I like to think of myself as an achiever; someone who has the vision and capacity to bring about the positive changes that are needed in our community. I am deeply concerned that humans are living far beyond the ability of our planet to support us. That is what drove me to put my hand up to be a Councillor 5 years ago and it is what drives me now to continue working hard and developing policies that will have lasting benefit for the Byron Shire.
Here in Byron we are at the forefront of environmentally progressive policy. Our target to be net zero emissions as a Council by 2025 is not only bold and ambitious, it is achievable, and we are on track to meet this target ahead of schedule. Our award-winning Biodiversity Conservation Strategy sets out an ambitious plan for the next 10 years and we need to invest in it to make it happen. In order for our Council to realise its full potential on this and other innovative projects, it is essential that we continue to show strong financial leadership and performance.
My accounting and business management skills and background ensures that Council has the means to realise its full potential. I took this approach when working as the General Manager of Santos Organics. When I started there in 2012, the business, though ethically sound, was on the verge of bankruptcy with low staff morale and poor operating performance. Sound leadership coupled with strong financial management and investment in its people and stores, saw Santos soon begin to reach its potential. In 2016, with all stores renovated and the financial well-being of the business restored, I initiated the step to convert the for-profit business into a not-for-profit environmental charity. The business now donates large sums of money every year to local and national environmental causes.
My Time on Council:
This term on Council has seen us deliver for our community. When I started five years ago, I remember telling people that this was the Council that would fix the roads. This saw a lot of raised eyebrows, but I knew that if we were committed to delivering the services and infrastructure our community deserves we could make it happen. There is still much to do on this front, but there is no denying the huge strides we have made with so many new roads and reseals. We listened to the broader community and built the Byron Bypass, and secured support to move buses out of the town centre with a new interchange.
We have opened fantastic new community facilities, including Waterlily Park playground in Ocean Shores and Railway Park in the heart of Byron. Our ability to talk with State and Federal Governments has improved markedly. They used to see Byron Council as a basketcase, but now trust us to make good use of two surplus hospital sites in Byron and Mullumbimby and the sportsgrounds in Suffolk Park. The latest addition to these community facilities is a ‘pump track’ at Linda Vidler Park, due to open in the coming weeks. Good relations with all levels of government are paramount in order to attract the grant funding that makes a difference on the ground.
On the environment front, we’ve initiated the Bringing Back the Bruns project, with the regeneration of the riverbanks in several sections and the removal of causeways that prevent fish passage upstream. We are in the final stages of approving an Australian-first Bioenergy facility, which will enable us to process all our local green waste into energy and compost. To help reach our net-zero emissions target by 2025 we have signed off on the building of a 5MW solar farm on Council land in Myocum.
Most importantly, we have implemented policies to address our affordable housing crisis. A recent change of policy to help address the crisis is a fast-tracked approval process of new residential developments in exchange for a 20% contribution of the dwelling entitlements back to Council. We have created a mechanism via a Community Land Trust (CLT) to hold these contributed lots on behalf of our community to lock in affordability in perpetuity. We have progressed the transfer and remediation of the old Mullumbimby hospital site, which will yield more land to transfer into the CLT. We have also lobbied extensively for better outcomes with respect to holiday letting. Though we didn’t get what we wanted, which was the ability to prohibit it in designated areas, we did manage to get the government to agree to a 90-day cap on the activity, the only Council area in NSW to be granted this concession. I personally lobbied the planning minister in Sydney for a better outcome on holiday letting during my 3-month stint as Acting Mayor in 2019. My team and I have a comprehensive, achievable plan to ease the housing crisis in the Byron Shire.
I see a Byron Shire where we have fixed the roads and drainage, provided homes for those who need them and ensured that we have protected our most valuable asset, the environment. I want a focus of the next term of Council to be on the regeneration of all the riparian zones in the shire, so that our creeks and waterways are havens for biodiversity and form the veins and corridors for a restoration of our natural world.
Development pressures are a given due to our popularity and natural beauty and we must respond to these with a calm head and a realism that sees us achieve the best outcomes possible. If we continually respond with a negative and confrontational approach then we will not achieve the best outcomes. We have to manage growth and shape development pressures to suit us and not engage in unnecessary legal battles that drain our finances and result ultimately in worse outcomes on the ground.
I offer real-world experience, a transparent and honest dialogue with my community and a burning desire to ensure that we live sustainably and regenerate our natural world. Council needs to punch above its weight as it has done this last term, work hard and focus on its core business whilst being a voice for our community to shout loud and far to the upper levels of government to put in place the framework for a more resilient and sustainable future.