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Beachfront chicks stall Byron resort plans

ALMOST two decades ago a tern and a froglet helped knock plans for a Club Med luxury resort at Byron Bay on the head.

Now the rare, red-beaked pied oystercatcher could put a stop to the latest in a series of seemingly cursed developments.

Queensland coal magnate Brian Flannery, whose company Cascade Coal is at the centre of an Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation over a $30 million payment to the Obeid family, and his family want to develop a tavern, resort and festivals site on the 89 hectares of beachfront land in North Byron.

But a pair of the ground-dwelling and endangered pied oystercatchers - of which there are just a couple of hundred left in NSW - has recently hatched chicks on the sand directly in front of the land.

The Byron mayor, Simon Richardson, said the birds, among 10 threatened species using the area, must be protected. ''Right now, I stand next to the birds,'' he said.

''The proponents will have to prove to me that they won't be negatively affected.


''Pied oystercatchers are in an absolutely critical state. Every egg that successfully hatches into a chick is celebrated. These are highly beloved creatures and part of who we are.''

Mr Richardson said residents were less concerned about the proposed resort development, which would include up to 193 cabins, some of which have already been built.

But the plan to host up to eight festivals a year - including the Byron Bay Writers' Festival - with camping, parking, music and up to 3000 visitors a day was a bigger bone of contention.

''As soon as you have music, you have the potential for antisocial behaviour,'' Mr Richardson said.

A group of nearby residents has banded together to fight the proposals under the banner Save Our Sunrise (SOS).

''It's being pushed as 'culture','' the group's spokeswoman, Helen Thwaites, said. ''What does 'culture' actually mean? Increasingly [in Byron] it's becoming one, particular youth culture.''

The group was particularly worried birds such as the pied oystercatcher, which lays its eggs on the sand, could be killed and pushed from their home, or that festival-goers could unwittingly stomp on their eggs and nests. ''It's just too many people in such a sensitive area,'' Ms Thwaites said.

In the mid-1990s, residents successfully kicked Club Med from the North Byron land, which has direct access over the dunes to the beach where the Belongil Estuary meets the sea.

An approved plan by Becton to develop it a decade later failed to materialise for financial reasons.

Brian Flannery's son, Tyson, already runs a wedding and conference venue in North Byron and the building he currently uses to host functions would be recycled as a new tavern drive-through bottle shop and moved closer to homes.

The developers argue most residents support their plans.

''Our proposal and approach is very different from the Club Med and Becton developments,'' the project and development manager, Jeremy Holmes, said. ''It is low-scale, sustainable and sensitive to the existing flora and fauna.''

The developers wanted to ''retain and enhance'' the existing environment, he said.

''Regarding the pied oystercatcher … we are currently involved in fox control to reduce predation on this species and improve its survival chances,'' Mr Holmes said.

''And we provide educational signage for beach users to keep clear of the fenced-off bird nesting site.''