Residents campaigning against the controversial state-government approved makeover of Brunswick Heads’ foreshore parks will take their fight to the Ombudsman as the Greens added their voice to calls for management of the parks be given back to Byron Shire Council.
Locals, angered that the state lands minister Kevin Humphries (Nationals) has dismissed their call to suspend the works and investigate the process which led to the approval of the management plans for the crown reserve parks and reserves, will ask the Ombudsman to look into it.
At a meeting last week attended by around 400 people, residents were told there was a clear conflict of interest with the developer of the controversial plans, the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust (NSWCHPT), also in charge of processing public submissions and recommending approval, and that residents were not properly consulted.
A petition with more than 2,500 signatures was also ignored. The town’s progress association wants a stop to the plans till locals are heard, while the Foreshore Protection Group says the plans are legally invalid.
In a show of support for locals yesterday, Greens candidate fore the seat of Ballina, Tamara Smith, joined with Greens MLC Jan Barham (a former Byron shire mayor), Byron mayor Simon Richardson and Byron Cr Duncan Dey at the village’s popular Banner Park on the foreshore, where a huge 400-square-metre deck and enlarged playground and boardwalk are planned for the grassed area favoured by families.
Many locals say the plans for the parks, set to start after Easter, which include an 18-space car park to replace more grassed picnic area at Torakina Reserve, is an over-development, yet they have welcomed some aspects such as rock-wall, toilet and some footpath upgrades.
The Greens say the parks trust should cancel its plans to ‘commercialise the foreshore reserves’.
Ms Barham said the shady takeover of the parks by the previous Labor government and the parks’ current management under the Nationals/Liberals was an ‘abuse of power by both governments’, with ‘a commercial agenda’ set over the ‘wishes of the community’.
She said the trashing of heritage and environmental planning laws by the trust in their bid were all ‘at odds and against all the principles’ of the Crown Lands Act.
Ms Barham said Byron council was strapped for cash with the pressures of tourism, and managing the popular parks was an opportunity for the community to get some money back from them.
‘But here, that opportunity to get money from the crown reserves goes to the developer: how wrong is that?
‘It should all have been an independent process and not one where the developer is also the regulator and arbitrator, which is just outrageous and a classic abuse of power’.
‘It’s shocking that our crown reserves are seen as a cash cow by this government, if I was a business I would be outraged at having to compete with the government which has an unfair advantage’.
Tamara Smith said the trust’s plan ‘not only threaten the family-friendly character that the town is renowned for, but they are grossly un-democratic and have shut out the local community from meaningful consultation’.
She told Echonetdaily he loved the un-spoilt, natural character of the town which she knew well as her grandfather was a local fisherman in the village and she holidayed at ‘Bruns’ as a child.
‘The idea that the beautiful grassy picnic area behind Torakina Beach would be replaced by a car park and kiosk, and that an over-size deck would almost engulf Banner Park is unacceptable to locals who treasure Brunswick Heads for being a relaxed and low-key place to enjoy,’ she said.
‘It’s time the state government stopped trying to make money out of public assets and returned the management of all Crown reserves back to Council.
‘The caravan park’s huge profits should be put into infrastructure that the community actually wants.’
Ms Barham said that across NSW, more and more decision-making was being removed from local communities ‘and handed over to bureaucrats or developers with a profit motive for public lands’.
She said the state government ‘needs to stop hiding behind their commercial arm, the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust and give the local community the power to determine the future of Brunswick Heads.
‘The proposed works at around the Brunswick Heads foreshore will fundamentally alter the character of the town and destroy the much loved atmosphere and environment of this small coastal community.
‘The Greens stand beside the community in calling for the North Coast Holiday Parks Trust to cancel their plans and hand all management responsibility back to Byron Shire Council, after being wrongly stripped away by the previous Labor Government in 2006,’ the MP said.
Mayor Richardson said Brunswick Heads i’s a special place where families come to swim, picnic and relax’.
‘Tourism is a vital part of the Brunswick Heads economy, but the needs of tourism need to be balanced with the desires of local people who live here,’ Cr Richardson said.
‘I’ve been approached by many locals who are concerned about the state government’s perceived “take-over” of Brunswick Heads, and who would simply appreciate some basic amenity upgrades, not the massive works currently proposed.
‘The government went to the last election saying that they would return planning powers to local communities. Well now is their chance.
‘Council would happily resume management responsibility for the Brunswick Heads foreshore reserves and ensure the community was at the heart of any decisions made,’ Cr Richardson said.
Ms Smith challenged her National Party opponent for the seat of Ballina, Kris Beavis, to ‘show his hand on this issue and let the community know if he supports these inappropriate development plans’.
But Mr Beavis, in an extraordinary response, told Echonetdaily he had not read the plans of management, yet claimed there was ‘misinformation’ being spread about the proposed deck.
Labor candidate Paul Spooner said he had taken the concerns of the public meeting at Brunswick Heads he attended last week to his shadow minister for crown lands.
Meanwhile, Ms Smith also said that if she was elected, the Greens would commit to funding $100,000 of improvements at Waterlily Park in Ocean Shores, across the river from Brunswick Heads.
These include a new children’s playground with safety fencing and shade structures, new seating, lighting, BBQ facilities and toilet block, additional tennis and net ball courts, improved pathways and interpretative signage, removal of aquatic weeds from the lake and installation of devices to filter storm water pollution.
‘Waterlily Park is an important recreation asset for the Ocean Shores community and it’s clear that a significant investment is needed to improve the playground, amenity and sports facilities there to benefit local families,’ Ms Smith said.
‘If elected, I commit to funding an infrastructure upgrade and amenity improvements at Waterlily Park in consultation with the community.
‘This will be funded by the Greens new $20 billion infrastructure plan that will raise revenue by restoring taxation measures on property speculators and poker machines in large clubs; not by privatising our electricity poles and wires like the Nationals plan to do.’