Over 500 people, including local politicians and indigenous leaders, gathered at Byron Bay’s Railway Park on 21 September to express concerns over the contentious rezoning proposal on West Byron.
The rally was organised by the Byron Residents Group (BRG) to publicly protest against the 44-hectare suburban development plan.
“The plan is to build this new mega-suburb on the busiest road in the Northern Rivers; a road that already gets a traffic jam spontaneously nearly any time of the day, throughout the year,” said Andrew Murray, BRG member and an environmental scientist.
“The town has come together to send a message to the state government that we really aren’t interested in this sort of development.”
The development would involve building up to 1,100 homes along with a business area and an industrial complex, and the proposal is soon to be decided on by state planning minister Pru Goward.
Speakers have voiced their concerns over the long-term environmental impact the development could have on the land.
“These are the three key environmental factors that needs to be considered: [the impact on] the Belongil estuary, the local koala population and the acid sulphate soils,” said Murray.
“We’ve had a long history of these issues not being dealt with on this site, and now we’re ending up with something being handed down from the state government which still doesn’t deal with these issues."
Earlier this year, the BRG has lodged a freedom of information request to reveal the briefing notes on the development to the Department of Planning and Environment after the request to defer the development was denied by the Byron Shire Council.
It was reported in the Byron Shire Echo on September 8 that of the 142-page document that has been provided by the Department, nothing was divulged on the Belongil estuary or on the acid sulphate soils.
"The people who have made their submission in 2011 also weren’t told [by the department] that the site was 75 percent acid sulphate soil… to dig up that soil would embody an apocalypse on our estuary," BRG president Cate Coorey had told the gallery.
"Sulphuric acid and heavy metal run into our already stressed estuary system… there is no report about this among the exhibition document, so if you’ve made this submission, then it’s not your fault as you weren’t to know."
The department had also allegedly undermined the impact of the development to the koala population, deeming it as being "insignificant".
Yvette Steinhauer told the crowd of the declining numbers of koalas during her speech.
“West Byron is very important for the survival of the koalas; they move from Brunswick [Heads] through to Broken Head… there’s a huge koala corridor on that land,” Steinhauer said.
“We have 240 surviving koalas along the Byron coastline, already south along Ballina and north of Brunswick River there is great fear that they are becoming extinct."
Petitions and letters were signed by bystanders and are due to be sent to Pru Goward and the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.