The NSW state government has demanded compulsory acquisition of prime parcels of council land around Brunswick Heads waterways, sparking renewed claims that up-market tourist developments could soon replace camping and caravan parks.
Council this week considered an urgent request by the government to take over road reserves in Brunswick Heads close to caravan parks and other public land.
During public access at Council’s meeting, local resident Sean O’Meara warned parts of the foreshore could ultimately be fenced off for private tourist resorts, and riverside walkways could be ‘stolen’ from local families.
Mr O’Meara described the urgent request for compulsory acquisition as a ‘cowardly move to push this through before the community and Council has time to act,’ and he called for ‘full investigation into the validity of the plans’.
Councillors later voted unanimously to write to the minister and local member Don Page expressing concern about the threatened ‘loss of public access and public amenity’, and called on council staff to seek a legal opinion on the validity of the acquisition documents.
At same time Mayor Jan Barham asked a question in the state’s upper house seeking an explanation as to why compulsory public acquisition was being used for the ‘commercial purpose of holiday park expansion’.
Responding to questions from Echonetdaily, Don Page said acquisition was simply to ‘formalise’ longstanding use of the land as holiday parks, which have over the years encroached on road reserves.
He said Council had previously pulled out of negotiations to sell the land, and until the acquisition proceeded, the trust which ran the parks would be ‘unable to plan for future infrastructure including footpaths, that will benefit the whole community as well as park residents and holiday makers’.
Asked whether it was possible to guarantee that all current public access to foreshore and reserves would continue after any coming re-development, Don Page said, ‘Yes, other than the fencing of the Terrace Reserve Caravan Park on the roadway, which will prevent local residents from walking through the caravan park.
‘The fencing of the park is intended to provide paying guests with the security they expect, given the history of vandalism, theft and public safety issues at the park.’
The North Coast Accommodation Trust – controlling more than 20 parks and reserves – is administered by former Byron Council employee Jim Bolger, who confirmed plans to fence off the Terrace Reserve park on the south side of Brunswick Heads.
Mr Bolger rejected claims there would be resort-style redevelopment of the three iconic caravan parks in the village. And while local residents have strongly opposed the possibility, Mr Bolger said, ‘they’ll have some new upper-end cabins and updated accommodation. That’s what people want.’
Asked whether the re-development would be tendered out, Mr Bolger said ‘we do most of it in house, depending on the cost’.
Draft plans for the parks’ re-development include specific commitments to environmental sustainability but also aim to ‘optimise’ tourist potential and income.
The plans for Massey Greene and Terrace Reserve parks also both include clear commitments to a ‘public access corridor’ along the foreshore – which appear to be in conflict with recent statements from Jim Bolger and Don Page that some public access will be lost.
Mr Page says those plans are currently being reviewed in light of community feedback and that ‘revised plans will be re-exhibited and they will include improvements to foreshore areas and public access’.
Jan Barham, who met with Mr Page about the issue this week, expressed fears of a ‘tragic gentrification and commercialisation of public land’.
The sprightly eighty-year-old D’Arcy O’Meara – born in Brunswick Heads opposite the public park that may soon be fenced off – says his fear was local residents would be excluded from parts of the foreshore.