Byron Bay’s multi-million dollar “lifestyle” properties are the latest target in the struggle for more housing
Byron Shire Council has been criticized for not doing enough to facilitate new housing, but Lyon said it was constrained by the region’s geography.
He said reclassifying some of the Shire’s “regionally significant arable land” to allow for housing would help create more housing. The land could be converted into higher density ecovillage style settlements near services on the outskirts of existing villages such as Bangalow.
“You have to get the best out of the country. We don’t want to turn the place into a suburb, we want to keep the living space small and dense.
“It wouldn’t have to be an open slather. It just needs to be targeted – small enough land close to city centers like Clunes, Bangalow and Mullumbimby – and we would be well on our way.”
Rural landowners have expressed interest in the idea, Lyon said, and Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation — formed to address housing problems following the 2022 floods — is also exploring options.
The state government designated the farmland as regionally significant in 2005 as part of an effort to protect farmland containing valuable soil from urban expansion.
NSW Farmers said the proposal was worrying because the region contains important food-producing land and called for a strategy to balance housing needs with farming.
“Once land is converted to housing, its agricultural productivity is lost forever,” said Environmental Policy Director Nick Savage.
“If municipalities try to pave farms — rather than solve their short-term rent problem — they risk destroying the underlying economic base that farming provides for the region, not to mention the loss of heritage in that part of the state.” “
As Byron home prices have skyrocketed, the long-term rental market has shrunk and the area has the highest rate of rental stress in the state.
The council partly blames the growth of short-term vacation rentals like Airbnb and secured a victory last month when the Independent Planning Commission recommended tougher restrictions on non-hosted short-term rentals in Byron.
However, the commission also found that the planning policies of the council and state had failed to provide enough housing and land clearances to meet the needs of the community and recommended that the government work urgently with the council to bring more housing up to bring to market.
Lyon said the “biggest single obstacle” is the large amount of regionally significant farmland in the county that cannot be touched.
“We have been campaigning for this in the planning department for years and are urging that the flood investigation recommendations make explicit reference to this.
“The needs of housing are so present and so clear to everyone that our community will actually stand behind them, especially if it’s an eco-friendly solution where we couple the results of the refurbishment with the development of the housing.”
The Ministry of Basic Industries said important farmland could be used for urban purposes if the strategic planning process overseen by the Planning Ministry supported it.
“It is important to protect the capacity of our primary industrial sector to provide safe and sustainable food and fiber while balancing other societal needs such as housing and energy development,” a spokesman said.
The Planning Department said agriculture is “a vital sector for employment and the economy on the north coast and should be protected”.
Any proposal to change the classification of important arable land would need to be considered in consultation with the Ministry of Primary Industries and the municipality.
The department also said it has supported the council “on many fronts” in recent years to help the council solve its housing supply and affordability problems.
It also conducted an inventory of residential lots to determine the quantity and capacity of residential lots in the region, as well as any barriers to the supply of new housing.
Planning Secretary Paul Scully was contacted for comment.
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