discuss issues with the public and the elected councillors. Key contracts also need to be publicly ventilated to enable scrutiny. Claims of commercial confidence should be challenged where in the public or community interest. I am not sure how ‘opposing ideology’ would be measured, but as a safeguard to encourage transparency and avoid conflicts of interest, we could require councillors to conduct key meetings with another councillor as part of our Code of Conduct.

Bruce Clarke: In principle, yes. I cannot think of any circumstances where this would not be appropriate [for public diary]. I agree in principle [to commit to inviting other councillors to meetings etc], but it would be on a case by case basis.

John Anderson: I doubt if there has been much direct contact between councillors and developers, lobbyists or MPs. The real problem has been the excessive familiarity between staff and councillors; the staff are the real influences, and need to be kept at arms length.

c) Often councillors close the door on the public and media over legal advice, tenders, and other significant commercial decisions. Justification is broad, and keeps the public unaware of what Council does.

Will you commit to making all documents available to the public and be more flexible with what is published? For example, with theByron Shire Bioenergy Facility, theHWLE Procurement Probity Advice (30 August 2021) was kept secret without meaningful explanation. It could have been published with redactions around sensitive costings etc. Additionally, the engineering report for the Disco Dong was also kept confidential, presumably because of the potential embarrassment to Council.

Cr Alan Hunter: Where there is no commercial-in-confidence or legal sensitivity issues, I will support all documents are made available to the public. I have no interest in using the fear of embarrassment alone to restrict the release and publication of information to the community. If there is no legal impediment, I am happy to disclose all appropriate information.

Cr Cate Coorey: Council follows the Tendering Guidelines for NSW Local Government (2009). There is no scope to not do that. There are reasons why Council sometimes keeps documents confidential with tenders and commercial in confidence. Decisions to do this or not are balanced against whether the confidentiality is in the public interest. In some cases I have moved to have sessions of council not confidential, at others not.

Duncan Dey: As Greens, we are committed to open and transparent processes and accountability. I will propose a report that defines the legal framework for confidentiality, and then develop a policy that clearly outlines procedures on confidentiality.There are only limited matters that require full concealment, and there are options such as partial redaction.

This issue extends to community access to information, under GIPA legislation.The public should have access to as much information as possible. Where necessary such as in some legal circumstances, it’s important to protect Council’s position or that of other entities in relation to tenders or commercial matters. In recent times, we have seen too much information withheld from public scrutiny.

Asren Pugh (Labor): My position is that by default documents should be available for public scrutiny. Any decision to keep documents confidential should be done on strict criteria and explained to the community and media. I also support selective redaction of documents in order to minimise the amount of information kept secret.

Chris McIlrath: As mayor, I will do my utmost to make all Council business open to the public, and especially the media.  

Cr Michael Lyon: I am 100 per cent committed to open and transparent government and only vote for confidentially when it is appropriate under the rules, never to ‘hide’ things from the public. It is crucial that councillors and Council owns mistakes if they happen and never hide behind confidentiality.

Mark Swivel: I support maximum public disclosure of local government contracts and plans. If a party to a project insists on confidentiality for commercial reasons then transparency reduces, but that is less a probity failure than a key feature of modern business which discourages transparency. We should encourage maximum disclosure at all times – whether we are talking federal military procurement or local government contracts.

Bruce Clarke: I have had years of experience as an advisor to Federal and State Governments on a range of infrastructure and other issues. I have seen that sometimes it is in the public interest to apply confidentiality, but on far too many occasions it has been used as a cover for ineptitude or embarrassment by decision makers. I can see little reason why Council kept the HWLE or Disc Dong advices confidential. I commit to much greater transparency.

John Anderson: No commercial matter should be decided in secrecy. Generally it has been reasonable to assume that the greater the secrecy, the more suspect the transaction.

2. Rail trail and rail line

a) Will you support a rail trail (which is to remove/cover the tracks/on-formation) or push for a shared rail/trail path (off-formation), as requested by rail supporters?

Cr Alan Hunter: I won’t support any further expenditure on any form of train on the tracks.

Cr Cate Coorey: I support a Multi-Use Rail Corridor to enable public transport, safe cycling and walking in the rail corridor and out of the traffic.

Duncan Dey: Byron Greens is committed in the following order: 1. to keeping the corridor intact and in public hands; 2. to keeping it for public transport; 3. to keeping the rails there for the possibility of future use

Asren Pugh (Labor): It was a terrible decision to remove the trains from our rail corridor, but the time has come to use this community asset that currently sits rotting. There is no funding or desire by any other level of government to fund a return of trains. We need to use the rail corridor in the interests of each community along the corridor. Proposals like the Bangalow use are the way forward. To enable locals to get within and between our towns by walking, riding, skipping or rolling.

Chris McIlrath: I am in favour of maintaining the current tracks for a shared rail trail. I am not privy to where negotiations are at present.  If elected mayor, I would call a meeting of all interested parties, and work with them to make the rail trail project a reality ASAP.

Cr Michael Lyon: I am committed to investigating the return of rail in some form between Mullum and Byron for the first 12 months of the next term and finish the process that began five years ago. If at the end of 12 months there is no significant progress, including an understanding of how it could be funded, then I am happy to move on to the rail trail. It is my hope that we can get rail with trail, particularly between Mullum and Byron, as this route has the potential to provide small housing clusters or villages along the way to help with the housing crisis.

Mark Swivel: I support the Rail Trail project, running from Murwillumbah to Casino.The light rail proposal will never be funded and our population lacks the critical mass to make it work. I share community concerns about transport and congestion but a local light rail would not achieve the claimed benefits. Rail has an important future role here – but as national or inter-state infrastructure, on a different line. Local public transport will be electric, and in time, probably driverless. I have talked to thousands of people now around the Shire, and there is a shift in community sentiment on this project – residents want a rail trail, and to connect with our neighbours to the north and south. Obviously some oppose the idea and that’s fine – I accept and respect differences of opinion on a wide variety of subjects. As a community, we need to reach consensus and move on. I’m running on a clear platform that advocates for the Rail Trail. The railway corridor must be preserved in public ownership as it is under the statutes for the Tweed and Richmond Valley sections, and we can build over the tracks to preserve them. We can also finance the maintenance of the Rail Trail through lease income from food and tourism businesses that will operate in the corridor (similar to how the Byron Lighthouse precinct funds its maintenance).

Bruce Clarke: My preference was for a shared rail/trail path. I was opposed to the decision of Minister Costa to close rail to the area. My team while at PwC did costing in 2003 that showed the cost of restoration was much lower than claimed by Transport NSW. I understand bridgework has now deteriorated such that repair for heavy rail would be prohibitively expensive and if that is the case I would support just a bike/pedestrian trail.

John Anderson: I am not familiar enough with the issues involved to offer an informed opinion, but I am suspicious of the rail trail concept and the motives behind it.

b) If you are in favour of abandoning the tracks altogether (which prohibits the possibility of trains running on tracks in the future), have you an alternative public transport proposal?

Cr Alan Hunter: I think a well-planned and built rail trail will permit many more pedestrians and electric bicycles to use the path reducing the need for cars which often have only single occupants.

Cr Cate Coorey: N/A

Duncan Dey: [No answer]

Asren Pugh (Labor): [No Answer]

Chris McIlrath: [No Answer]

Cr Michael Lyon: It is essential no matter what happens with the rail corridor that we plan other public transport options, as even a light rail with several carriages would have little impact on the Ewingsdale Road traffic in peak times. I believe the Ewingsdale Road in future will need to be dual lane from the highway to the town centre, with the extra land being a dedicated bus lane on either side.

Mark Swivel: See above. If we can keep the tracks, under the Rail Trail surface, then fine.

Bruce Clarke: Yes. We alone of the Candidates have issued a public Transport Connectivity Policy which provides for investigating the feasibility of GPS restricted e-bikes and scooters on the rail trail, on demand electric minibuses and a comprehensive Strategic Transport Plan to form the basis applications for government funding.

John Anderson: [No Answer]

c) If you are in favour of retaining the tracks for a shared rail trail, how soon would this project start and finish?

Cr Alan Hunter: I am not in favour of retaining the train in any form.

Cr Cate Coorey: Council is in a process of ongoing discussion with Transport for NSW. More significantly, the ‘Moving Byron’ strategy that went to Council last Thursday, and will go on public exhibition, aims to expand travel options in the M1, Ewingsdale Road and Coastal corridors – movement that bypasses the M1 Interchange as well as using Park and Ride to intercept car movements and replace with connected bus, rail, cycle and walking options. This is a priority project with a dedicated RAPT Rail Activation Project Team, which means it’s top of the list. Can’t give exact timeframes.

Duncan Dey: We support a full audit of the railway corridor within Byron Shire, to identify where off-formation shared pathways are possible, and where constraints like tunnels, bridges, and extreme slope make off-formation difficult. We will support grant applications for off-formation pathways on sectors where they are feasible. We are aware that, were Byron to Mullumbimby to be one such sector, a small number of new bridges would be required.

Asren Pugh (Labor): [No Answer]

Chris McIlrath: [No Answer]

Cr Michael Lyon: [No Answer]

Mark Swivel: No. See above.

Bruce Clarke: Should bridgework actually preclude heavy transport, I envisage action could commence immediately to get rail trail approval. I cannot yet provide a timeline for the project’s completion.

John Anderson: [No Answer]

3. Pay Parking

a) Do you support this in Bruns, Bangalow and Mullum and making pay parking free for residents? If not, what do you propose?Cr Alan Hunter: No I don’t support the introduction of more paid parking in areas outside Byron until at least we have fully recovered from COVID-19. To make up any budget shortfall from this, I propose that we stop the waste and relocate the Council works depot to Tyagarah, allowing the sale of the land at Bayshore Drive.

Cr Cate Coorey: Yes, free for residents. Council is not allowed to just put in paid parking to generate revenue. It must be demonstrated that it will create a better parking and movement outcome.

Duncan Dey: Council has an obligation to manage parking and traffic in our town centres.Parking congestion is growing in all centres.Time limits are the prime tool for managing parking and must be effective.Pay parking targets visitors and the fees contribute much needed funds to balance their impacts on the Shire.Residents can be exempted via an annual permit and we will review that fee with a view to eliminating it.

Asren Pugh (Labor): I am not against paid parking in principle, and it has worked well in Byron Bay. However, I don’t think this is the right time to expand it. There is too much uncertainty at the moment for our communities and businesses and I look forward to seeing the updated report on the parking options recently requested by council. We need an approach that deals with traffic and parking issues across the board and it not only focussed on raising revenue.

Chris McIlrath: Yes.

Cr Michael Lyon: I released this as a policy during this campaign because it is essential that tourists pay their fair share toward our infrastructure costs. Council must have a sound financial base which taxes those who use the infrastructure. Making parking free for locals is fair, and I hope will help enable us to get support from those that currently do not need to buy a permit but who will need a permit in future if we have the pay parking scheme in the other towns. We can justify its introduction owing to the congestion in all of these towns, and while it will certainly help, it is essential to make visitors contribute and this is the only mechanism we currently have.

Mark Swivel: I propose we conduct a cost-benefit analysis for paid parking and consider its introduction across the Shire with a parking permit for most residents at around $55 and appropriate exemptions for Centrelink recipients, elderly and disabled citizens. We should not make exceptions for any location but we need a robust financial case and that is now not clear to me.

Bruce Clarke: I oppose any further paid parking as it is not a solution to Council’s poor financial position.

There is no properly considered business case and it brings with it a number of problems including public opposition to its impact on local businesses and to the character of our villages.

I have yet to see how a model of “free parking for locals but not for tourists” advanced by other candidates would work. Would people forced to live outside the Shire but working and shopping here get exemptions?

John Anderson: I do not support any extension of pay parking. Instead of raising money this way, the money Council already gets should be more responsibly spent.

4. Developments

a) For some time now, Council have been losing in the L&E court and/or folding quickly to developer requests over large DAs. Staff that instruct Council’s consultant lawyers appear risk averse, or perhaps want to minimise costs, which comes at the expense of the community. With all court settlements, details are generally negotiated behind closed doors, which generally benefit developers.

Are you prepared to strengthen policies around public amenity and planning to ensure that the community’s wishes are respected? If so how would that happen?

Cr Alan Hunter: This is a major issue for me. I am concerned about the expenditure of unwinnable legal court challenges, as in the past we have ignored legal advice, and pursued challenges only to find we were grossly out of pocket as a result. I have consistently voted against any challenge by Council that is in contrast to our legal advice.

Cr Cate Coorey [no comment]

Duncan Dey: We agree that Council has given too much ground to development, including in L&E court cases. Councils prior to 2012 kept themselves much more engaged in this important element of planning, through regular legal reports and a Dispute Resolution Committee , which we support reintroducing. Also, we will review the standing and occasional delegations to staff that allow approvals without reporting to Council. One of the key features of good planning is consistent application of the planning rules. The potential for precedents to be set that undermine our rules is a major failing and must be avoided.

If councillors are better informed and engaged with the planning processes, then legal cases can be avoided or more successfully defended.Another way of managing planning and legal issues is to analyse when things go wrong.A review of cases and decisions in the form of reports to Council to assess whether changes in planning or procedures are required is vital to ensure the strength and consistency of planning rules. Learning from mistakes is a priority.

The community’s wishes are broad and complex, and sometimes contradictory.Rather than a simple ‘Yes, of course’ the first step must be to implement existing planning provisions and apply those rules consistently.A later step will be to review the LEP and DCP.There are gaps and amendments required.

The character and amenity of areas of the Shire are being impacted since the ALP introduced the Standard Local Envionmental Plan (LEP).Our LEP2014 means that Byron Shire lost its right to have local specific planning rules. And the current state government has imposed many state wide planning rules for increased density.these ignore our local characteristics.This is not good planning and we need to challenge some of those standardised rules.

Under current practice, neighbourhoods are being densified and gentrified.Residents’ objections and requests to protect amenity are being ignored.Byron’s planning rules should reflect the highest standards in relation to environmental protection, wildlife corridors, protection of endangered species and ecosystems, and protection of neighbourhood.

Asren Pugh (Labor): We need strong planning policies that are as simple as possible, but are also enforced. They should reflect the needs and desires of the community. This includes maintaining the 3 story height limits in the Byron CBD.

Chris McIlrath: I would use the media on a weekly basis to inform local residents of current and future DA applications, and any court or likely court matters. ‘No secrets’ is my policy.  It may be that the Byron Shire is unique in Australia in regards to height restrictions, and I personally would not like any part of the Shire to look like the Gold Coast!

Cr Michael Lyon: [No answer]

Mark Swivel: Planning law favours development over the environment or community amenity – from the drafting of the legislation to the making of decisions in our highest courts. This is regrettable and an unpalatable fact of our society. A bias to developers is baked into the law as a wide body of commentary and decided cases demonstrate. The conduct of much litigation is naïve and has incurred considerable avoidable expense. The way litigation is conducted and lawyers are used needs to be reviewed. The Land & Environment Court effectively produces ‘mediation’ style decisions (e.g. the recent Brunswick Heads holiday park case), so mediation should be the rule. Railing against developers is an expensive business and to suggest otherwise is unrealistic. Council needs to maximise community benefit, minimise the cost given our very scarce resources and boost developer contributions and concessions in its negotiation of projects, contracts and approvals.

Bruce Clarke: I faced this issue in respect of our opposition to the West Byron DA. I had both the legal knowledge and my experience as a former member of the Joint Regional Planning Panel to prepare a strategy for the JRPP’s further meeting. I was able to convince former Mayor Richardson that despite internal advice, we could succeed before the JRPP. We did – with a 5-0 vote. I will bring this expertise to ensure we make rational legal decisions to promote the community’s wishes and to protect our towns and villages from bad development.

John Anderson: People are unaware that staff have been using Wilshire Webb again, without authority. This was [former GM] Max Eastcott’s local firm, and then became Council’s lawyers before being sacked 20 years ago. They were very proficient at losing cases against developers, and it seems nothing has changed.

b) What does inappropriate development look like to you?

Cr Alan Hunter: Development that either doesn’t meet the needs or expectation of the community, environmental needs or is likely to be an ongoing financial burden.

Cr Cate Coorey: [no comment]

Duncan Dey: Inappropriate development impacts negatively on the environment and/or neighbourhood amenity.Recent examples have included exceedances of height and density limits, including roof top pools.Inappropriate development includes the massive rise of the short term letting industry, which Council has little control over at the moment. We will work with the NSW government to give Councils a relevant role and some control though planning instruments.

Asren Pugh (Labor): Inappropriate development is development that breaches the planning policies that have been developed and implemented in consultation with the community. It is development that destroys heritage values or adds excess traffic to our streets. It is development that is badly designed aesthetically, environmentally or practically.

Chris McIlrath: A development where the maximum possible number of dwellings are squeezed into the minimum possible area without regard open space or how the development looks for other residents or passers-by.

Cr Michael Lyon: There is a narrative about me that I am pro-development which is untrue. I am pro-good development and anti-bad development. Minimising unnecessary legal costs is not at the expense of our community, but rather is of benefit to our community. We need to accept that there is extreme development pressure in the Shire and the best outcomes are achieved by working with developers rather than attempting to fight them over small exceedances, which the Court has shown time and again they will allow on appeal. I am always open to improvements to our policies so that the will of the Council and our community is enacted.

Mark Swivel: Inappropriate development looks like any project that materially damages the environment or undermines the look and feel of our community; it can also be development that does not consider the needs of the community as a whole.Generally, development and planning is too piecemeal and short term. We need long range planning for housing, business, infrastructure and community facilities. But high-rise apartment blocks or office buildings would be inappropriate development here. Significant industrial operations in our hinterland would also be inappropriate development.

Bruce Clarke: It is development out of step with its surrounding character and amenity. Development may be legally permissible but totally out of character with adverse impacts on neighbours and other residents. This is inappropriate development.

John Anderson: If we respect residents’ wishes there would be no development at all, which to me seems desirable. There is no ‘appropriate’ development in a world which is way over-populated and is environmentally disrespectful.

c) Byron CBD height restrictions have been pushed upwards in the past five years, and includes L&E Court losses. Willyou promise to stick to the current LEP height, building height planes and floor space ratios by making these policies more prescriptive to ensure the courts reflect Council’s wishes?

Cr Alan Hunter: We must have good and considered planning laws and adhering to the LEP is an important part of this. However, there are from time-to-time some exceptions, such as lift overruns that need to be considered and are merit based; meeting the expectations of the community, their safety, the environmental and financial impacts are all a part of this.

Cr Cate Coorey: It is well known that only Cr Basil Cameron and I voted against height increases and floor space ratio (FSR) exceedances on several occasions, notably the development on the corner of Jonson and Browning Streets. Byron Residents’ Group campaigned against it and got hundreds of submissions opposing. I presented to the JRPP when it originally was considered at four storeys and the DA was refused. It was later approved by Council at three storeys, with a number of exceptions to development allowed. I voted against. They asked for more concessions, and I voted against those too. My record on this is strong and I will continue that way if re-elected.

Duncan Dey: Exceeding these rules has been the norm for nine years. This has consequences by setting precedent. That in turn diminishes the ability to require adherence. We want existing planning rules enforced. Where precedent makes that difficult, we will review those planning instruments. Fresh instruments are more easily enforced than breached ones. We will also investigate methods to avoid the 10% exceedance that the law seems to gift above LEP rules.

Asren Pugh (Labor): We fully support maintaining the three story height limits in the Byron CBD. It is disappointing that Council have lost court cases that has resulted in breaches of the height limits and in some cases, set new precedents. It is worthwhile reviewing the current regulations to better reflect and strengthen our desires to maintain the three story height limits.

Chris McIlrath: Yes as above

Cr Michael Lyon: I am committed to the height limits in our town centre, and do not want to see any changes there. There have been some relatively small exceedances, usually from lift and stair overruns and the like, which do not impact on the visual landscape as viewed from the street. It is worth remembering that prior to 2014, these overruns were not included in the height limit so allowing them now is in line with previous practice.

Mark Swivel: We need to maintain height restrictions, but not as an end in itself. Our goal must be to maintain the look and feel – the vibe or amenity – of each town and village across the Shire. We must prevent oppressive development. Marginal departures from planning rules are not so problematic. Our focus must be on outcomes not process or pedantic compliance. For example, the problem with Mercato building is its design values and aesthetic – which is at odds with what we should have here. It is functional rather than beautiful. A little loveless. That’s more of a problem to me than marginal infringements of height restrictions.

Bruce Clarke: I totally support existing height and floor space limits contained in our LEP. There is, however, a fundamental misunderstanding by many people, including other candidates, as to the restrictions placed on a Council’s LEP by the State Government. All LEP’s are subject to over-riding State legislation, which allows Courts to “be flexible” in applying development controls. The battleground is not defined by our LEP being more prescriptive – it is defined by arguing persuasively in appeals that the Court limit the flexibility it gives to developers. I have the expertise to successfully do this.

John Anderson: If one ignores planning law, there is planning anarchy, which is not ‘planning’ at all. The laws can be a pain, but the pandemic has demonstrated that pain must be endured if we are to survive. Height restrictions remain enforceable, so-called ‘precedents’ do not change that.

d) How did you vote and/or how would you have voted on Mercato and Bruns Bayside Corso boarding house (The Kollective):

Cr Alan Hunter: I supported [Mercato] and I think is now providing a great community service. I supported [Bruns Bayside Corso]. The shopping complex will take quite a while to achieve the support it needs to work, but in the meantime the small units there can be used for single offices for online employees and businesses until such time as there is the need for retail space.

Cr Cate Coorey: Mercato: that was previous Council. If it didn’t comply, I’d likely have opposed. I might have supported the increase in height to allow for natural ventilation in lieu of air conditioning, although all the shops in there have air-con so it’s not exactly a victory. That said, the conservatives on Council would have supported their original proposal, which was truly hideous and at that time it woud have been hard to get their support for a better outcome. I’m glad I wasn’t [former mayor] Simon Richardson at that time.

Bruns Bayside Corso boarding house (The Kollective): Inappropriate for a non-urban residential area, was an abuse of the Affordable Housing SEPP and 90 community submissions said it was not what they had been promised for the precinct’s centre when they bought there.

Duncan Dey: In about 2015, I supported my then Greens colleague mayor, who took on a personal role of negotiating with the proponents of that building [Mercto].We were told it would be reduced from what was sought and would have five star ‘eco’ ratings.The outcome was disappointing and I regret my support.[Regarding Bruns Bayside Corso], I would not have given up that local community’s wishes to have commercial services on the only allotment in that precinct zoned to do so.The type of housing approved is a good idea – we need housing diversity.The location was wrong.

Asren Pugh (Labor): It is an essential part of being a councillor that all decisions you make are only after you have seen all the information, received advice from council staff and experts – and questioned that advice, consider financial and legal implications and hear from the people proposing change and those who have concerns with it.

It is part of the Byron Shire code of conduct that councillors must make decisions with ‘all relevant facts’ and with ‘regard to the particular merits in each case’.

I would hope that councillors also take into account the opinions of fellow councillors, discuss options and at times compromise to bring together the various, sometimes conflicting, desires of our community. I cannot say how I would have voted on any particular DA without having participated in the process itself.

Chris McIlrath: I am not across this issue, as I was overseas then, and will closely examine any further proposals

Cr Michael Lyon: Mercato: I would have voted to allow it as it stands but would have made greater efforts to ensure that what was delivered, particularly on the landscaping and ground floor parking signage etc. was in line with the concept drawings. There are new owners and those conversations continue. Bruns Bayside Corso boarding house (The Kollective):I voted for it at the time, and though I accept there were valid community concerns, we did achieve some significant amendments so that it was compliant and it will result in the provision of affordable accommodation in collaboration with the Arakwal and the Shift project.

Mark Swivel: See comments above [For Mercato]. I would have strongly advocated for a different design from the outset and canvassed other councillors to oppose the development to produce a better result.

[For the Bruns Bayside Corso] We need more housing for lower income community members. This project seemed like a missed opportunity to me. ‘Boarding house’ is an archaic term (although enshrined in law) and a bit of a misnomer. In contemporary Australia, and our Shire, we need higher density housing to meet a range of social needs from young families to older women, from essential workers to downsizing older couples. So I would have supported this project in principle, and modified its features as appropriate after community consultation.

Bruce Clarke: I would apply the approach stated in the previous answers. I have not read the entire brief available to Councillors and any answer to these specific developments which in any event have now been approved would not advance the argument. I am opposed to bad development and would fight it any way possible.

f) Do you support the current regulations around tourist cabins in rural areas and wedding events in rural areas?

Cr Alan Hunter: Yes, but again not without concern for the social, environmental and financial impacts which are guided by our planning laws.

Cr Cate Coorey: Tourist cabins help to reduce Air BnB etc and provide an alternative to residential houses being lost to holiday rentals, Where I support them depends on the capacity of the land and the roads to cope. I didn’t support the weddings on rural properties because I don’t support the alienation of land that should be productive. We can’t just be a backdrop for the ‘perfect’ Instagram image at the expense of residents’ right to peaceful enjoyment of their homes. LAnd use conflictsa are very real in teh hinterland. It may be possible that some locations can be managed for occasional weddinngs but it can’t be the main ‘product’ of a farm. We have several great community halls in our Shire –they are a better option for weddings and the revenue funds community halls and local initiatives.

Duncan Dey: I do not support the open slather approach to either. Neighbourhood amenity must be respected. These forms of tourism must be confined to precincts that want them and must meet safe and acceptable standards for protecting rural amenity and character.

Asren Pugh (Labor): In general, yes, but almost all policies can do with some tweaking and review to ensure they are operating consistent with the original intent.

Chris McIlrath: Sorry I am not across this issue, and would seek advice on it from fellow councillors and the public if elected.  

Cr Michael Lyon: We have made some significant reforms by resolutions that I personally moved on rural tourist cabins to align the two LEPs and bring consistency to the planning rules and to reduce the ‘touristification’ of our rural areas.

Mark Swivel: I think we should restrict this kind of ‘sugar hit’ development. Our community would benefit more from encouraging small scale agriculture, strengthening our local food economy. We should have plans that allow some but otherwise control these developments over coming decades. In a nutshell: farming before function centres, please.

Bruce Clarke: [No answer]

John Anderson [No answer]

5. Bypass

a) How did you vote and/or how would you have voted?

Cr Alan Hunter: I supported it

Cr Cate Coorey: Didn’t support because it was touted as the answer to our traffic woes and that money could have been spent on public transport options with good linkages that got people out of their cars. The reality is that still most of the traffic comes into town. There are still massive queues on the highway most mornings. It does make my trip from Byron to Mullum quicker but it’s not all about me.

Duncan Dey: The bypass performs a function in traffic relief, but was a gross failure on environmental grounds. I was on Council 2012-16 and moved that Council consider alternative routes closer to the rail formation, to reduce impacts on the wetland. I also made a submission to the public exhibition, posing the same idea. One of the requirements of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is that it consider alternative ways of achieving the same goal. My position was rejected both times. I fully support the 2002 EIS that identified the current route as environmentally unacceptable and supported the rail corridor route.

Asren Pugh (Labor): I cannot say how I would have voted on any particular DA as discussed in the previous question. Having said that, I fully support the bypass, and am glad it has been built. It has had a significant impact on travel times, and allows for some very progressive options for reducing traffic on Jonson Street and the centre of town.

Chris McIlrath: I support the Bypass.  Unfortunately cost blowouts seem to be the norm, which suggest the tender process should be more rigorous with penalties for companies who go over their cost estimates to complete the job at hand.  Also, public objections to the bypass increased the cost by $1 million.

Cr Michael Lyon: I voted for it and am proud that it has reduced traffic through the town centre by 30% and has made a huge difference to people’s daily lives.

Mark Swivel: I would have supported the bypass. I think it has been a success. Other traffic issues continue in our community because it has outgrown its infrastructure including roads. We will over time need more roads and entries and exists in our growing community. Generally, our infrastructure is under-sized, and it will damage the liveability of the community in the long run.

Bruce Clarke: Support. Had I been involved I would however, have sought some changes before voting. I never had the advantage of receiving a detailed brief, but I did have concerns that landfill was heavily used over wetlands. I served as a senior Ministerial adviser on Roads to the NSW Government during the Pacific Highway upgrade, and causeways and bridges were the preferred option for wetlands.

John Anderson: I think I said it all in last week’s Echo ad. I think the bypass and the Roundhouse fiascos should be compulsory studies for all councillors.

b) Given the poor process around environmental approvals that led to a cost and time blow out with the bypass, should this have been handled differently and if so, how?

Cr Alan Hunter: There is no accounting for unforeseen opposition to any development, as individuals are given many opportunities to oppose or support. In the case of the bypass, it was very expensive to hold up, the contractors already on the job.

Cr Cate Coorey: Probably yes.

Duncan Dey: The biggest error in the Bypass project, after the choice of route straight through the wetland, was the lack of adequate studies to identify the environmental values. Without adequate surveys you can’t identify the values. As a result, no Mitchells Rainforest Snails (Critically Endangered species) were identified within the wetland. If they had been, this would probably have defeated approval of the Bypass project. Once it became known the snail was there, the project should have been halted and the new route examined.

Asren Pugh (Labor): The lack of environmental approvals was absolutely unacceptable, as was the lack of appropriate environmental surveys to identify the Mitchells Rainforest Snail. Any Council project should be planned and built to the highest standards. Council should be a model developer when undertaking any projects.

Chris McIlrath: [No answer]

Cr Michael Lyon: Though our initial assessment that a referral under the EPBC Act was unnecessary was ultimately vindicated, with hindsight it would have been better to have begun this process earlier. It was only owing to the actions of a few individuals that couldn’t respect the will of the community that caused this to go through an ultimately unnecessary process that caused the delays, which in combination with the protest led to the cost blowout. Otherwise, the project was delivered on time and in budget and is a fantastic result for our community.

Mark Swivel: The community needed to acknowledge the need to grow our infrastructure to meet the needs of our evolving community. A fundamental opposition to development and the concerns of immediate residents seemed the primary obstacle to an earlier resolution of the project. As I say, the project has been a success and its benefits should become more obvious over time.

Bruce Clarke: Given I was not briefed or involved in the process, I can only say that the public perception shared by me was that the whole process was poorly managed both from a Project and Legal Management standpoint. As such, unnecessary costs were undoubtedly incurred. It certainly looked like it could have been done better.

6. Affordable Housing

a) How will you supply genuinely substantial affordable housing stock that low to middle income residents can afford, without it swallowed up by wealthy investors?

Byron candidates 2021 Q&A part 2

Cr Alan Hunter: We won’t be able to achieve much in two and half years to put affordable homes in place, but we can build partnerships with appropriate partners in a shared vision for build-to-rent residential estates in joint ventures that operate in the Shire in the hope at the end of our term, we are on the march to finding a solution.

Cr Cate Coorey: We can’t stop the property boom here, We can only create ways to get houses and land that is outside of this process. In this term of Council, we have moved several initiatives to deliver this kind of housing that (not wealthy) people can access. Most of them are with the Dept of Planning, and have stalled there, whch is galling. We should also be looking to private landowners in the Shire to build to rent at reasonable rates and also the churches which have large land holdings. The Australian Catholic Housing Alliance (ACHA) promotes affordable housing as a viable option for Church land, so I’d be talking to them.

Duncan Dey: We will advocate for housing for essential workers, First Nations People and vulnerable groups, including aged, low income, single parents, disability and youth, and for homeless people. We’ll lobby the state government to build more social housing in Byron Shire. Within Council we will: investigate ways of swinging the planning pendulum to facilitate low scale affordable housing, and to ensure long term genuinely affordable housing within new developments; continue to support Intentional Communities by working with existing Multiple Occupancies (MOs) to explore having additional dwellings; by reviewing density options for new MOs; and by inviting existing Community Title (CT) properties to review their Lot numbers and potential for secondary dwellings; encourage existing large homes to be partitioned to dual households; and support housing being made accessible, for disability and aged residents. We also believe that nature of new development influences who will live there.While there aren’t mechanisms available to limit who can occupy housing, we will prioritise small footprint housing.

Asren Pugh (Labor): I would continue with Labor councillor Paul Spooner’s record of developing real plans for affordable housing that can actually be delivered by Council. These include: Establish a Community Land Trust using Lot 22 and the old Mullum hospital sit; Tiny home proposal for unused government land; Identify a site for emergency accommodation within the Shire; Delivering 20 per cent of new developments are set aside for Affordable Housing; Capping holiday rentals and air bnb at 90 days per year; Building different types of housing for different people. Many of these are not new, but are stuck with the state government. We need a Mayor that can engage with the state government and get these proposals moving.

Chris McIlrath: I strongly support Council and State Government land being used to construct affordable housing!  I find it most offensive that Council closes down unregistered housing, which forces low income families and individuals to live in their cars or even worse on the street.  I will fight for a three year moratorium on closure of substandard housing, and work with farmers and property owners to upgrade their cottages and run down homes to a level of good quality, safe accommodation with adequate septic systems.  There are many shacks and cottages in the area that could be easily renovated, and rented to people desperate for housing. The Council should help with this process rather than terrorising the farmers and land owners! Septic systems are especially a problem for small cottages and run-down houses. Fortunately, there are some very inexpensive solutions for this problem, which I would push through Council in order that these places could be lived in.  

I will also work with Hemp building companies in the Shire to design and build tiny transportable homes to house couples with small families, and older citizens who do not need a secure small home to live in. H emp homes could supply jobs locally and also make the tiny homes carbon negative a win for low income people and the environment.  

Cr Michael Lyon: We have provided significant detail during this campaign on the Community Land Trust model, which has been submitted and is awaiting final approval from State Government. This will see all new residential subdivisions requiring a dedication of 20 per cent of lots to Council to be held in perpetuity to supply affordable housing to our community. Wealthy or other investors are not able to access or benefit the land and the capital appreciation of the land, which remains under this model with the Community.

We have listed many proposals, which really just need follow-up with State Government as most are lodged, please see our website, for further detail.

Mark Swivel: The key is disconnecting from the overheated private market. Putting land – either council or state owned parcels or donated land – into a community land trust is the key step. Underinvestment and bad policy has meant we are now playing catch-up. We need to take urgent action such as a Tiny Home pilot project at the Mullum Hospital Site, renovating the Fins Building – perhaps as housing for disabled locals, actioning the Suffolk site – with a focus on meeting Bundjalung housing needs, and to execute ‘essential worker’ housing solutions learning from examples overseas in Vermont, Aspen and Colorado. Supplying ‘substantial’ housing stock would require significant land release or sub-division. I would hasten slowly with those proposals. Although possible we would threaten our rural and village aesthetic of the Shire if we accelerated land release or sub-division. Our Residential Strategy contemplates 3,150 new houses between 2016 and 2036.We should probably move that up to 5,000 but space already limited. I have heard other candidates talk about 10,000, but that is not desirable or doable.

Bruce Clarke: 1. Offer rezoning conditional upon dedication of part of the land for affordable and non-speculative accommodation. 2. Increase entitlement for both number and floor space of secondary dwellings on appropriately sized private land, MO’s and Intentional Communities. 3. Support the local syndicate creating a Community Land Trust for several hundred dwellings which has inbuilt safeguards against speculation.

John Anderson: I suspect that the idea of affordable housing in this part of the world is fantasy, when trendies, retirees, negative gearing, speculations, holiday letters and film stars move in, it’s game over. How do you stop all that?

7. Holiday letting

a) How will you address the negative impacts of short term holiday letting on the community?

Cr Alan Hunter: There is already an initiative in consideration ,which if comes into place, limits the rental availability of non-hosted short-term holiday letting to 90 days per year.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: We will continue to oppose the recent massive growth of holiday letting in residential areas, and its impacts including some residential areas being defacto tourist zones. We will lobby the state to allow Council to administer and limit holiday letting.We work with our six Greens state MP’s, including Tamara Smith on this issue.The housing crisis would be eased by turning empty holiday houses back into accommodation for permanent residents as the zoning intended. We support the right of residents who choose to remain on site to holiday let part of their residence.And we support those segments of the normal tourist industry who are disadvantaged by the growth of holiday letting.

Asren Pugh (Labor): Short Term Holiday letting is having a devastating impact on our community and rental affordability. I fully support the 90 day annual limit currently being advocated for. Again, a policy proposal that is stuck with he state government and uncertain prospects of getting implemented. We need a Mayor that can get the state government to move on some of these policy priorities.

Chris McIlrath: Short term Holiday letting is a fact of life. Successful councils have failed to do anything about it and no amount of fancy words will change it, unfortunately. I would support a holiday letting contribution, so that at least holiday letting places are contributing to the cost of building low cost housing for locals.  

Cr Michael Lyon: I will ensure that the 90-day cap, which I personally negotiated with the planning minister as acting Mayor, is finalised and in place early next year. The legislation on controlling the negative amenity impacts is good and needs strong compliance follow-through.

Mark Swivel: STHL business should be treated as businesses with permitted uses and rates applied to property owners as businesses rather than ordinary residential property. So-called ‘grannie-flat’ approvals should be enforced to free up some rental stock. A bed tax and vacancy tax should be lobbied for again strongly, working with other LGAs affected by STHL and tourism. We can also look at a voluntary levy for visitors. We should also lobby state government to ‘recycle’ stamp duty and land tax into our community by investing in housing.However, we should be prepared to be knocked back by the NSW government on the 90 day cap.

Bruce Clarke: There have been many negative impacts, the most significant being the reduction of housing for long term rental. All NSW Councils are beholden to the State Government’s decision (yet to be announced in respect of Byron’s 90 day amendment). Council can best keep the Government policy as it impacts Byron Shire under review and lobby for improvements.

John Anderson: Holiday let offenders must be prosecuted vigorously to get the message out there that Byron is not open slather. We should also publish the names of real estate agents who promote the practice – which is virtually the entire industry.

b) How will you strengthen policy in this area, and will you defend it in court if necessary?

Cr Alan Hunter: The strength is in the compliance with the policy and law if enacted, and I will support any legal action in court to support it.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: Ideally, we would require a simple version of complying development application so that holiday let residences are on a Council register and display proof of consent. This would allow Council to place conditions such as on parking, garbage, noise, limits of number of guests, and would provide Council with a map of clusters of excessive tourism in residential areas.Costs of registering with Council would offset the costs of monitoring and compliance.The commercial use of residential dwellings was always unlawful, but successive state governments have forgone legal requirements. Courts have always upheld the planning rules regarding the illegality of commercial use of residential properties. The state has failed our community on this issue.

Asren Pugh (Labor): The 90 day policy is the right policy. Again, the state government has put all the responsibilities of enforcement onto local governments with no additional resources, in fact they have kept the revenue from the policy at the same time as further cost shifting to council. I expect that legal enforcement will be necessary and strategic litigation will be required to set and maintain the standards of the new policy.

Chris McIlrath: As noted above, my policy would be to greatly increase low cost housing, and generally not go to court over holiday rentals of existing residences. Negotiate rather than litigate. Lawyers charge $100,000 or more in court cases which are often lost i.e. pointless.

Cr Michael Lyon: We will be pushing for the money raised by the State Government registration scheme to be forwarded to each Local Government area where it is raised. We will be ensuring that the 90-day caps are adhered to and that amenity impacts are prosecuted to the fullest extent under the law.

Mark Swivel: See above.Yes, but also see above on ‘quixotic’ court actions – the courts are expensive places and we need to balance community interest against wasting tax payer resources.

Bruce Clarke: In approving further granny flats some years ago, Council imposed conditions prohibiting short term holiday letting. Council then failed to enforce that condition. I would ensure that the new policy imposed on the Shire by the State Government is strictly enforced.

8. Roads and infrastructure

a) What’s your strategy for improving roads and infrastructure?

Cr Alan Hunter: Continue the focus on co-funding with government to improve the priority of identified roads

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: We will continue the repair and reseal programs promised by the recent Councils, who raised rates including for that purpose.We will lobby the state to return Council a fair share of income it receives from vehicle and fuel taxes. We will advocate for the state to provide public transport options. This would relieve wear and tear on our roads as well as meeting community transport needs. Not everyone has a car.

Asren Pugh (Labor): We have bene lucky to get an influx of funds for new roads. I will hold an external enquiry into the quality of the roads infrastructure being built by Council. Residents continue to complain to me about newly built roads full of potholes within weeks or months of being built. Building better roads is an investment in our future. We cannot be int eh same situation we were in two years ago, with crumbling roads and no money to fix them. It is also essential that Council have a list of community supported shovel ready projects ready to be funded by state and federal grants when they become available.

Chris McIlrath: Tens of thousands of potholes are filled and re-filled weeks or months later owing to lack of proper road-base. There are excellent polymer road-base sealants which will reduce road maintenance to one tenth of the current level. I will inform relevant staff of those inexpensive products. All roads and most publicly used infrastructure should be paid for through State or Federal non-repayable grants.  This well ease the burden on rate payers and create employment.  Money that Council spend on roads and infrastructure could then be diverted to affordable housing, solar-wind-tidal energy and cultural and art activities.  

Cr Michael Lyon: I will continue doing what I have beendoing, managing Council finances well and ensuring we invest in essential infrastructure, which until this term had been neglected for decades, especially by past Green Councils. The introduction of pay parking and taxing tourists in other towns while making it free for locals will provide more funds for this purpose. There will be no rate rises next term, I am very grateful to our ratepayers for the increases they have paid this term which has helped to address the poor condition of our roads and drainage.

Mark Swivel: Recent improvements have been largely driven by state government funding. Projects on this scale typically require large investment beyond the reach of local government. So, the strategy is to maintain the relationship with state government, identify the priorities with relevant expert staff and consultants, and consult widely with all our communities. The key is long-term proactive planning rather than reactive patching up. As we develop new business locations in the Shire, we could consider special levies for users to fund the costs of road and infrastructure maintenance.

Bruce Clarke: Part of the answer will come from my proposed review of the Council’s structure, but an important first step is to ensure we are applying best practice in maintenance and reviewing priorities under Council’s works budget.

Council has recently accessed additional road funding but much more needs to be obtained from the State Government and this must be the number one priority.

John Anderson: I don’t want roads and infrastructure improved, okay?

9. Relationship with Council staff

a) Unauthorised Dwelling Policy fiasco – How did you vote and/or how would you have voted?

Cr Alan Hunter: I voted to support staff recommendation to act on reports from the community and applications from landowners to avoid the need for staff to seek out non-compliance. Council just doesn’t have the resources to seek out the unapproved developments.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: I’ve lobbied against this Policy since its inception, and against its resulting project in Upper Main Arm.The Policy was scrapped recently, but was made a staff procedure.This is a good reminder that staff procedures should also be examined.

If I’d been on Council, I would have done what I did in the case of a similar Onsite Sewage Project in the early 2000s in Upper Main Arm – I would have moved that Council cease the project in Upper Main Arm.

Asren Pugh (Labor): I cannot tell you how I would have voted on any particular policy or DA as I was not part of the process.

Chris McIlrath: I will fight very hard for a three year moratorium on anyone being evicted from an unauthorised housing situation.  I would be putting up motions to Council to direct staff to work with farmers and landholders who have unlicenced buildings that are rented out, to help them get the properties up to a minimal safety and septic standard.  As stated before, sewage is a major problem with cottages and substandard building and in that respect systems such as the ‘Home Biogas’ could be very easily and cheaply fitted as a temporary (three year) solution. This gives the tenant gas for cooking and treated water to fertilise fruit trees.  

Cr Michael Lyon: I was the only person who voted against it at the time and led the charge in having the policy repealed.

Mark Swivel: I would have torn the policy up and started again, probably by writing a new policy. Our enforcement policies seem to lack consistency and general fairness. Safety should be the priority in enforcement. We should also learn from the flexibility and discretion applied in other LGAs. We should benchmark our policy and enforcement processes from our neighbours who have the high incidence of unauthorised dwellings but less controversy around enforcement.

Bruce Clarke: I have spoken to many genuine battlers who need support in having unauthorised dwellings approved. The alternative for many is homelessness.

I am committed to having Council provide assistance and extend time as appropriate to enable planning approval, provided there is no significant safety or environmental risks in the interim.

John Anderson: Pursuing Main Arm residents was an act of staff thuggery. Staff cannot be trusted to act objectively or impartially, and nothing can be achieved while they remain in a position to undermine and sabotage.

b) If on Council at the time, were you told by planning staff that they would be sending letters to residents accusing them of unauthorised development?

Cr Alan Hunter: No I wasn’t told that in detail, but I knew they would be contacting those who were the subject of community communication on such matters. Council has little option but to communicate with property owners who have been subjected to investigation resulting from reports from the community.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: Not on council

Asren Pugh (Labor): [Not on Council]

Chris McIlrath: I was not a Councillor but if I was I would have vigorously opposed it!

Cr Michael Lyon: No, we were not told as part of the policy that there would be proactive compliance measures or that the letters would be sent out.

Bruce Clarke [Not on Council]

John Anderson [Not on Council]

c) If you believe staff pursuing residents in Main Arm was acceptable, how is it acceptable?

Cr Alan Hunter: I don’t expect our staff to act as “police”, however unauthorised developments can be a hazard and may pose risks to lives. However, everybody should be given the opportunity to rectify any development that is found not to be compliant.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: It was unacceptable.If the Project was genuinely aimed at assisting residents to meet compliance and safety standards, letters would not have been issued in that from. Inspections should been done by contractors, not Council employees.

Asren Pugh (Labor): [No comment]

Chris McIlrath: Council should be assisting not evicting low income residents.

Cr Michael Lyon: What is certainly unacceptable is dwellings that are unsafe and unsanitary and though I believe turning a blind eye in a housing emergency to unauthorised dwellings is appropriate, there is no excuse for poor electrics or sewer systems or anything that is a public health risk.

Mark Swivel: No area should be singled out for enforcement action in any area of government policy, that is not reasonable or fair.Any allegations on this subject should be explored by the new Council, and I would welcome the opportunity to investigate this case and ensure enforcement policy is consistent and fair across the shire.

Bruce Clarke: I refer to my answer to (a) above.

d) In the past five years of Council (at least), no governance/staff review has been made public. The former mayor and his followers aggressively defended and protected executive staff from public scrutiny. Will you commit to a full governance and policy review – and make it public – within the first three months if elected?

Cr Alan Hunter: There is a distinction between elected public officials and employed staff. I don’t see the professional staff as agents of corruption, and if we want their best endeavours, we have to give them our support.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: The last review was undertaken in 2013. While an organisational review is a painful process for any organisation, there are potential huge benefits for governance improvements. Yes, an organisational review is required. The public can be involved to the extent of providing feedback on past organisational performance. Setting policy is the fundamental function of an elected Council. I take that role seriously. I will be reviewing existing Policies, considering new ones and making sure the suite of Council Policies covers the issues this community cares about.

Asren Pugh (Labor) [No comment]

Chris McIlrath: Yes, and I believe senior Council staff, including the General Manager, should have their performance and contracts reviewed/renewed after each normal Council election (not by-elections).

Cr Michael Lyon: I would be happy to consider any proposals along this line. I believe we need to undertake a review of compliance in the Shire, in terms of barriers to it across the entire range of Council’s compliance program.

Mark Swivel: Yes.However, three months is a very short time frame in which to do a proper job on this. As noted above, the clarity of strategic planning and performance based reporting is key to any governance review. People without serious governance experience may not appreciate the significance of this. The performance of councillors and senior management should be directly linked to measurable, published strategic targets, with annual reviews of performance.By analogy this has long been the case for directors of ADIs (banks, credit unions) and should be the case for councillors and council senior staff.

Bruce Clarke: Yes, I am committed to giving priority to a full review of the structure and governance of Council. I cannot provide at this stage a timeline but it will be early in the term. I am also committed to maximum transparency but there would be aspects of any review touching upon individual staff or untested commentary that might need to remain confidential.

There has been widespread commentary that the Council has been dysfunctional on many levels and this perception is a reflection on both the GM and Mayor. I intend to change both the actual situation and the perception.

John Anderson: [No answer]

e) If you are satisfied with Council’s current legal policy and staffing advice, how is it satisfactory?

Cr Alan Hunter: I am satisfied with council’s legal advice. However I am concerned about councillors ignoring that advice, and the community having to pay the bill.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: Current Councillors do not understand the difference between legal advice and advice from staff about a legal matter. Legal advice is obtained by asking a question of an independent qualified expert. Seeking advice from staff sitting in a Council meeting is not legal advice. I haven’t seen a Legal Policy, but there needs to be clarity with this issue including a definition of Legal Advice. The councillors and public should always be aware of legal advice sought by Council.Such advice sometimes can’t be made public owing to legal privilege and when a court case is current.The question posed or advice sought should however be transparent.A register of legal advice should be contained in Council’s Annual Report.

Asren Pugh (Labor): [No comment]

Chris McIlrath: As a newcomer, I am not privy to the Council’s legal policy.  If elected, I will be spending a lot of time getting up to speed by talking with staff and fellow councillors.  

Cr Michael Lyon: I have expressed reservations around our legal services team through the appropriate channel of the General Manager’s performance review.

Mark Swivel: All legal services systems should be regularly reviewed in any organisation. The external firms used should be rotated, like with external auditors. The internal staff of a legal services team should be refreshed over time. Councillors should include people with legal skills who understand not only the letter of the law but how to conduct litigation and how the law works in practice. I would also emphasise the importance of mediation in achieving reasonable outcomes and minimising the expense of litigation – which always includes not just the cost of the case but the distraction and opportunity cost in time and resources for councillors, staff and consultants.

Bruce Clarke: I have had concerns about some issues highlighted by media such as The Echo. Also, some information provided by former Council staff is disturbing. I need to have greater detail, but I am convinced there are many areas demanding improvement.

f) Do you support the increased powers for executive staff that we have seen in recent years – ie delegated authority for tenders, court cases, compliance oversight and many contentious DAs decisions?

Cr Alan Hunter: Mostly, yes, notwithstanding it can all be improved, but until we have an alternative, I am convinced that we need to work with our current staff for any improvement and that will continue to be a focus of mine if re-elected.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: One of the first things a new Council does is review its delegations. This requires an understanding of how the processes of delegation operate. Sadly, there are only four mayoral candidates with councillor experience. Only The Greens team has Council experience in both of its first two candidates. Staff are likely to propose delegations early in 2022. I will ask for deeper reporting on previous delegations, and how and when they are used.And there should then be quarterly reports to Council identifying when and how delegations were used.

Asren Pugh (Labor) We must ensure that staff are implementing the decisions of the elected councillors. It is unfair to target staff, as councillors are ones that the public vote for they are the ones who should be held to account.

Chris McIlrath No.  Elected Councillors should manage and direct staff, with non-contentious matters delegated to senior staff.

Cr Michael Lyon: I support the empowerment of staff to fulfil their duties and to do their best on behalf of our Shire. I believe we have a role in ensuring that the culture of staff is based on high standards of performance and accountability to the community. We have a role in overseeing staff performance, via the General Manager and it is a role I take very seriously.

Mark Swivel: This is a very broad question. Generally speaking, good governance involves maximum delegation of operational decision making to management and staff subject to effective scrutiny by the council, its committees, auditors and other safeguards. The problem in local government seems to be the skill gap. Some councillors may not have the technical background to properly execute decision-making or scrutiny functions; equally in some cases councillors may not – like most of the community – understand many of the technical aspects of projects and issues. Like company directors, elected councillors also need to remain distant from operational decisions, in order to retain their independence and strategic focus (‘nose in, hands out’ as the business school cliché goes). This seems to be a cultural issue in this LGA which we should fix.

Bruce Clarke: Delegation often occurs where there is insufficient expertise in the leadership or management group to competently oversee the issue. I have the expertise – legal, financial and governance – to better manage any delegation policy. Delegation will not mean removing myself from the process, as the Mayor and Council so blatantly did with the management of the tender for the Old Hospital site. A good Mayor would remain on top of the issues and provide ongoing oversight.

g) Will you seek to regain some level of control of these areas, and if so what would that look like?

Cr Alan Hunter Continual monitoring! I make the point it is a lot easier to stand back and throw stones through the window to lodge a complaint, but much more difficult to work thorough the issues for a solution.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: As I say in 4a above, we will re-establish a Dispute Resolution Committee. Councillors will thus examine court cases and give direction to those delegated to run the cases. Also, comprehensive Compliance and Legal Reports should be provided in council agendas as has been the case in the past.

Asren Pugh (Labor) Contentious DA decisions should be the decision of the democratically elected councillors. Delegated authority is needed, but should be subject to careful oversight of elected councillors

Chris McIlrath Yes, I would seek to gain control of those areas by taking a close look at each contentious matter, and seeking a second opinion on items that remain unclear to me after consulting senior staff.  

Cr Michael Lyon I am comfortable with the current levels of delegation, though I do believe we have work to do around tender processes and EOIs to make them work better on behalf of our community.

Mark Swivel: Yes. I would invest heavily in professional development for councillors, and review all of the safeguards and audit functions across the board.The focus should be on scrutiny, monitoring and performance measurement (and management).

Bruce Clarke: [No Answer]

10. Other questions

a) Are you satisfied that the public are well informed when it comes to issues that face them – for example, DAs that may impact their neighbourhood? Council withdrew DA notifications in print in 2020 after the requirement was abolished by the NSW Liberal-National government. Are you satisfied with the quality of Council’s website and social media accounts as communications tools, and if not, how can communication and engagement be improved?

Cr Alan Hunter: Communication can always be improved as various issues are raised, but in general terms, I think the overall website is a good way to keep the community informed. However, the one-on-one communication is sadly lacking substance, and I know staff are working on this aspect.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: Council is carrying out its legislative minimum or better currently, informing neighbours and neighbourhoods of matters that will impact them, but a review is required. Improving the process by an email alert process is an effective model where people opt in and identify various thresholds at which they want notifications.

The DA Tracker works for those who want to search proactively, but we need a simpler process of advertising.We support re-instating notifications in The Echo. The Greens also support an upgrade of Council’s website so that it is easier to use and provides access to archived material. Many comprehensive and still relevant studies were lost with the old website.

There needs to be a review of report writing. Reports should clearly define what legal and strategic planning instruments relate to each Development Application. Consistency in reports is essential so that Councillors’ and community’s knowledge and understanding is enhanced, and not confused by inconsistent recommendations and advice.

Asren Pugh (Labor): I will implement a Community Services Charter that outlines the rights of the community and expectations we should have as community members, including avenues to address shortcomings. This Charter would include consultation and communication. I have heard from residents that they want better communication of proposal development applications. We need to engage with residents over the best way to do this.

Chris McIlrath: I would support the Council having DA notification in print and all council business should be open and accessible by the residents of the shire.

Cr Michael Lyon: I believe Council’s new website is a work in progress and there is significant room for improvement. Our social media communications are of a high quality as is the output from our media team. I do not necessarily think that DA advertisements in the paper are necessary, so long as they are readily and easily available online.

Mark Swivel: With limited resources it can be hard to get communications right. The sheer volume of communication makes effective communication challenging. The community needs to acknowledge that. Simple communication only comes from mastery of a subject and that is elusive. But our website, our policy instruments and engagement channels could use a review and a refresh. Significant DAs could be open to a more formal public engagement process either online or in person – similar to the JRPP process, only at a ‘lower’ level.

Bruce Clarke: Council’s notification policy – designed to meet the minimum legal requirements – is totally unacceptable. The cost of wider notification of DAs impacting beyond just the immediate neighbours is minimal. Doing so will improve trust in Council and provide the responses necessary for good decision making. Notification should be direct – mail or email – as most residents do not have the time to trawl through social media or Council’s website, no matter how good it may be.

John Anderson: Council’s four person media unit is there to paper over the cracks and to substitute propaganda for reality. They should join Council’s lawyers and take a hike.

b) What is Council’s role in addressing climate change impacts?

Cr Alan Hunter: Council should adhere to any policies that play a part in reducing climate change. We already have an initiative in place for zero emissions, however, we all need to take responsibility for our own carbon footprint.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: Local Government’s role in addressing climate change is broad, it can minimise its own emissions but there would be far greater impact in Council requiring others to do so, through the planning processes. More importantly however, Council must lead on preparing the Shire for the impacts of Climate Change: more severe storms, rainfalls, drought and bushfires for example. Again, the key method of preparation is through planning. Sea level rise will mean many coastal areas will be vacated by next century. Increased flooding will mean that roads will be cut more often.Increased bushfires will mean that forested slopes present a risk. Increased drought will mean that surface water cannot be relied on for water supplies. These issues need on-going review to ensure decisions reduce risk rather than raise it.

Climate Change will negatively impact on biodiversity. We must support the species that will be stressed by Climate Change including by providing more wildlife corridors and by protecting those species that are already at risk.

Greens councillors have been proactive for decades in addressing climate change. In 2004, my Council adopted the Greenhouse Action Strategy to define how emissions would be reported, monitored and reduced. In 2008, a Climate Change policy and strategic planning process was implemented in line with IPCC requirements.

Asren Pugh (Labor): With a recalcitrant Federal Government, most climate action is happening at the local and state level. After 18 years of Greens Party Mayors we still have a council that invests 68 per cent of investments in fossil fuels. This is a total abrogation of the responsibilities of leadership to take action on climate. Words are easy, action is harder. Labor led councils like Inner West and Newcastle councils are leading the way on divestment so we know it is possible.

Chris McIlrath: To support and help fund wherever possible the following technologies for reversing green houses:  Carbon farming using rainforest restoration bamboo and hemp,  Pyrolysis to turn our green waste into clean green energy and BIOCHAR for carbon sequestration.  Solar farms and biomass to supply 24/7 renewable energy. It is also relevant to look closely at the actual changes in sea level. Apparently, the sea level in Sydney Harbour now is not higher than a hundred years ago.

Cr Michael Lyon: We must play our part and I am very proud to be part of a Council which is likley to achieve its net zero by 2025 target ahead of time. We have progressed to near completion two very significant projects in the 5MW Solar Farm and the Bioenergy Plant and expect final sign-off early in the new term.

Mark Swivel: Climate change should be integrated along with ‘health and safety’ and financial management into every decision made by Council. Its direct contribution to reducing emissions and carbon footprint should be maximised via its own energy generation and storage (properly measured). Council can also facilitate local energy decentralisation and storage. That transition is only beginning and council can play a key, enabling role. Enova Energy is a great home-grown Byron Shire concept – if always under-capitalised – and we should take its lead in localisation. Councils have an opportunity to play a grassroots role in enabling local grids. Council can also encourage carbon sequestration by preserving and enhancing agri-ecology farm usage. Again as enabler, Council can co-ordinate the spectrum of landcare, repair and re-wilding projects across the shire to preserve and enrich habitats, biodiversity, beaches, waterways and wetlands.

Bruce Clarke: Every Council has a role to play, and unfortunately Byron Shire, while promoting its Green credentials is well behind other Councils. I issued a detailed Environmental Policy in April providing our response to, among other issues: While other Councils are already there, our Council will not reach 100 per cent operation on renewable energy until 2027; Council’s target of 2.5 per cent annual reduction in fossil fuel-based energy is bettered elsewhere and should be so in our Shire; Over 20-year delay in finalising a Coastal Management Plan to address impacts of sea level rises and storm impacts on coastal erosion and flooding.

c) Do you support government COVID-19 policies, which include coercion measures around vaccination, masks, distancing, lockdowns and other restrictions?

Cr Alan Hunter: I support the COVID-19 health policies, but I defend the right for individuals to choose not have the vaccinations, along with the responsibility to not require public hospital beds as a result of that choice. I don’t think it is fair to take a bed in the government hospital when acting against advice of that same government, potentially holding out road accident victims from beds in emergencies.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: We’re lucky here in Australia – the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched medical systems, but hasn’t yet taken us beyond our capacity to care for the sick. Those of us with relatives overseas know that the rest of the world is experiencing far worse.

Councils have little jurisdiction in health matters like COVID-19.Health regulations are state made and enforced.People choosing not to be vaccinated should be given that right, but with it comes the responsibility to accept limitations, for the good of others.

Asren Pugh (Labor): I strongly support vaccinations, and the Mayor should take a public stand in encouraging people to get vaccinated. The vocal anti-vax minority should not be undermining the health and safety of our community. I would move again to stop dangerous organisations like the AVN from using council facilities.

Chris McIlrath: Definitely not. The Corona virus catastrophe is based on a vastly exaggerated hysterical campaign by Government, and most of the media to create fear and anxiety with false data, e.g. renaming flu as COVID-19.  The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people contacting the flu get better, and build their natural immune system.  For those that were at risk – the old and people with deficient immune systems and co-morbidities – should have been assisted and kept safe leaving the fit and the young to get on with their lives!

Cr Michael Lyon: I have supported the public health orders around social distancing and masks and understand the need for vigilance during the pandemic. I am pro-choice on vaccination and believe in allowing people the space to make their own personal medical decisions. I do not support the coercion of people or the vaccine mandates beyond the medical profession. I will be pushing for our two-tiered society to be removed on schedule, which is currently December 15.

Mark Swivel: I support good public health policy which globally includes Covid-19 vaccination. The public health orders need to be reasonable and proportionate, and have not always been so. I have advised many people on the operation of the law including its anomalies and overreaches. However, the impacts of the pandemic around the world are obvious and we need to respond. My son has lived through COVID-19 in the UK, with people dying, and sick all around him. I lived through the HIV onslaught in inner-Sydney back in the 1990s, so the need to come together in a health crisis.Vaccination is the ultimate group activity, a team game, that the whole species gets to play. The real problem in Australia was our slow response – and the delusion of ‘Zero Covid’ – which has meant we have played a heavy-handed game of catch-up with our public health order response (which is full of inconsistencies).

Bruce Clarke: Philosophically, my starting point is the right of individual freedom. When confronted with the threat of a new and life-threatening virus, governments had little option but to follow mainstream health advice. I accept that there is genuine and informed debate about some of the responses taken by governments. While I am pro-choice I have myself chosen be vaccinated.

John Anderson: The state has a right to coerce individual’s in the situation of serious infectious diseases. It’s not about an individual’s freedom to be a wanker.

d) If you become a Rous County representative, will you vote against, or for, the Dunoon Dam proposal?

Cr Alan Hunter: I will need to hear more of the options in detail before I finally decide but I am not throwing anything out at this stage.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: I’m very keen to again be one of Byron’s two delegates to Rous. I had four years in that role previously. As a Civil Engineer, I have expertise in all aspects of the watercycle including water supply and care for environment. I will always vote against new on-stream dams, including the Dunoon Dam proposal. Water supply projects are often assessed through questioning the balance of economic, social and environmental costs against benefits. As a Water Engineer, I understand this. Rous has a suite of alternatives it can use to expand its bulk supply rather than relying on a new dam.These include urban rainwater tanks, groundwater, recycling and desalination.Diversity of sources guarantees robustness of supply.Single modes of supply are very vulnerable.In the case of a system relying on dams only, it is vulnerable to drought.Under climate change, that vulnerability is growing. Another reason for opposing Dunoon Dam being built is the impact on First Nations cultural sites. The Greens will not support the destruction of heritage. Urban growth does not have right of way over our nation’s last wild places.

Asren Pugh (Labor): The Dunoon Dam should not be built. It is destructive to some of the last remaining Big Scrub rainforest and important Aboriginal sites. I will only vote for candidate for Rous County who do not support the dam.

Chris McIlrath: I will vote against any major dams anywhere in the Shire.  I support large rain water tanks for all residential and farm properties and all new housing estates should have compulsory water tanks and storage as part of their DA.  

Cr Michael Lyon: I am against the Dunoon Dam proposal.

Mark Swivel: I would properly inform myself on this subject before voting as a County representative, but I am opposed to the Dunoon Dam based on what I currently know. However, long term water resource needs and management require careful consideration. What is the alternative?

Bruce Clarke: Against. Dams have proven to be environmentally damaging both to the surrounding land and waterways and the wider climate during construction, create irreparable damage to places of aboriginal significance and are not cost effective.

e) And lastly – Have you identified untapped revenue streams for Council apart from meth labs, slave labor, old growth logging and large scale dope plantations?

Cr Alan Hunter: If we could manage to reduce the wasteful spending of Council, we could have saved over $3 million over the last two years. For example, we have budgeted $200,000 for legal expenditure for the current financial year, but in the first quarter have already spent $150,000. Also, the sale of the works depot in Bayshore Drive is potentially worth $30 to 40 million.

Cr Cate Coorey: [No answer]

Duncan Dey: Council’s meagre budget does need careful management, which we Greens do well. Council must always seek financial support from well-funded levels of government, state and federal. I want to engage the community to join with Council in seeking this Shire’s fair share of support from government and other sources. There are also areas of Council where savings could be found. Council appears to spend an increasing amount on consultants, and it would be valuable to instead look at the opportunities for staff to up-skill and provide that expertise in-house rather than out sourcing, which builds no expertise.

The Federal Government administers annual FAGS (Financial Assistance Grants). Council should present an informed case for Byron to receive funding based on the Shire’s tourism load, which brings little or no return to council but substantial benefit to the Australian economy. We need a more informed financial assessment of the impacts of tourism. Funding allocations should not be based just on the residential community as they can be elsewhere.

Asren Pugh (Labor): While I do support the legalisation (and taxation) of dope, I think this is the proposal most unlikely to get through the state government.

I am still hopeful that we can get the state government to support a bed tax. I managed to get it included in the platform of the state Labor party and the need for ongoing support for tourism impacts is still there.

Chris McIlrath: Yep – Carbon Farming using rainforest and bamboo hemp farming.  Building hemp tiny homes for use in Byron Shire and for export to other shires would be a big revenue earner, and employ all those who want or need work. Byron could be the first carbon negative shire in Australia!

Cr Michael Lyon: Pay parking is essential to ensure visitors pay for their impacts. I will continue to lobby for a bed tax and/or a tourism levy even though currently those calls are falling on deaf ears.

Mark Swivel: Council could promote and enable events and venues, by allowing advertising on Council buildings and in public spaces. Council should maximise the return on its current rental roll, reducing the proportion of ‘free’ rentals of Council property – every little bit helps.Council could pursue operating some businesses eg child care centres (e.g. under contract to external managers). Council should lease premises on the Rail Trail to fund the maintenance for that project (similar to arrangements in the Lighthouse precinct). With 20:20 hindsight, I have no idea why Council did not buy the West Byron land when it had the chance to do so. The benefit to the community of that purchase would have solved many of the problems we now face. That land was sold to a developer after a sale by the lending bank as a mortagee-in-possession. Of all of the controversy around our Council and its decisions, that one stands out for me as the gravest error, with the biggest consequences for the future of the Shire. In developing Council sites like the Byron Industrial Estate depot and the First Sun site, I would look, long term, at ways of maximising the revenue from those key assets but to avoid asset sales. I would also be cautious in committing to debt funded infrastructure like the Myocum solar farm, and do proper due diligence on the business case. Finally, given our unique local situation, I want to explore an electric bus company for Byron Shire, meeting a social need while ultimately generating surpluses for the council budget.

Bruce Clarke: From the commencement of the campaign, I have said our Shire is a tourist and housing bonanza for the State Government. Year after year, we funnel tens of millions of dollars in land tax and stamp duty to the Government and we need to get more back. We have strong grounds to gain significant funding support in exchange for the burden placed on our ratepayers to fill the Government’s coffers. I know my way around Government – the politicians and bureaucracy – in a way unmatched by other candidates, and will achieve this funding.