Noise monitoring of events at North Byron Parklands (NBP) in Yelgun will be put to the vote on at this Thursday’s Council meeting after the state government refused to hand over its own internal report to Council.
In his motion, mayor Simon Richardson says, ‘In four years time, Council will be the determining body when considering the long-term use of this site and the appropriateness of holding festivals and events. It is therefore beneficial to Council to have its own set of data, over a few years, from which to judge the noise issue and with which to compare other noise monitoring testing.’
While no funds have been identified for the project, Council staff say they have been quoted $6,900 plus GST per event.
In a letter to Council on November 8 last year, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure’s Chris Ritchie wrote, ‘I note you have requested to be provided with a copy of the department’s site visit report from the 2013 [Splendour In The Grass] SITG event. The report prepared by the departmental officer attending the event was prepared for internal information only, therefore I am unable to make this available to Council.’
When The Echo questioned the secrecy, the department’s media spokesperson said the officer who attended the 2013 Splendour in the Grass Festival did not prepare a formal ‘site visit report’.
‘The “report” referred to in the letter to Byron Shire Council refers to informal, internal notes that are not appropriate to release publicly.’
Hans Lovejoy & Luis Feliu
The newly anointed NSW Labor candidate for Tweed, Ron Goodman, wasted no time in trying to wedge incumbent MP Geoff Provest (Nationals) over a paid parking proposal for Tweed Hospital.
Goodman is demanding that details be released and wants an explanation to why there has been no public consultation.
Mr Goodman said, ‘It is an arrogant money grabbing exercise by the Nationals and shows how out of touch they have become. Patients – many of them elderly – and their families have to drive and they will now have to pay for parking. They will have no choice.’
Until recently Goodman, 41, was the editor of www.mydailynews.com.au (APN) and before that worked at Quest newspapers (Newscorp) in Brisbane for ten years. When asked what he thought were Labor’s weaknesses, Goodman laughed said he ‘wouldn’t buy into that,’ but said that he wanted to contribute to the party to make it better and believed strongly in their core values. Goodman will contest Provest’s seat of Tweed in the upcoming 2015 NSW election.
Provest ignored by A Stoner
It comes as a Tweed residents’ group were recently snubbed by NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner despite a request by Provest for them to meet. Dubbed Save Lot 490, the group has amassed more than 10,000 signatures and is petitioning the government to save a 40-hectare block between Kingscliff and Salt from development. It’s one of the last remaining blocks of coastal land on the Tweed and has been the subject of a public campaign for years. Save Lot 490 group’s Jerry Cornford told The Echo that despite Provest trying to arrange a meeting with the group and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner when he was in Tweed recently, the minister’s staff said he was ‘too busy’.
The Echo reported at the time that no details of Mr Stoner’s visit were made available.
Last year the embattled Leightons Property group pulled the pin on a proposed resort project earmarked for the site, handing it back to the state government. But in a controversial move, the state government changed the block’s status from Crown land to ‘government property’, which the site’s defenders saw as preparing it for sale. Lot 490 was also the site of a rare species of orchid, Geodorum Densiflorum, destroyed by a fire police believe was deliberately lit in July last year, only two weeks after staff had collected seeds and sent them to the Millennium Seed Project at Royal Kew Gardens in the UK.
A much-anticipated protest against the current Abbott government and its draconian polices have hit a local bureaucratic snag.
The Byron Bay organisers of the planned March in March say they are the victim of stalling tactics from Byron Council that are aimed to extract money.
The weekend of marches is planned from March 15 to 17 across the nation.
But Byron Shire Council’s director of infrastructure services, Phil Holloway, told The Echo Council’sroad closure process for events and marches ‘includes a fee for road closures which is set each year as part of the Council’s fees and charges.’
‘The fee was paid at the time the road application was lodged and the application was considered by the Local Traffic Committee (LTC) on February 5, which recommended approval subject to conditions.’
The ultimate decision, according to Mr Holloway, comes down to councillors, not staff, and the issue will be voted on at Thursday’s meeting. ‘The Council administration cannot waive fees. The matter has been brought to the attention of Council and they will consider approval for the road closure permit and fees associated with the march at the meeting this week.’
But organiser Kim Wright told The Echo, ‘We are not an event. This sounds pedantic, but it has legal implications.
‘We are a public assembly – a public protest, which is totally different. About 60,000 people protested Sunday night in all capital cities over the death of the young man in Manus… did they have to pay insurance, fees, application costs? I think not.
‘Our biggest mistake was trying to do the right thing and involve Council.’
If all is resolved, the march will commence Sunday March 16, starting at 11am on Bay Street and will head to Railway Park. MC Mandy Nolan and other locals will speak. For more visit marchinmarch.com.au.
Chemical-free weed control has come to Byron and soon you may be seeing this chap steaming roadside weeds, carparks, playgrounds and estates around the Shire.
It’s all thanks to an Aussie patent, which gives just the right heat to a spray nozzle to kill weeds. And remarkably the weeds are mostly eradicated after a second application.
Local property maintenance business operator Paul Sommers, from Garden Warriors, is the north coast licensee for Australian company WeedTechnics, and has partnered with Byron Shire Council to trial it on open spaces.
The new venture is called Steam Weeders, and his rounds will include Mullum’s new Tallowood Estate and various parks and playgrounds.
Sommers said he was compelled to look for alternatives to herbicide use after public concern about their widespread use.
While the proliferation of herbicide use is a concern that mainstream media has largely ignored, it was the subject of a 2012 University of Leipzig study which found 100 per cent contamination of Monsanto’s glysophate in all urine samples tested. Additionally glysophate exposure in rats resulted in decreased testosterone levels, according to a 2011 paper published by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).
‘It makes chemical use – especially around public places – almost redundant,’ says Sommers.
‘There’s no risk of litigation due to toxic spray drift, and it can be used in all weather conditions.
‘It also gives native plants a chance to grow after the weeds have been eradicated. It’s perfect for rehabilitating weed-infested waterways and organic farms as well.’
Council’s parks and gardens superintendent, Andy Erskine, is supportive of initial trials, saying applications last month at the Suffolk Park sports field carpark appeared to work well.
‘From initial observations, certain weed types such as flat and broadleaf, fit best under the applicator hood and are immediately burnt back.’
The robust invention all sits on a trailer – a diesel engine heats up a water boiler to 120ºC; that is attached to a specially designed ‘Steamwand’. The WeedTechnics website claims that, ‘for hydro-thermal weeding to be commercially viable, temperatures need to be greater than 98°C, and must have rapid transfer into the plant cells.’
Sommers enthuses, ‘Hybrid and fully electric vehicles incorporating the invention are being developed and some were on display at a recent trade show.’
And it’s also not the first time Byron has had the WeedTechnics technology available: in 2011 a local steam weeding business launched; however, the owner relocated to WA soon after.
But it is a first for Byron Council – the trial supports an ambitious resolution back in late November 2013 to be chemical free within five years.
Byron has now joined other councils in trialling chemical-free weed control, including Victorian councils of Maroondah, Yarra and Greater Dandenong.
Fremantle (WA) and Leichhardt (NSW) have such programs in place already.
To be included on the Register of Chemical Sensitive Residents and Organic Growers, visit www.byron.nsw.gov.au/register-of-chemical-sensitive-residents-and-organic-growers.
For FAQ on steam weeding, visit www.weedtechnics.com and to get your greens steamed, call Paul on 0431 331 810.
New rural services for landowners are ‘unconstitutional’ and of ‘no value to rural landowners’
While NSW government services for rural landowners morphed into Local Land Services (LLS) on January 1, a class action against LLS claims the revenue collected is unconstitutional and is not value for money, especially for those who don’t run stock or grow crops.
The centralising of services is the ‘biggest change to agricultural services in 60 years’, says the body representing NSW Farmers, and has seen the LLS replace the Livestock Health and Pest Authorities (LHPA) and Catchment Management Authorities (CMA).
The class action comes as Goonengerry resident Howard Furner faces a pre-trial court hearing in Lismore on February 25 over unpaid LHPA rates for his property. Furner’s land has been reforested after years of cattle use, and therefore is without livestock or food crops. He told The Echo, ‘I don’t even open their letters any more because they don’t provide any services.’
Apart from LHPA failing to help with the wild dog crisis in the shire around 2011, Furner claims that LHPA annual returns show millions were spent on consultants.
Russell Preston is in a similar situation, because his land doesn’t run stock or grow crops.
The Brisbane-based theoretical physicist owns 12 hectares in The Pocket, and told The Echo he refuses to pay LHPA rates ‘as it is of no value’.
And as Preston found out, the state government has the power to claim private property for unpaid rates. ‘Despite registering my property in a voluntary conservation agreement, the then-Rural Land Protection Board (RLPB) put my property up for sale for unpaid rates in 2003. It was only averted moments before an auction was to take place.’
He added that ‘no politicians have been any use’ with his cause.
A recent survey conducted by NSW Farmers revealed 56 per cent of respondents say that LHPA is not value for money.
So is the new LLS an unwieldily bureaucratic behemoth acting illegally? ‘This is bigger than the Titanic and no media are reporting on it,’ says 75-year-old landowner Trevor Kirk, who has set up a class action against the LLS (http://llsclassaction.com).
The retired corporate accountant describes himself as a ‘habitat and fresh air farmer’ and has been fighting the ‘funding regime of the NSW government’ since 2006 on the grounds it is ‘discriminatory, in breach of the Australian Constitution, persecutes landholders and is in their worst interests’.
‘Under Sir Lunch-a-lot [disgraced Labor primary industries minister, Ian McDonald], they reduced the land size from ten to four hectares, but there was an uproar and they changed it back.’
Kirk’s aim is to get landowners to contribute to a ‘fighting fund’ that will enable a High Court challenge.
‘I believe it’s unconstitutional for a state government to create any tax or levy,’ he says. ‘The federal government set taxes, and the state can only raise taxes, not impose them.’
He also claims that despite the name changes, NSW Liberal, Nationals and Labor parties have let the rort continue.
‘In this new LLS structure, MP Katrina Hodgkinson controls 58 per cent of the votes and she has set the rules.
‘She appears to be appointing stooges like her predecessors did.’
Despite Kirk’s claims of ‘business as usual’, there are now new managers and bureaucrats in charge.
Bruce Brown is one of the new crop and is the new north coast general manager of LLS, based in Coffs Harbour.
And as with the North Coast Holiday parks, there is a corporate tone to the government-run organisation. Brown told The Echo he comes to the job as a former NSW Farmers and corporate lobbyist, and ‘did work with helping banks develop connections with the farming sector.’
‘I’m from the private sector and am commercially driven,’ he said, ‘and we will be triple bottom focused with economic growth, as the sector has dipped in previous years.’
To achieve this, he said, the LLS will hold workshops and provide advice and education. And while the budget of the north coast LLS was still being finalised, Brown said the region – which covers Port Macquarie to Tweed – employs ‘around 40.’
But hard questions are still on the drawing board, with Brown admitting that the exemption sugarcane farmers had with LHPA is being reconsidered, as is the rateable system of land for ratepayers.
As for upcoming board member elections, enrolments closed Monday, and Brown conceded that 1,000-odd enrolments was a ‘low’ figure.
Upon hearing of Mr Furner’s court case, he said he would be ‘delighted’ to come and attend any group meeting with landowners who are dissatisfied with LSS services.
For more contact the Grafton office on 6642 0625.
When you put a sign up that says ‘Wet paint – don’t touch’, what happens?
Or better still, what happens when you put a sign up that says ‘Please refrain from making any insult, allegation or personal reflection against any person during the course of your address to Council’?
After suffering through Suffolk Park resident Peter Wegner’s waffling thanks to councillors and staff for the hard work they do, long-term Council agitator Fast Buck$ bellows from the back of the room, ‘You’re a boring and tedious old git – stop sucking up to them!’
And so welcome, public, councillors and staff, to the first of the 2014 meetings, held last Thursday.
It was long as usual – something that Cr Basil Cameron reminded us of at around 4.30pm when there was no one left in the room except councillors, staff and myself.
SGB NYE fall out
In morning public access, South Golden Beach resident Ginger told councillors that infrastructure and the beach in her area were damaged under the stress of visitors during the new year period, which also included the nearby Falls Festival. ‘A tree was cut down for firewood and there were fires all over the beach throughout the period,’ she said. She also said she took upon herself to monitor the beach and advise visitors who may inadvertently be damaging the area.
‘We were inundated by people who took to the dunes,’ she said. ‘People have no idea how sensitive the beach and dunes are – there are birds living in the dunes.’
She said she wants to start a program to alert the public to this. Ginger can be contacted on 0402 693 820 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debate over how to approach the West Byron Project development concluded with agreement to make a submission to the Department of Planning to establish its authority over the urban release area’s draft Development Control Plan (DCP).
Council also asks that ‘a sufficient proportion’ of the Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA) funds be forwarded to Council, so a ‘timely construction of the bypass’ can be made ahead of subdivision. Council will also seek the remaining amount from the state government, and noted that it has $2.5m in Section 94 funds available.
Crs Ibrahim, Cubis, Woods and Cameron voted against the motion.
In other – and by no means only – resolutions, Tallowood Ridge Estate got the nod to start stage three of its Mullumbimby development. Thirty-one residential allotments will be released next, with a total of around 250 planned. Mayor Simon Richardson pushed for a meeting with the developers over the sports fields component, and suggested that they may become recreational fields instead.
Byron NYE, park and ride
The great Byron NYE park -and-ride experiment was also thrashed out, with Cr Di Woods claiming, ‘It wasn’t a success in any way, shape or form,’ and was concerned about costs, which she estimated at around $200,000.
Cr Chris Cubis also added some criticism. ‘I don’t recall the community asking for a park and ride. I remember the illegal camping and trashing the town.’ But the mayor hit back, claiming his pet project wouldn’t stack up economically the first time. ‘It’s worrying to hear the distrust with the figures. It’s quite offensive.’
‘We learned a lot, and this has always been in a strategic plan.’ Council agreed to stage a three-year trial and develop an operational plan and budget, which may include sponsorship to help offset expenditure.
n To view the entire minutes, visit www.byron.nsw.gov.au.
The pressure is on to explain why the NSW deputy premier would come all the way up from Sydney to spruik ‘putting regional NSW back at the heart of government’ yet at the same time syphon money away from it.
Andrew Stoner (also NSW Nationals leader) was in Tweed last Thursday, and travelled up with five other senior NSW MPs for ‘party business’ and to meet Tweed Council, ‘local business owners and groups’.
But the specifics were vague – when asked, no names of the business owners or groups were supplied by Mr Stoner’s media spokesperson.
But it was an opportunity for The Echo to ask Mr Stoner directly whether he would return management of Brunswick Heads’ public caravan parks and Crown reserves back to the Byron Shire Council.
Mr Stoner, who has the power to do so, said simply he ‘hadn’t ruled it out’.
In 2006 the parks were controversially taken over by the state and handed to the North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP) by former disgraced Labor MP Tony Kelly, with a claim they had been mismanaged.
And ever since, major cost-shifting has occurred: The Echo previously reported that when council ran the parks in 2003–04, it made almost $1 million ($860,553) but under state control in 2011-12, NCHP paid $196,818 from park income to Byron Council.
Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson is calling for the return of management to Council, and it follows widespread community concern over future development of the parks and reserves by NCHP.
In 2012, former Byron general manager Graeme Faulkner lifted the veil of confidentiality over the report used by the state government to justify the Brunswick Heads parks takeover, and was damning of its claims.
The report was also discredited by most councillors at the time as deceptive and full of misinformation in order to justify stripping Council of its trusteeship of the parks.
Why should visitors to Brunswick Heads have private access to public lands while the residents are excluded?
It was just one of many unanswered questions that were again brought up on Saturday at the second public information session, held by North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP) manager, Jim Bolger.
Plans by NCHP to develop the town’s three holiday parks and five Crown foreshore reserves are currently on public exhibition.
And at both meetings, residents expressed confusion, anger and exasperation as to why access they had enjoyed over generations should be taken away at NCHP’s discretion.
But it was not only public access and boundary encroachments that were sore points for locals.
Resident Sean O’Meara told The Echo, ‘The town is basically under attack from privatisation,’ referring to the state-run private corporation NCHP.
In backing the claim, elderly long-time Brunswick Heads resident and father of Sean, D’Arcy O’Meara, has told The Echo that local NSW Nationals MP Don Page first brought to his attention ‘this scam’ between the then-NSW Labor government and a ‘network of public servants’.
‘He explained to me the danger of how they would take possession of [the public assets],’ he said, ‘… isolating the community and eventually it would become the property of the state government… so they could sell it or lease it to people such as NCHP and other similar things. Mr Page said, “When we gain power in parliament, we will rectify this; we will dismantle it so it will come back to the local people.”
‘In government they’ve gone to water.’
Mr Page was asked for comment but no reply was received by the time of going to press.
Meanwhile, a closed meeting between Byron Council and NCHP’s Mr Bolger was held on Thursday, presumably to negotiate the long-running public access and boundary issues.
While questions to mayor Simon Richardson remain unanswered, Cr Di Woods told The Echo it was a ‘very intense’ meeting and ‘Council will form a submission for the Crown’s consideration, after it has received legal advice on many aspects in the proposed plans.’
‘My desire is to see an outcome for the community, visitors and the caravan parks, that gives everyone most of what they would like, but importantly, it is Brunswick Heads and its residents that need assurance that the village will not become another Noosa.
‘There are only approximately 1,600 residents, and it would be criminal in my view to destroy their amenity, and to negate the very thing that people come here for and that is the “simple pleasures” on offer for families.
‘I believe that the proposed plans will enable the holiday parks to become more expensive; however, while there’s nothing wrong with commercial interests improving their bottom line.
‘This could exclude those people that this community and business fraternity have worked so hard to attract.’
A short NCHP history
There’s a new approach by activists battling against the planned natural gas industry expansion in the region: a number of Metgasco’s largest shareholders have been sent a letter advising them about the size and effectiveness of the social movement that opposes its operations.
It comes as protesters gear up for a fight against proposed drilling operations at Bentley, near Lismore.
Michael Qualmann, on behalf of Gasfield Free Northern Rivers, sent the letters last week saying that Metgasco had been understating the scale of public opposition and that the regional community was well organised and had undertaken training in non-violent direct action.
Mr Qualmann says Byron Bay resident John Vaughan, whose super fund is listed in Metgasco’s 2013 annual return as its eighth largest shareholder, contacted Mr Qualmann after the letter was sent and told him that he may lose his home in litigation.
‘I don’t know why anyone would consider this litigious’, Mr Qualmann told The Echo, ‘I’m actually doing the shareholders a service by providing them with information about risks to their investment that they may not be aware of.’ He also referred to the 87 per cent who voted against gasfield developments in the Lismore poll and that over 119 communities had declared themselves gasfield free by margins over 90 per cent and were prepared to fight to prevent gasfield establishment.
Both Mr Vaughan and CEO of Metgasco, Peter Henderson, declined to comment to The Echo.