PLANS IN DISARRAY: Paul Shoker's farm is off Gatelys Road where a large cutting is proposed for the Coffs Harbour Bypass.
PLANS IN DISARRAY: Paul Shoker's farm is off Gatelys Road where a large cutting is proposed for the Coffs Harbour Bypass. TREVOR VEALE

Farmers say bypass plan doesn't cut it

HIS family farm on Gatelys Road is right in the path of one of the largest cuttings currently proposed for the Coffs Harbour Bypass.

Paul Shoker was in year 10 when the current route was selected and while his family would have preferred the alternative inner western route they've been resigned to the fact the bypass will significantly impact their livelihood.

"As a farming family we've planned for the last decade for this to happen. In 2013 we bought a second farm - we've put measures in place, but these plans have all been based on tunnels outlined in plans until recently."

Now, the 30-year-old banana farmer and secretary of the NSW Farmers Coffs Harbour Branch is trying to come to terms with the latest bypass concept.

"The process has not been transparent - we were told up until 12 months ago to keep going as we're going. We can't just find another farm.

"Consultation of key stakeholders has been very poor and they've forgotten the human element of this road."

The NSW Farmers Coffs Harbour Branch made a submission in the recent round of public consultation which closed on November 30.

"It's mostly agricultural land that will be impacted and we're one of the bigger stakeholders as I see it.

"What we focused on was options that had the least impact on agriculture and it's quite evident that the impact of cuttings would have a detrimental impact on the viability of local family farms.

"In our valley alone we could see an estimated loss of $12-15M in economic activity from the local economy with cuttings.


Coffs Farmer Paul Shoker's farm is off Gatley's road in line with the proposed Coffs Harbour Bypass route
Paul Shoker looking across to where the proposed Gatleys cutting will go. TREVOR VEALE

"There is the risk that such a transformation can change the whole micro-climate of each valley - the unique topography protects us against extreme weather. Deeper cuttings will result in farming operations being exposed to increased winds, evaporation and reduced crop yields.

"I've spoken to farmers on the Sapphire to Woolgoolga section and they say they've never seen wind like it before. If you open up the valley to wind, it's never going to be the same again."

He also has grave concerns about the noise impacts from the cuttings.

"We know how these hills work and how the noise impacts. You can fire a gun at one end of the valley and hear it kilometres away and I don't think that's been factored in."

The bypass has been identified as an election defining issue and Mr Shoker is hopeful that candidates will consider reinstating tunnels.

"The whole process has been very poorly handled. I don't believe any side of politics at any level - state, federal or local council - nobody can claim the moral high ground on this one."

He says some of the slogans getting around on social media like 'just get on with it' are a huge oversimplification.

"It's our livelihoods, it's our homes. To have a simple slogan like just get on with it doesn't give it the attention it deserves. Ultimately we are talking about shifting mountains. Yes we want the bypass, we won't get in the way of progress but the current concept isn't in the long term best interest of our town."

As the creator of the Coffs Bypass Facebook group he has seen a diverse section of the community express concerns from retirees, young families, office professionals and farmers and rejects the claim those fighting cuttings are NIMBYs (not in my back yard).