The operator of Byron Bay’s La Playa restaurant/lounge bar (now called Soho) is refusing to leave the premises after he was given an eviction notice for unpaid rent.
In a bizarre twist of events, the bar’s owner John Cooper was in the building when locksmiths arrived to change the locks, and now he won’t leave.
He told The Echo that he has no intention of closing the door to lock himself out. ‘My rent is now paid up and was only 16 days late’, he says. ‘Due to the fact that I have invested $350,000 [in renovations] and have ongoing business and bookings there, I have remained in the building to continue to trade.’
The venue at 9 Fletcher St made news late last year when it was sold to strip club operators who opened there briefly but were denied a liquor licence.
Plans were subsequently scuttled by the Office of Gaming and Liquor (OGLR) after the mayor and community expressed outrage.
Meanwhile, a court case between Cooper and landlord Bill Bailey will be heard in a week, according to Mr Cooper. Mr Cooper has complaints about common area improvements, the lease change-over and delays to renovations required so he could re-open and trade.
Court case looming
He claims when he took over the lease three years ago, the building, ‘had been gutted and was in a severe state of disrepair’.
‘[After renovations] We began to wonder why we were been treated this way, especially after we had spent well in excess of $250,000 on renovating to a high standard. Mr Bailey was so pleased with the [renovation] work, that on several occasions he asked to parade members of his family and others through our premises commenting on what a fantastic job we had done.’
Mr Cooper also claims he only discovered much later after negotiations that the new tenants were planning to open a lap-dancing bar.
‘Even though this was not illegal, the town went crazy.’
He says it brought OLGR up from Sydney, who refused to transfer the liquor licence to the prospective couple, ‘as the town didn’t want it’.
‘OLGR insisted that we reopen as La Playa, and in return – providing I did a few alterations, ie extra soundproofing, and installed a noise limiter installation – we would be given a 3am music licence.’
Mr Bailey was asked for comment but was unavailable as he is currently overseas.
It is understood he wanted to evict Mr Cooper after three months of unpaid rent had accumulated, something which Mr Cooper denies. ‘I have improved the building and increased its internal floor area by 30 square metres, and the premises are now worth double the rent,’ said Mr Cooper.
Eviction notice ‘for $3,265’
He added that he invested such a large amount because he had signed a five by five by five (15) year lease. ‘I was served an eviction notice for the amount of $3,265.
‘It’s outrageous this landlord, who has watched his tenant put vast sums of money into his property, can get rid of them for such a small amount.’
Will Byron Bay’s traffic gridlock be addressed before the first sod is turned on the yet-to-be-determined West Byron Project?
Yes, according to NSW minister for the north coast and Byron resident Don Page MP (Nationals).
It comes as public submissions close this Friday for the proposed estate, located 2.5 kilometres west of the CBD. If approved, it would be the town’s largest suburb in decades.
Mr Page told The Echo, ‘I have told the consultant for the West Byron landowners that I will not support the project unless the Byron bypass has been constructed.
‘We have serious traffic congestion in Byron already and it should not be exacerbated. There are other issues which also need to be considered with their proposal and this is currently happening through the public exhibition and consultation process. I will treat those issues on their merits.’
But are the issues being addressed?
Not according to Council’s planning staff, who say issues remain, which they raised with NSW Planning and Infrastructure in 2011.
Director of Council’s environment and planning, Ray Darney, told The Echo that, ‘staff have recommended within the draft submission that the bypass needs to be completed prior to any residential subdivision proceeding at the site.’ As for residential density, he says, ‘The current proposed allotment size is too small and the overall density of development is not compatible with the general urban form and character of Byron Bay.’
And similarly, the concerns of flood mitigation raised in 2011 also remain. Mr Darney said staff have recommended within the submission that they are not satisfied with the flood planning levels as proposed by the developer.
‘The flood levels and flood planning levels for the development must be consistent with Council’s adopted flood study and flood management plan, which follows the process in the NSW flood plain development manual.’
However on its website’s FAQ, the West Byron Project claims, ‘The department commissioned WMA Water to undertake an independent review, which supported the modelling and flood planning levels.
‘There are no developable lots in high flood hazard risk areas. There will be a negligible impact on offsite peak flood levels.’
But it’s just not roads, density or flooding issues; Mr Darney says there would be a significant amount of infrastructure required to service up to 1,000 allotments.
‘Staff will be recommending to Council that the development should be provided with dual reticulation to recycle water and that the bypass and roundabouts on Ewingsdale road need to be provided by the developer.
‘In addition the trunk drainage system needs to be comprehensively designed and provided by the developer to ensure the quality of stormwater runoff does not impact negatively on the sensitive Belongil Creek.’
Bypass voluntary contribution: developers
The Echo understands that one of the priorities for the current councillors in their first term is to complete a Byron bypass. Given the issue has plagued successive councils for 25 years, it would be quite an achievement.
And with a total cost for the Byron bypass being estimated at around $8.2 million, the developers have said they will make voluntary contributions, ‘specifically earmarked for the bypass.’
They say it’s in addition to regular contributions to infrastructure that developers pay Council for projects.
If the rezoning is approved, they say, $7,000 per residential lot will be contributed under a planning agreement between them and the NSW planning minister.
If approved, it would almost cover the bypass cost if 1,000 homes were built, and would need to be paid upfront.
As for state assistance, MP Page said, ‘Even though it’s a Council responsibility, I have arranged through the minister for roads to pay 80 per cent of the geotechnical study (an important first step in helping to get the project started), estimated at $270,000.
‘The minister has also agreed to assist Council with additional funding for the construction of the Byron bypass once we know what the full cost will be.
‘The geotechnical study will help determine this.’
Meanwhile, mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo he is unsupportive of West Byron, ‘certainly not at the scale being proposed, but that is no matter within Council’s power.’
‘The monies we have do not go remotely towards addressing the long-term traffic and road infrastructure needs in Byron Bay. One roundabout alone is around the $1 million mark. In regard to traffic, there would not be a stupider place to plonk a development five times the size of Sunrise [than the site] proposed on Ewingsdale Road. So if the proponents want it, they need to ensure the rest of the community don’t have increased gridlock because of it.’
Plans for the West Byron Project are at http://bit.ly/westbyronplans and public submissions close January 31.
‘Money has never made man happy, nor will it,’ said Benjamin Franklin, ‘there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has, the more one wants.’
But money is needed to win elections; it buys you ink on paper and airwaves on radio and TV.
And while incomparable in size and scale to state and federal election budgets, local government candidate donation and expenditure disclosures reveal the same transparency issues: donors can remain anonymous by contributing under $1,000 while fundraising event donations are also anonymous.
As the political donation disclosures are now public, what does it cost to run as a party in a local government election?
As a state-registered political party, The Byron Greens’ disclosure is not recorded alongside other parties. So unless you ask, there’s no way of knowing what was donated or spent. But Byron Greens treasurer Wayne Smith seemed happy enough to tell The Echo that $2,577 was donated to the party by eight local people, all under the $1,000 amount.
‘$2,000 was raised from raffles,’ he said. ‘The Byron Greens members contributed $7,000,’ he added, ‘and the total came to $12,018.10.’
As for expenditures, fundraising cost them $500 and advertising was spread across the two weekly papers. The Echo ads cost them $2,757 while Byron News was just under $600. $900 was spent with Bay FM and signage totalled $559. Other costs included $600 on a Byron Bay pop-up shop as campaign HQ.
The Byron Greens membership is around 100–120, Mr Smith added, and he agreed that there would be more transparency if registered political parties disclosed reports locally rather than sending them to state branch headquarters. Mayor Simon Richardson, along with Crs Duncan Dey and Rose Wanchap, were all elected on the Greens ticket.
Cr Sol Ibrahim
Cr Ibrahim’s Vision In Action team reported no donations of any kind except his own, which totalled $3,867. But the campaign cost $11,797, and like Crs Cameron and Spooner, he managed to secure only himself a seat in Council.
When asked about the donations, Cr Ibrahim said, ‘I received about two dozen donations. All were below the reportable threshold from local residents who were of course not developers, or involved in gaming or liquor, as per AEC rules.
And when asked who were Cr Ibrahim’s main backers, he replied, ‘It is a bit mischievous to imply that I or other councillor had “major backers”. I think it would be quite obvious to anyone who reviewed my votes, and my carefully stated reasons, that I am not beholden to any backers, unlike some of the Greens of course. The Greens received about a third of the votes, and my votes were about equal to Paul and Basil combined. Clearly there are a wide range of legitimate community views in our Shire.’
Newspaper advertising was again the choice of Cr Ibrahim’s communication, with $2,655.26 being spent with the Byron News (APN) and $4,194 with The Echo. Bay FM ads cost him $1,560, Corflute signage was $1,818.30 and website $1,400.
Cr Ibrahim also receives the ‘hippest candidate award’ – he put down DJ expenses of $200. QLD-based public relations company Zakazukha also received $880.
Cr Di Woods
The True Independents, led by Cr Di Woods, raised by far the most capital with 30 individuals donating $19,728 alone (all anonymously as they are under $1,000).
Additionally, a fundraising event added $12,290 to the war chest, making that at least $32,018.
QLD resident Tory Smith also donated $4,000 to the cause. Mrs Woods said of Ms Smith, ‘Tory is a supporter of the True Independents and wished to donate to our cause. A really nice lady.’
As for expenses, $13,866.53 was declared, which covered newspaper advertising and signage while a marketing team was paid $8,195.
APN advertising totalled $5,792.67, while $1,505 was spent with The Echo and a Saturday Star advertisement cost $275. Designer Tony Gooley was paid $3,916 and t-shirts and stickers were produced.
Asked if she would advocate a change in donation disclosure given donations under $1,000 are anonymous, Cr Woods replied, ‘I would always agree with absolute transparency from all candidates including the Greens.’
But when asked if she was prepared to publicly acknowledge her major donors, she declined.
‘We had many donors who had their money returned to them as they were ineligible under the electoral ruling. We also had many other offers which were declined due to ineligibility.
‘We had a consultancy firm working for us who sought donations on our behalf and we maintained absolute scrutiny to ensure we had only legitimate donations that complied with the ruling by the Electoral Funding Authority (EFA).’
Cr Woods brought Crs Chris Cubis and Alan Hunter with her for a seat at Council.
Cr Basil Cameron
Cr Cameron’s Sustainable Futures party had $10,696 in capital to spend, and according to AEC records, it was his own cash. And while it didn’t get his other candidates elected, Cr Cameron’s expenditure showed a healthy advertising spend across all media. As for ink on paper, The Village Journal was paid $340, Bangalow Heartbeat $146.70, Northern Star (APN) $2,454.11 and The Echo $2,167. Bay FM was paid $300, while audio and video production cost $1,212.
Unlike other candidates, he dabbled with TV: Prime7 and NBN were each paid $1,100 for ads.
Cr Paul Spooner
The Community Independents party, headed by Cr Spooner, didn’t spend much comparatively but it was enough for him to be elected.
While his records were unavailable on the Election Funding Authority website, he said the party’s income totalled $4,720.
‘This was raised through a launch event and some small donations,’ said Cr Spooner. ‘This consisted of reportable political donation of $3,010 from Graham Mathews and $1,710 in small donations.
‘Expenses were $4,783.95 and was mainly Echo advertising, printing of pamphlets and signs etc.’
Brunswick Heads residents expressed their anger, disappointment, confusion and frustration last Wednesday at the state-appointed manager who is behind controversial plans to upgrade the town’s three public caravan parks and four Crown coastal reserves.
Several local mums were shocked to learn from NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust (NCHPT) manager Jim Bolger that under the plans for The Terrace Holiday Park, public access along the Simpsons Creek foreshore, or even through the park, will be closed off or restricted.
The plan involves erecting a 1.8-metre-high steel mesh fence all around the boundary of that park, shutting out locals altogether.
Other complaints by the public ranged from unanswered emails and phone call enquiries to Mr Bolger and a holiday park manager’s poor attitude toward locals.
It comes as Mr Bolger has been appointed media contact for his corporation while also refusing to answer questions on the planned eviction of the Brunswick Buccaneer boat hire business and a percieved conflict of interest, because his holdiay parks also hire boats.
Adding to the chorus of residents critical of Mr Bolger’s management is Byron councillor Di Woods.
She told The Echo, ‘I believe it was the most lacklustre attempt at community consultation I have witnessed, and was not transparent at all.’
‘I think that it should have been held in the community centre, with a presentation to the community and followed by questions and answers with everyone being able to hear the explanation.
‘Someone mentioned to me that Jim was heard to give two different answers to the same question by two individuals. This makes it hard for people to really understand what is truth and what is fiction.’
However, Cr Woods says there is room for negotiation. ‘It is always the case that when a plan is being put forward that the proponent usually asks for “an arm and a leg,” and then negotiations take place. If we had honest and transparent community consultation, with Council perhaps as a mediator, then surely an agreed position could be achieved.’
But what is the business community’s position?
Brunswick Heads chamber of commerce president Todd Buckland says, ‘In 2010 the Brunswick Heads Chamber of Commerce prepared a comprehensive submission on the previous Holiday Parks Plans of Management, and proposed several suggestions and solutions for the various issues they had with those plans.
‘The chamber’s mission is, “To foster a dynamic local business sector, encouraging sustainable and innovative business development, in line with the community’s vision for Brunswick Heads.” Brunswick Heads has many strategic planning documents, including the “Taking Care of Brunswick Tourism Management Plan” and the “Community Economic Transition Plan 2011-2016”, to guide us in our assessment of what is proposed this time around.
‘Over the next month we will be assessing the current plans of management (POM) in light of our mission statement and see which of our concerns have been addressed and which suggestions have been incorporated in the new POMs.
‘We will be making constructive suggestions for anything we feel is an issue.
‘The thrust of our submission will be the same as the previous: we highly value our low-key simple pleasures village lifestyle.
‘We have always been a holiday town and we want to protect it by attracting visitors whose values are aligned with our community values.
‘We want our holiday parks to align with this vision, instead of becoming clones of the holiday parks up and down the coast.
‘We are not so naive as to think that all of our suggestions will be adopted; it just won’t be humanly possible to satisfy everyone’s wishes.
‘However, we will be strongly encouraging the final plans of management to reflect the values and needs of those who live, work and play in Brunswick Heads.’
February 1 meet
Another community information session will be held by Mr Bolger on February 1 in the Memorial Park from 9am to 12pm as part of the local market.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown is, ‘the most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl,’ says New Scientist magazine.
While many news agencies and governments would agree, why is this topic being largely ignored – or even silenced by mainstream media?
Ever since Japan’s most powerful earthquake/tsunami on record crippled the reactor, containing the daily output of 400 tonnes of contaminated groundwater is proving unmanageable.
And when we need transparency more than ever, the very tight-lipped and proud nation of Japan looks set to introduce a new state secrecy bill, according to the UK’s Independent last November.
Critics say, ‘the law dramatically expands state power, giving every government agency and ministry the discretion to label restricted information “state secrets”.’
It triggered protests from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Japanese Newspapers Unions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
But that may be the least of Japan’s – and everyone’s – troubles. Scientist David Suzuki says Fukushima is the ‘most terrifying situation imaginable’ and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and the Japanese government are ‘lying through their teeth.’
‘Three out of four plants were destroyed,’ he told a symposium on water ecology held at the University of Alberta in Canada last October.
‘And the fourth is so badly damaged that an earthquake of a seven [magnitude] or above and it will go.’ He says the probability of that happening in the next two years is over 95 per cent.
‘What they have in there is 1,300 rods of spent fuel that have to be kept in water all the time, and they have no way of getting it out. They are pouring water in which is leaking out. And now there’s this cockamamie scheme of freezing the soil. They don’t know what to do. What is needed is international experts to go in there with complete freedom but that isn’t happening.
‘I have seen a paper which says that, if in fact, the fourth plant goes under in an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it’s bye-bye Japan and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate. If that isn’t terrifying,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what is.’
Aust govt report
But what do our government and bureaucrats say?
Back in October 2012, The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), released Assessment of the impact on Australia from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident by Julia Carpenter and Rick Tinker.
While unprecedented, and the eventual outcomes are unknown, the report says, ‘very low levels of radioactive material were detected in Darwin,’ the following month after the meltdown.
‘At these levels there was no impact on health of people in Darwin. It is expected to take at least five years for ocean circulations to transport radioactive material to Australian waters. By this time the radioactivity will be diluted to such a degree that it will be difficult to detect.’
But circulation of ocean waters is not the only way radioactive water can travel.
Ballast water is water that ships take on board when sailing without cargo. It helps to stabilise an empty ship from tipping over. Again, the report downplays possible harm, ‘given the unlikely presence of the public at ballast water exchange points, there will be no risk to public health. The effects of dilution would also mean that there will be no impact to the biodiversity of marine life.’
As for imported Japanese foodstuffs, the report leans on the Japanese government to monitor safety levels.
Japan has imposed food restrictions and their ‘testing results can be found on the Japanese Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare website.’
Thankfully Australia also monitors Japanese food imports. ‘In addition, food imported from specific regions in Japan are tested by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) for radioactive caesium when it arrives in Australia.’
Meanwhile, there is also evidence emerging that radiation fallout affected between 50 and 150 sailors tasked with the cleanup operation.
News organisation Aljazeera, and others such as www.navytimes.com, recently reported that fifty-one crew members from the USS Ronald Reagan are suing TEPCO, alleging that the utility mishandled the crisis and did not adequately warn the crew of the risks.
TEPCO sued by US sailors
‘Crew members, many of whom are in their 20s, have been diagnosed with conditions including thyroid cancer, testicular cancer and leukaemia,’ says Aljazeera.
Charles Bonner, attorney for the sailors, says, ‘Deployed ships desalinate their own water, so crew members were unknowingly drinking, cooking with, and bathing in contaminated water due to the ship’s close proximity to the disaster site.’
‘The USS Reagan was informed of the contamination after a month of living approximately 10 miles offshore from the affected region.’
The latest containment plan by Japan, says New Scientist, is to build a 1.4-kilometre wall and sink pipes carrying freezing fluids into the ground, ‘gradually freezing it to form a barrier of permafrost 30 metres deep, down to the bedrock’.
Where to now?
It will force the water to drain into the sea instead, something which is backed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The expensive and time-consuming technique has been used in the US for years, it is claimed.
But mycologist Paul Stamets may have a better answer: fungi that gobble radiation to grow. He told www.permaculture.co.uk that mulching and woodchipping everything around the reactor is the first step, ‘to a minimum depth of 12–24 inches’. Then native deciduous and conifer trees need to be planted, ‘along with hyper-accumulating mycorrhizal mushrooms’.
The radioactive mushrooms would need to be removed continuously, burned, and the ash safely stored.
The time-frame for rehabilitation could be decades, he added.
Those operating a tourist-related business in Brunswick Heads be warned: it’s unlikely local MP Don Page (Nationals) will defend your activity from being taken over by the NSW government-run North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP).
Last week, The Echo reported that Brunswick Buccaneer boat hire operator Ilan Schnitzler is facing eviction by NCHP.
But Mr Page is refusing to intervene, raising the question: how accountable is NCHP and its manager Jim Bolger to elected politicians?
Emails obtained by The Echo show that despite having authority over Banner Park and the waterways opposite the pub where the boats are located, Crown Lands has palmed responsibility to NCHP. And while Crown Lands, under deputy premier Andrew Stoner (Nationals), did not reply to Echo questions, Mr Page did.
He told The Echo, ‘I am advised that the [Brunswick Buccaneer’s] licence had expired some time ago.’
Terminated vs expired
However, Mr Schnitzler’s solicitor, Claire Lovejoy told The Echo the licence ‘never expired and was instead terminated’.
‘There is a clear difference between “expired” and “wrongfully terminated”,’ she said.
Mr Page then suggested that NCHP’s plan of management (POM) for the surrounding foreshore – now on public exhibition – could be an avenue for the operator to lobby his cause.
‘The operator, like all other interested parties, is able to make a submission as to the most appropriate future use for the site,’ he said. ‘Any future licence will be granted through a competitive tender process.’
While The Echo is unaware of other ‘interested parties’ wanting to hire boats in that location, kayak hire is now available at the NCHP’s Terrace Reserve Holiday Park, located a couple of hundred metres up the creek.
The surprise announcement that Mr Schnitzler’s 30-year business would now be subject to a tender process comes without warning and is not even mentioned in NCHP’s plans of management.
And despite no mention of The Brunswick Buccaneer either, there are concrete walkways and park extensions earmarked for the immediate area in the plan of management.
Conflict of interest
While this appears to be ‘making it up as you go along’ governance, another unanswered question is whether the state government has a conflict of interest.
When asked whether it was a conflict of interest to operate a commercial venture while having the power to issue licences for a similar private business close by, Mr Page said, ‘If they are hiring kayaks,’ he said, ‘then whether there is a commercial conflict of interest – or not – is a legal matter that would require appropriate legal advice. I am therefore not able to answer your question on conflict of interest.’
n Disclosure: Mr Schnitzler’s solicitor is a relative of the reporter
Byron Council among north coast local government areas to be identified
The long-awaited Local Government Review and taskforce report, spearheaded by local government minister and Byron Bay resident Don Page, was released last week.
So how are the state’s 152 local councils doing?
Not great, according to the independent report, with, ‘around a third of all NSW councils being at risk from weak revenues, infrastructure backlogs and declining populations; some are in crisis or very close.’
Third of councils at financial risk
And while Mr Page made an election promise that there will be no ‘forced amalgamations’, the report’s authors say it’s inevitable. ‘Sooner or later, amalgamations will have to be part of the package [to restore financial sustainability]: the number of councils in NSW has halved during the past century and that trend will surely continue.’
The ‘A’ word has always been uncomfortable word for residents and councils.
It’s the main concern for the organisation that represents the state’s 152 councils, Local Government NSW (LGNSW).
Within an hour of the report being released, LGNSW president Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM blasted the short time-frame for councils to provide feedback and said, ‘While the report does not support forcibly amalgamating councils, it does provide a very detailed “merger” blueprint for a future state government without the current “no forced amalgamations” policy.’
The Independent Local Government Review Panel’s report identifies Byron, Richmond Valley, Clarence Valley and Kyogle shire councils as future amalgamation targets, with critics saying a Kyogle merger could happen as early as next year.
Ignorant and happy people
On the bright side, the panel’s findings say, ‘People appear satisfied with the performance of local government – more so than with state and federal governments.’
But ignorance and disengagement in the NSW electorate also reign supreme: ‘The overall level of awareness and understanding about the role and functions of councils is quite low, and there is very limited recognition of mayors and councillors.’
As for cost-shifting from councils to the state, the report came down in favour of the state.
‘Cost-shifting has been overstated relative to other factors, but local government does have legitimate concerns about rating exemptions and concessions, and the way some fees and charges are fixed below cost.
The report concludes that ‘all concerned need to face the reality that there are no “pots of gold” in Canberra or Macquarie Street.’
n See editorial page 10
North Coast Holiday Parks wants Brunswick Buccaneer evicted
For 30 years, Brunswick Buccaneers has been an icon of Brunswick Heads, but now the tourist attraction is under threat from NSW government bureaucrats.
An eviction notice was served ‘without warning’ last Easter by Colin Woodbry from North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP) to operator Ilan Schnitzler, who has for the last 15 years hired boats, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards from his pirate ship on the river opposite the pub.
Additionally, The Echo has learned that NSW Crown Lands employee Nessbit Hurcum has hand-balled responsibility of the surrounding parks and waterways to NCHP and is ‘reluctant to go against the recommendations’ of its Trust manager and former Byron Shire Council employee, Jim Bolger.
In a startling reply to Echo inquiries, Mr Bolger refused to explain his decision to evict Mr Schnitzler and, like NCHP’s financial records, his actions remain cloaked in secrecy.
Mr Bolger told The Echo, ‘The Trust will not take part in discussing licence or legal issues through the media.’
Another PR blunder
It’s the latest public relations blunder and take-over bid by the state government-owned and privately run corporation; three Brunswick Heads caravan parks and foreshore land that were previously managed by Council were controversially taken away in 2006.
An Echo investigation later revealed that after that take-over, Council is now much worse off financially for it.
Additionally, residents criticised NCHP over the caravan parks’ subsequent encroachment on footpaths, roads and foreshores.
So far, the only state MP to be critical of the lack of transparency with the cost shifting and loss of amenity to locals is Jan Barham, who is also a former Byron Shire mayor.
And like other residents of Brunswick Heads, Mr Schnitzler is putting up a fight.
He says the consent authority of the waterway is Crown Lands, despite being ‘vaguely threatened’ by NCHP about having customers ‘illegally’ use the steps from the park as an embarkation point.
‘I received a letter by NCHP last Easter saying my lease had been terminated because of unpaid rent,’ Mr Schnitzler told The Echo.
‘I was given just four days to leave, and an extension of two weeks if I paid the $300 that was owing. There was no warning. They claimed I did not pay them rent, but I never received those letters. It was a very unprofessional letter.’
Four days’ notice
He says his tenure with Council to operate on Simpsons Creek rolled over to NCHP after it took control.
This also includes access to Banner Park, where his boat is moored.
But after engaging a solicitor to defend the eviction, Mr Schnitzler says he was advised that Crown Lands have jurisdiction on the creek, ‘as the boat is moored below the mean high-water mark and that is where the Banner Park boundary ends.’
However Crown Lands have hand-balled responsibility instead to NCHP.
Mr Schnitzler’s legal representative, Claire Lovejoy, told The Echo, ‘It appears from [Crown Lands area manager] Nessbit Hurcum’s last email that the only reason they are not giving Mr Schnitzler a permit to stay in the Crown Lands creek is because NCHP won’t give him a permit for customers to access the stairs.
‘So while he is moored in Crown Lands jurisdiction, NCHP are involved because customers enter through Banner Park.
‘I have been verbally advised by Marine Parks and Ilan has said RMS have said they will also provide their permits once he gets ‘tenure’ to stay. That can only come through Crown Lands, who say they will only provide it if NCHP allow the customers to access the stairs.’
While Mr Schnitzler says he received no return calls or emails after asking Crown Lands to intervene, Ms Lovejoy says she received an email from Mr Hurcum advising her client that he was, ‘reluctant to go against the recommendations’ of the NCHP reserve trust manager and offer a separate tenure.
Instead, Mr Hurcum suggested that as plans of management for the reserves are now on display for comment, ‘it may be an appropriate avenue for you to raise this matter through comment, for discussion and adoption – given the iconic nature of your client’s enterprise.’
The eviction plans by bureaucrats at NCHP and the hand-balling of responsibility by Crown Lands were also kept a secret from NSW minister for north coast, Don Page (Nationals).
It raises the question as to what accountability the NCHP corporation has to the government and suggests Mr Bolger and his bureaucrats are undermining the authority of the politicans – and therefore the public – whom they are supposed to serve.
While Mr Page didn’t answer The Echo’s question as to whether he was happy with Jim Bolger’s performance as NCHP manager, he did say, ‘I do receive briefings from time to time on Crown Land issues in Brunswick Heads but I’ve not been briefed on the Brunswick Buccaneers situation.’
As for the lack of transparency by NCHP, Mr Page said he was ‘surprised to hear’ that NCHP is refusing to explain its actions. ‘I believe and the government believes in transparency, so an explanation should be made.’ He added that he will follow up the case this week.
Meanwhile, Mr Schnitzler’s operation remains in limbo as he has no current permit to stay in the creek.
It comes as plans of management for Brunswick Heads caravan parks and foreshores by NCHP were put on public display. So far it has been slammed by residents as ‘pursuing maximum profits without regard for social or environmental impacts’.
Bolger also wants redgum removed
Additionally a plan by NCHP to remove an 80-year-old forest redgum (Eucalyptus Tereticornis) in Banner Park recently angered locals who successfully fought to retain it ten years ago after it was also then deemed dangerous. Byron Shire Council staff instead have recommended the fate of the tree be left up to councillors at the February 14 meeting.
NCHP’s Colin Woodbry did not reply to The Echo by the time of going to press; however, Crown Lands senior surveyor Nessbit Hurcum told The Echo he could not respond to our enquiries due to departmental protocols, but the enquiry had been sent to their communications group.
n Disclosure: the reporter for this story is related to Mr Schnitzler’s legal representative.