While proponents of rail trail continue to spruik repurposing the region’s disused railways, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson (Greens) is calling on ‘potential providers or users of the rail line for proposals and plans that utilise the rail corridor in Byron Shire, while not removing the tracks.’
He’s organised a meeting at the Byron Community Centre, on Thursday July 17 from 6.30pm and says it’s a chance for the community to come and hear what other options may exist for the rail corridor, ‘aside from a far away train return, or the track-removing rail trail proposal.’
The call follows the second government-funded study on the region’s tracks; the first explored the plausibility of returning rail, while the latest released mid-June examined the possibility of rail trails.
And while that report recommended the track’s removal to accomodate rail trail, it also spruiked a possible $200 million per year injection for the region.
Cr Richardson said, ‘Whether it be festival sites seeking ways to bring attendees to a site via public-transport rail-line options, or developers seeking to establish housing clusters along the line, it is also important that possible users of track-based transport options can outline their vision.’
MP ignores light rail
But that view is not shared with local state MP Don Page (Nationals), who recently told Parliament that he is ‘keen to see a rail trail established on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line,’ and has been lobbying to have the rail trail funded from the $110 million Regional Tourism Fund.
Interestingly, Mr Page failed to tell parliament that the 2013 independent report into returning rail did not include the potential use of light rail.
According to Hansard’s transcription from June 19, he said, ‘[The report] indicated that any combination of train services on the line would not meet the public transport needs of the region because two of the three largest urban areas – Ballina and Tweed Heads – would not be serviced.’
He said that Treasury and Infrastructure NSW ‘are currently examining the [current rail trail] report to verify the consultant’s cost-benefit analysis and after this is done I am confident further announcements regarding funding for this project will be made by this government.’
Meanwhile the mayor says, ‘It is time now for the community to join the discussion of how best to provide transport options for our community, especially our youth.’
‘It is time for all those who have formalised or well-considered ideas or projects that utilise the rail tracks to come forward and share them with the wider community.’
A chapter for business in Mullumbimby will soon be closed as Bi-Rite shuts shop over the coming weeks.
Owner-operator Graeme Wilson will be selling off remaining stock and then taking a long-earned break from working full time in retail for nearly 23 years.
All but one of his full time employees have already landed other jobs in the region.
‘I’ll be doing everything possible to help find employment for him,’ he says.
‘It’s the right time to go,’ Graeme reflects. ‘While business was still performing well, I started to see the signs.’
Following US retail model
As for the causes, he says a combination of the pressure from bigger chain stores and the internet has played its part.
‘Australia seems to be following the same retail business model that the USA has, but only a few years behind.
‘I don’t begrudge that – it’s just the reality.
‘I think ultimately we all as consumers decide the retail landscape, but I still feel it is a sad time to see the stores with personalised service on the decline.’
After completing Mullum High School, Graeme began his career in retail, which included working for the town’s only other electrical and furniture shop – Bridglands.
‘I was there for over 11 years before going out on my own in 2003, buying the business that originally was started by Bill and Noel James in 1953.
‘We started out at one end of Burringbar Street and in 2007 moved to much larger premises at the other end, next to the Commonwealth Bank.’
As for the building’s future, he is unsure whether to sell or retain it – at 500 square metres in size, the building is one of the largest in town.
Graeme says he is open to any good suggestions or offers on what it could be used for.
‘The local community has been good to me for a very long time, for which I am very grateful. And equally I have always tried to return that support in any way possible.’
Graeme says he is looking forward to taking some time out and having a long-earned rest with some travelling also planned.
The Pacific Highway’s Ballina to Woolgoolga upgrade will be constructed through the middle of the region’s most intact koala colony after the state government approved the proposed western route last week.
And in response to public concerns over the endangered marsupial, the NSW roads and freight minister Duncan Gay announced that ‘a team of experts will be brought together to develop a detailed koala management plan’ for the upgrade. He says the appointment, ‘allows the next stages of early work to start, while the overall project is considered by the federal department of the environment.’
In a letter from Mr Gay to local MP Don Page (Nationals), the roads and freight minister explained why his department has ignored public calls to keep the highway’s current alignment. The minister said the route suggested by koala advocates was not ideal. ‘While a shorter route, the southern section cuts into Broadwater National Park, which has also been identified as having an important koala population.’
He also claimed such a route would be along a flood plain, would traverse underlying soft soils and therefore earth fill would be required.
‘It would require acquisition of high-yield canefields, residences and farm infrastructure… and would pose a considerable engineering risk at a much greater cost.’
But koala campaigner Garry Owers claims widening the existing highway would be the quickest and cheapest solution and would affect far fewer koalas. ‘They just have to add more lanes which they have room for, and it can be done quickly.’
Mr Owers, who works at Richmond River County Council, says he has studied acid sulfate soils and specialises in wetlands.
‘Contrary to the minister’s claims, trimming the road’s edge would not result in having to acquire a lot of canefields and residences.’
More significantly, Mr Owers says the minister’s proposal would see more flooding risk than the aligning with the current highway.
‘Dingle Creek is subject to three-metre flooding, which is far greater than the route along the current alignment,’ he says.
Mr Owers concluded by saying that by 2005 he suspected the government had already made the current plans and was just playing lip service to give the appearance of consultation.
Meanwhile Friends of the Koala president Lorraine Vass says she is concerned about the long-term decline in koala numbers as well as the actual construction phase.
‘There are no mitigation measures while the road is being built,’ she says. ‘During the construction of the section at St Helena in Ewingsdale, RMS (Road Maritime Services) records only roadkill as impacting on koala populations.
‘Our experience from this is that there will be a spike in mortality rates. Other places where upgrades have been done, for example at the Yelgun to Chinderah upgrade in the early 2000s, we were hearing that the numbers of koalas dropped dramatically.
‘But generally population decline takes time; you can construct underpasses etc but there’s no guarantees on maintaining the populations.’
‘A town square beheading without even letting the public bear witness,’ was how Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson described the quiet adoption of large-scale development plans for Brunswick Heads holiday parks and reserves last week.
And while fellow councillor Di Woods also condemned the contentious plans by the government-run NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust corporation, our locally elected state representative, Don Page (Nationals), is remaining mute.
When asked by The Echo for comment on the independent audit’s questionable findings about the public submission report, the retiring MP instead suggested that questions be passed back to the organisation that compiled the report.
It’s unclear if Mr Page even read the submission report and subsequent audit; his reply was, ‘[The Crown Holiday Parks Trust’s media officer] is in a much better position than I regarding any details.’
The mayor slammed the long-serving MP with, ‘I presume Don Page’s silence over the matter is due to utter embarrassment.’
Broken election promise
Notwithstanding the 2006 holiday parks takeover by disgraced NSW minister Tony Kelly from Council and loss of revenue, the mayor also took aim at the government’s claims when elected that it would ‘put locals back in control of planning matters that affect them’.
‘Not only have the Brunswick Heads Plans of Management (POM) kept control over the holiday parks in the hands of the state government appointed “Trust” seeking the highest return; they have put the same operators in charge of ensuring compliance, the setting of public access widths and overall reporting. For example, what was once public access that allowed fishing and picnicking, could, if the manager sees fit, be as narrow as 1.8 metres wide.’
Meanwhile Cr Woods told The Echo, ‘While some concessions have been made over all the parks, there is still no access being granted along the foreshore at The Terrace Reserve Caravan Park, but rather an adjusted plan for the public to walk through the park.’
According to the public submission report – which is of questionable validity due to the audit review – there were 80 supporting submissions to, ‘Provide public access to and along the foreshore at Terrace Reserve’.
Cr Woods said river access and access outside the park boundary was a ‘major point’ from all the public submissions.
She says another issue along the riverbank is the ‘continued erosion along the edge, which is compounded by the permanent residents’ structures that almost hang over the edge.’
‘The Trust representative said that the permanent residents along the edge of the river will be moved by natural attrition.
‘However, there has been a sale to a resident during the last couple of years, with no indication to the purchaser that their structure was in fact in a position that the Crown had previously informed Council during its control was inappropriate, and Council had been informed that the structure had to be moved and in fact had asked that Council relocate all the residents living in structures that were hanging over the edge of the river bank.
‘Council had begun the process, prior to the Crown assuming control of the parks.
‘Under the Trust’s management, it appears that they do not believe that this problem needs urgent attention, and I find that quite at odds with the instructions given to Council, and wonder what is really in store for those residents.’
‘There are a number of concessions that contain a get-out clause, which basically says they could change their mind. For example, a fence being erected along The Terrace Road, while not in the immediate plans, could be seen to be necessary at a later date, while access through the park could be stopped if deemed unsafe.
‘I am of the opinion that once the plans of management have been implemented, and the parks have been given the majority of their upgrades, then the state will see them as a very attractive piece of real estate to be offered up for sale to private enterprise.
‘Not just in Bruns, but places like Evans Head, Ballina, and many other parcels of land, particularly along the coast, will be seen as a way for the state government to get some fast money. Just like the sale of the NSW Lotteries, the electricity infrastructure, the Newcastle port etc.’
NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust CEO Steve Edmonds has defended his development plans for Bruns, despite similar plans sparking public outrage at the Silver Sands caravan park in Evans Head.
He echoed NSW minister Kevin Humphries reply last week that ‘41 amendments were made to the plans of management as a result of public input,’ and repeated that subject to ‘reasonable conditions’, public access through The Terrace Holiday Park and to Simpsons Creek will continue.
He told The Echo, ‘The public car park and kayak launching facilities will be upgraded as part of this plan.
‘The Trust will progressively relocate existing structures away from foreshore sites to enable the re-establishment of a natural bank profile and the protection and restoration of the vegetation communities as part of its foreshore environmental restoration project.’
While ignoring public concerns over access, Mr Edmonds spruiked the development, saying, ‘Additionally, the Torakina and Banner Park Reserves will benefit from $1m worth of improvements such as playground facilities, boardwalk platform and upgraded amenities which will benefit the local communities, businesses in the area, tourists and other visitors to Brunswick Heads.’
Asked why there was no public announcement over these major developments, Mr Edmonds replied, ‘In accord with due process, it is appropriate to firstly brief local councils in relation to the adoption of plans of management before public announcement. The meeting with Council was arranged to fit with Council availability.’
The mayor meanwhile said that during the last year or so of negotiations with the Holiday Parks managers, ‘it was clear we would struggle to achieve anything like the outcomes the community deserved.
‘But with the state government requiring Council to negotiate, we did so in good faith. I thought if we could maintain public access, we had secured at least something for the community, knowing that ultimately we were being forced to play the tune created for us by the state government.
‘Though tenuous, the community have managed to keep public access along the Brunswick River in front of two parks, with a touch more public access gained on the eastern side of Massey Greene, but access through The Terrace Reserve will be at the discretion of the managers.
‘There is absolutely no compulsion whatever for the permanent dwellings to move away from Simpsons Creek and allow for public access as appropriate. To rub salt in the wounds, this disgraceful management model has been promoted within the wider review of the Crown Lands Act as a model example of efficient and successful management.’
Brunswick Heads chamber of commerce president Peter Wotton told The Echo their reply was still in progress, as ‘one person on this committee is ill at the moment, we have not been able to consider all the issues as yet.’
‘We will have a statement for you on this very important and complex matter soon.’
A legal showdown between the developers pushing for a large-scale Bangalow mixed residential-commercial building and Council is likely to return to the Land and Environment Court after councillors voted to reject a compromise proposal recommended by staff at last Thursday’s meeting.
The two-storey building proposal is adjacent to the A&I Hall and would include eight dwellings, three shops with basement car park and an attic.
It would take up almost the entire property. When the plans were initially revealed it riled residents, including the Bangalow School P&C, and public meetings were held in response. Residents claimed such a large-scale building would set a precedent and was not in keeping with the town’s low-key planning strategies.
Crs Cubis, Woods and Hunter voted against, while Crs Richardson, Cameron, Dey, Spooner, Ibrahim and Wanchap voted for the legal clash.
The vote re-affirms a previous decision, which was based on concerns for ‘bulk and scale,’ among other factors. And despite some concessions by applicant Gordon Highlands, the development still contravenes Council’s development control plan (DCP). The vote comes despite staff recommending to approve it if the general manager undertook conciliation. Confidential legal advice was also presented. Ex-councillor and vocal opponent Jenny Coman told The Echo, ‘We are very proud of those councillors who supported their community by voting against the staff recommendation [to accept the development]. I know how difficult it is to do that and we thank them.’