The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Commission (NRRC) has released its draft Northern Rivers Resilient Lands Strategy, and it has big implications for Bangalow. In the short term, it is proposing a new land release, understood to be on Ballina Road, that would see 340-500 new dwellings built. The NRRC has said it would like to see new housing starting to be built within 12 months. Another site is also identified along Lismore Road for release in the medium term. Since the draft plan’s release, many members of the Bangalow community have started asking questions about what this will mean for our town and what it will mean for those impacted by the housing and homelessness crisis afflicting the region.

The NSW Government set up the NRRC to manage the rebuilding of flood-impacted communities following the disastrous 2022 floods that devastated the Northern Rivers. Our community was already in a housing crisis before the floods, with Byron Council declaring a ‘housing emergency’ in April 2021. The floods and population movement due to COVID simply made the situation worse.

What is happening with housing?

Our wider community is battling the scourge of homelessness. While the official numbers have not yet been released, The Herald understands that the latest Homelessness Street Count conducted by the NSW Government has seen the Byron Shire overtake the City of Sydney as the local government area with the most rough sleepers in NSW. A distressing honour for such a small shire.

We have all seen the impact in Bangalow, with many people sleeping in cars in different places around town. Fletcher Street Cottage in Byron Bay, which provides services for rough sleepers like showers and social support, reported a 30% increase in usage over the year to April 2023.

According to Homelessness NSW, the rental vacancy rate in Byron Shire, at 1.2%, is lower than the NSW average and over half of households are experiencing ‘rental stress’. Our Shire also has higher average rents and lower average incomes than NSW as a whole. Put these things together, along with over 8% of properties being used for Short Term Holiday Letting, and you have a real housing crisis.

This crisis is having impacts right across our community, with many long-time locals forced to move out of the area and kids having to move away from their schools, friends and support networks. Local businesses are finding it hard to get the critical and essential workers they need.

Members of Arakwal have said that the biggest issue is housing and the lack of ability for the First Nations people of this land to live on their own country.

What does the strategy say?

The Resilient Lands Strategy has been drafted to identify areas for new, flood-free housing. Unfortunately, the draft strategy is light on when it comes to details. So what do we actually know?

  • Overall, it has identified 7,800 housing sites for short-term development across the six Northern Rivers council areas – Lismore, Kyogle, Tweed, Byron, Ballina and Richmond Valley. The vast majority of these new sites are in Lismore, which makes sense, given that’s where the floods had the most impact.
  • There is $100 million in funding to implement the strategy across the region to pay for infrastructure, planning, social and affordable housing, and land purchasing.
  • There are two short-term sites identified in Byron Shire – one near Bangalow (340-500 homes) and one on Saddle Road (530-800 homes), near the Brunswick Heads turnoff. There is a second medium-term site identified on Lismore Road near Bangalow.
  • Any rezoning of land around Bangalow would be subject to council’s 20% Affordable Housing Contribution Scheme. This means 20% of the house blocks, or their equivalent value, will be handed to council for affordable housing.

The strategy also identifies the need for more diverse housing, with over 75% of houses across the region being detached with three or more bedrooms. This is the most expensive type of housing. It could mean including ‘build to rent’ homes that create a permanent set of rental homes for essential workers or having higher density in parts, with smaller townhouses.

What is ‘Social and Affordable Housing’?

Both the state and federal Governments run many different housing schemes. Some of them build, own and run their own housing, other schemes contract out housing to NGOs like North Coast Community Housing and other schemes, usually more controversial, provide incentives (like higher density) for private developers to offer below-market rent for a number of years. These different definitions and schemes cause confusion and misunderstandings about exactly what kind of affordable housing is being built and how long it will last.

Social housing is usually only available for those on very low incomes, or government support, and residents only pay a portion of their income on rent.

Affordable housing targets a wider range of essential workers, those on middle incomes for whom paying market rent is impossible. Under council’s Affordable Housing Contribution Scheme, council will get to determine how it is implemented. This means the community will have a real say on the type of affordable housing built. We can make it affordable housing that lasts into the future.

What happens next?

With its lack of any detail about the specific site in Bangalow, it is hard to know what it means for our town. New housing is needed if we are going to even make a dent in the housing crisis and Bangalow will have to make its contribution. But at the moment, there are more questions than answers about this project. What will up to 500 new houses mean for Bangalow? What will the social outcomes of this project be, will it create housing that is more affordable and help ease the housing crisis? Or will it just create more expensive big blocks for wealthy people to buy?

Will there be enough funding to upgrade our infrastructure? What will it mean for traffic and the size of our public school? Much of the land around Bangalow is Regionally Significant Farmland. Can part of the site be used for market or community gardens to maintain our food security? How can we ensure that there is enough green space maintained and rehabilitated? How many people who lost their homes in the floods will be able to move into new homes?

This draft strategy is only the start of a long process including community consultation which is open until July 14. You can make a submission by emailing Following the exhibition period, feedback will be reviewed and considered before the release of a final Resilient Lands Strategy.

Asren Pugh