10 January 2018
Roads & Maritime Services PO Box 576
GRAFTON NSW 2460
I draw your attention to Byron Shire Council’s resolution of 14 December 2017, to proceed with the construction of a bypass in Byron Bay.
This has been a contentious local issue for 25 years with at least two traffic studies showing the benefits to be marginal. No cost benefit analysis ever done. The Mayor, who supports the bypass, is on the public record as suggesting that the bypass will not make any significant difference to traffic flows. Generally, community suspicion is growing that the bypass has more to do with commercial land development than with traffic flows.
I point out that the staff report to the agenda item strongly suggests that the RMS was behind the proposal and would participate as a construction partner. During subsequent debate and questions a council staff member assured the room that the RMS will locate and manage funding shortfalls and that there is nothing to worry about. No final cost estimate has been released.
My first 2 questions are accordingly as follows:
1. Does the RMS in fact support the construction of the bypass in the active participatory manner suggested by Council staff?
2. Is the RMS in fact making representations to the relevant powers for further funding, even in a situation where a final costing is unavailable?
3. Does the RMS support public funding for the purpose of private enrichment?
Before posing my next question I must draw your attention to background information which the council staff failed to provide either to the elected councillors or to the general public.
The Land & Environment Court in a judgement handed down 2 June 2017 Butler Street Community Network Inc v Northern Rivers Planning Panel and ors [2016/227775] stipulated consent conditions which were designed to protect that portion of wetlands and hydraulic flows along the southern part of the bypass. Significant studies and protection works need to be done prior to construction.
4. Were you aware of the Court’s requirements and are you aware of the fact that none of the required work has been done or costed?
5. Are you aware that the Council staff suggested that the wetlands might be immediately excavated prior to securing project funding as a kind of pre-emptive blow?
The other matter of concern is that as a result of the legal proceedings referred to above the Council is legally required to go through a Part 5 Assessment process in relation to the urban end of the bypass route, to submit an application and to assess it. This would generally need to go to a meeting of Council, but in fact that process has not been undertaken and again not costed. The General Manager has lost his nerve and resigned.
6. Was the RMS made aware that a Part 5 Environmental Assessment process was a prerequisite procedure for the bypass?
Council has reportedly given a figure of $22.5 million as the cost of the bypass, without allowing for the wetland aspects and the Part 5 Assessment. Only approximately $11 million funding is now available including the $10.5 million from the RMS ‘s generous coffers.
7. Is the RMS willing to participate in and underwrite a project that is only partly funded and partly costed?
During debate on the matter the Mayor touted a “bargain” figure of $9 million for a no frills version of the bypass including the trashing of said wetlands, intending the work to be upgraded later.
8. Was the RMS’s grant funding proposal tied to a specific plan for the bypass or is it unconditional?
9. Does the RMS intend to make the grant regardless of the devastation that may be caused to the wetlands?
10. Does the RMS approve of its funds being used to cover legal and other costs already incurred of for future legal costs?
11. Is the RMS aware that the General Manager of Byron Shire Council way exceeded his delegated authority in;
a) Defending an appeal filed by local residents?
b) Engaging an overpriced big city legal firm to handle the defence?
c) Spending a suspicious $450,000 + on a three day hearing?
d) Not obtaining any advance quote from the lawyers as required?
All of the above should have been put before the elected Council for debate followed by a vote, but the bypass seemingly has an urgency that obviates any need for proper processes.
I must warn you that injunctive litigation is in the offing. On the basis of claims made by staff as referred to above the RMS would need to be joined as a respondent party, which is why I am asking you to please clarify your position.
95 News Road Coorabell NSW 2481
This letter was delivered twice to the Grafton RMS office in January and again in March and I made sure I received a signed receipt. There has been no acknowledgement letter received in reply. Subsequently Byron Council has claimed that consent conditions have been fulfilled, but has been extremely reluctant to release information. It purports to have fulfilled its biobanking requirements by re-badging existing protected wetland remnants as “compensation”. This fraud is actively supported by the Byron Greens, who have basically sold out the environment and good governance.