Ballina mayor Phil Silver used his casting vote yesterday to push through a controversial plan to sell two beachfront blocks of community land at Lennox Head to an adjoining caravan park.
Cr Silver used his casting vote after the vote was tied at 5–5 on a rescission motion to overturn the move to sell the vacant blocks, opposite the Lennox Head-Alstonville Surf Life Saving Club, to the adjoining Lake Ainsworth Holiday Park for $1.3 million.
In a surprise move, general manager Paul Hickey left the room before the debate after earlier declaring a conflict of interest because of his friendship with the manager of the North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP), Jim Bolger.
Mr Hickey said the conflict of interest was non-significant, non-pecuniary but perceived. He and Mr Bolger had worked at Byron Shire Council nine years ago and they had also been involved in a joint venture investment of a unit which was sold two years ago.
Cr Jeff Johnson, who moved the rescission motion, said Mr Hickey had brokered the deal and had earlier told media he had no conflict of interest.
Cr Johnson urged councillors to defer the sale of the ‘strategic community land’ till after the Lake Ainsworth precinct management plan, which was 10 years old, was reviewed.
Cr Johnson said his motion did not rule out a future sale of the land, but the land would be needed in future as the area was very congested and it could be used for parking or open recreational space.
He said Lennox Head had a population of around 6,000 which could grow to 22,000 with the new housing developments planned for nearby Cumbalum, putting more pressure on an already congested area.
Cr Silver said retaining the land would not give the shire an economic ‘yield’ as it would be sitting on an ‘idle asset’ while community infrastructure ‘dries up’ and council was ‘very fortunate’ that the state government, through the NCHP, wanted to buy it to expand the Lake Ainsworth caravan park adjacent to the land.
Cr Robyn Hordern said the state government would use the land ‘anyway exactly as we envisaged it’ some years ago when council considered using it for holiday cabins.
Cr Sue Meehan said the land was not just for the exclusive use of Lennox Head residents but the whole shire and ‘now is not the right time to sell it’ as it could be needed in future for parking, open space or the surf club expansion.
‘Let’s keep the status quo till we have plans for it as once it’s sold it’s gone,’ she said.
Cr Sharon Cadwallader said if council ‘wanted money desperately’ it should ‘look elsewhere’ such as industrial land and council should ‘look at the big picture’.
Cr Keith Johnson said the land would be subject in future to inundation from sea rise and he predicted the surf club ‘won’t be in that location in future because the state government may not allow it’.
‘This is not serving us well; it’s an asset the people next door want and the price is higher than the valuation of a year ago.’
Cr David Wright said he would prefer to wait till the Lake Ainsworth management plan was completed before selling.
Cr Jeff Johnson said the land also had ‘social yields’ and community land should not be looked at just for its economic value.
Cr Peter Moore said he opposed the sale but if the rescission motion was lost he would move that the money be directed to the surf club.
But Cr Silver, after using his casting vote to reject the rescission motion, ruled Cr Moore’s motion out of order saying it was a different motion altogether, which Cr Moore could raise at another time.
Crs Jeff Johnson, Moore, Meehan, Cadwallader and Wright had backed the rescission.
After the meeting, Cr Jeff Johnson said that while other councils, such as Byron Shire, were fighting against the takeover of public land by the state government owned caravan parks, ‘Ballina Council is handing it to them on a plate with a discounted price tag, council is treating the community with contempt’.
Lennox Head Chamber of Commerce president Louise Owen was set to again appeal to councillors not to sell the blocks before the meeting, but was unable to attend due to a serious head-on car accident near Casino on Tuesday which left her in hospital.
Well-known Casino-area woman Heather Flack, 62, of Fairy Hill, who was driving the other car, was killed as a result.
Image: Pot of gold at the end of the Lennox Head rainbow. The council-owned beachfront blocks of land set to be sold offered this magnificent view of a stunning rainbow across the ocean there this week, captured by our photographer Jeff Dawson.