Campaigners against what they say is a long-running ‘land grab’ of public foreshore lands by adjoining crown-reserve caravan parks in Brunswick Heads have accused park managers of misleading the state government over what the agreed park boundaries are.
They also claim Byron Shire Council’s authority to determine the operational boundaries of the three parks had been usurped in a ‘cunning sleight of hand’, which established contentious encroachments as ‘agreed’ park boundaries.
The contentious saga over the park boundaries has reignited with the so-called ‘interim’ 12-month licences, which council has to issue for two of the parks (Massey Greene and The Terrace), expiring next week (on May 9).
But the Foreshore Protection Group and residents have called on council to take the opportunity and ‘reassert its authority’ over the re-issuing of the licences and ‘restate’ its long-held position on park boundaries and conditions as ‘a matter of urgency’.
They also want the local government minister’s approval for those conditions.
FPG spokesperson Michele Grant said that ‘including all encroached lands’ within the operational boundaries of the caravan parks in the plans of management (POMs) was ‘certainly not council’s intention in approving a 12-month interim licence in May 2013’ (for the two parks).
At the time, council resolved to ‘continue negotiations with the other affected parties to find agreement on maps and to define operational boundaries’ prior to the exhibition of draft plans of management for the parks.
But the FPG says North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP), which runs the parks under the umbrella of the state-appointed NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust, ‘transformed’ council’s action to issue the interim licences into council’s ‘agreement’ to use contentious 2007 boundaries, ‘when this is clearly not the case’.
NSW lands minister Kevin Humphries endorsed the two parks’ plans of management plans in June 2014, and in a letter to then Ballina MP Don Page, he said ‘the adopted POMs reflect the outcome of discussions between the Trust, BSC and NSW Premier and Cabinet, including Park Boundaries’.
But Ms Grant said there was absolutely no evidence (from council meeting minutes} to indicate the parties had reached ‘agreement’ on the location of park boundaries or operating conditions, and called on council to investigate how this action was ‘misinterpreted’ by both council and the minister.
‘NCHP/Crown Lands currently operate as the land owners, managers, developers and have now manipulated events to ensure they remain the sole arbitrators of all future land use and redevelopment on our Crown lands,’ Ms Grant said in a recent letter to councillors.
‘All normal checks and balances have been bypassed or circumvented to ensure the Crown’s preferred outcomes prevail, regardless of the regulations and legal requirements or the impacts on the environment and social amenity.
‘Park management and Minister for Lands have overstepped their authority in determining the park operational boundaries and conditions included in POMs.
‘Council is responsible for issuing license conditions, overseen by Minister for Local Government who appear to have been bypassed in the POM process.
‘As the license expire this month, Council now has the opportunity to reassert their authority and restate their position on Caravan Park boundaries and conditions and seek the Minister for Local Government’s approval for Council’s fair, reasonable and evidence based licence conditions’.
‘The community has appealed to councillors to bring this matter before Council for determination, urgently,’ Ms Grant said.
‘Our Crown lands managers have usurped Byron Council’s authority to determine the park boundaries and have misled the Trustees and Minister for Lands by claiming the expanded “interim” boundaries included in the Plans of Management are the “agreed” park boundaries.
‘A rather cunning bureaucratic sleight of hand transformed council’s action to issue a 12-month interim licence (an extension of the expired 2007 licence), into council’s “agreement” to use the contentious 2007 boundaries in the in POMs, when this is clearly not the case,’.
‘Including all encroached lands within the operational boundaries of the caravan parks in POM was certainly not Council’s intention in approving a 12 month interim license in May 2013,’ Ms Grant said.
In a background briefing to councillors on the issue, Ms Grant said that since 2000, council has ‘repeatedly directed park management to reinstate public access along Simpson’s Creek buffer zone in Terrace Park and through the license process, has consistently sought to limit the impact of park activities on adjoining foreshore lands, which were first identified as “encroachments” in 1988 POM.’
‘Needless to say, North Coast Holiday Parks/North Coast Accommodation Trust (NCHP/NCAT)Crown Lands have ignored council directives and refuse to acknowledge or accept council’s proposed boundaries or conditions included in 2012 approval,’ she said.
‘Since 2000 Crown Lands have ruthlessly and remorselessly pursued their objective to maximise the inclusion of adjoining lands within the caravan parks, changing and intensifying the use of these sensitive areas without approval, and seek to limit public access and the use of our public foreshore parklands wherever possible.
‘Byron Council’s efforts to uphold statutory standards and regulations resulted in the dismissal of Council’s Reserve Trust in 2006, and the appointment of NCHP/NCAT.
‘In 2007 the Crown sought to surreptitiously expand the caravan parks by including “associated lands” in the license agreements for the first time, without Council or Ministerial consent.
‘In 2009, Council rejected the Crown’s non-negotiable land exchange proposal and in response the Crown imposed compulsory acquisition orders to forcibly ‘acquire’ council managed road reserve lands, which the Minister for Lands, Andrew Stoner endorsed in May, 2012.
‘BSC’s new licence agreements adopted in August 2012 again sought to limit the use of these acquired lands in order to reduce the adverse impacts on the environment, public amenity, traffic, parking , access and compliance issues – community concerns well documented in public and council submissions.
‘Byron Council’s 2012 Licence Approvals were referred to Local Government Minister, Don Page for endorsement and the minister directed park management to engage in negotiations with council to resolve contentious issues.
‘Whether by collusion or willful arrogance, both council staff and NCHP now claim “agreement” was reached on park boundaries and conditions during a meeting in February 2013 and with the issuing of the interim licences in May, 2013,’ Ms Grant said.
‘As it stands the proposed boundaries identified in the 2007 and Interim Licenses and 2014 POMs have been endorsed by NCHP, The Trustees and the Minister for Lands. However the boundaries have not been endorsed by Council or the Minister for Local Government as the new “agreed” park boundaries.’
She said it ‘appears the Minister has been lead to believe there was “agreement” on park boundaries’, and urged councillors to ‘reiterate their support for their previous determinations’.