Jobs, a boost to local agriculture and potential to tap into a burgeoning Asian food market are opportunities going begging at Bangalow, via Byron Bay, where residents vigorously oppose a planned $36.9m two-stage ‘food hub’.
The cost of the development, backed by Chase Property Investments, Drummoyne, has automatically triggered involvement of the state’s Joint Regional Planning Panel, which paid a visit to the Byron shire on Thursday to hear debate from both sides.
The task force, chaired by Garry West, will make its decision after a second North Coast visit the second week in October, with that meeting taking place on site - a red soil grazing paddock on the Lismore road across from an existing industrial estate.
Residents packed the shire council chambers at Mullumbimby for the meeting, and more would have come had not the date conflicted with a ‘locals only’ night as part of the annual Bangalow Music Festival, held in the agriculture and industry hall - an historic building that reflects the town’s precious Federation heritage.
The importance of this historic facade, which makes Bangalow so attractive to tourists, was a common theme among concerned residents who implored the task force to save the town from noise, dust, odour and ‘thundering’ traffic. The issue of waste water was another question not adequately answered in the development application.
Pam Brook, Brookfarm macadamia products, addressed the meeting first as her family business expressed interest in leasing part of the 5000 square metres of shed space should the ‘food hub’ go ahead.
Mrs Brook chided the development’s opponents for ‘intimidating family, friends and fellow producers’ and explained her family’s desire to relocate from four separate leased sites in the shire to one central facility with room to grow. The business, which started in the Bangalow markets 17 years ago, now employs 70 staff and is exporting its muesli and nut mix snack products with potential to grow much larger in future years.
Mrs Brook’s eldest son Will, now the company general manager, told the gallery that the development would become 100 per cent energy self sufficient by 2025 and would recycle all waste with none going to landfill by 2020. Energy used in drying macadamia products would be recycled into cooling for another potential tenant of the hub, Salumi Australia boutique small goods - another local start-up that is kicking goals in the food space.
The development was backed by NSW business Chamber’s Jane Laverty who said the concept of clustering like-minded business would ‘make the most of supply chain opportunities’.
“Ballina has its airport development, Lismore has its health sector,” she said. “Byron now has an opportunity to support local people not multinationals.”
Byron Shire Council has unanimously recommended against approval, but the state planning panel has final say.
Alex Smith, chief executive officer of Regional Development Australia, Northern Rivers, said the food manufacturing and agribusiness sector were one of six industries identified to drive jobs and export opportunities.
“Brookfarm and Salumi have demonstrated bullish growth,” he said. “They have a low footprint and offer high value. We need several of these facilities across the northern rivers.”
Salumi Australia has projected massive growth in its line of boutique small goods using locally produced pork.
Key concerns from the community surrounded koala health, water pollution mitigation and protection of heritage. Linda Sparrow, president of Bangalow Koalas, said the development presented a risk to the threatened species with 92 on-site Tallowood trees facing the chop. “This is an ecological disaster waiting to happen,” she said.
Owner of the nearby Macadamia Castle, Tony Gelding, suggested the development might be a ‘Trojan horse’ claiming to be a food hub when it is really capable of holding ‘large scale evening events’ with a staff restaurant three times larger than your average McDonalds and a car park designed to hold 500 automobiles.
Bangalow resident Ean Jones said the proposed food hub was not the quaint facility proponents would have the village believe, and its development application was ‘misleading’ with each of the three sheds as large as a Bunnings, with the potential to create traffic problems in a township that relies on tourism and boutique shopping.
Of the 232 submissions in favour of the plan 203 were signatures on a pro-forma, and only 13 came from Bangalow residents. Of the 297 opposed 82 per cent came from the village.
“A food hub this is not,” he said. “It is a huge industrial development in a small village.”