The Lennox Head community is expected to come out in force this Sunday to protest Ballina Shire Council’s controversial decision last month to sell two beachfront blocks of land to the state government for $1.3 million.
It was also revealed this week the land was gifted to the shire by the Country Women’s Association (CWA) in the late 1980s for a mere $1, which was not raised during the recent debate on the issue.
But the CWA has rejected a claim the land was gifted on condition it be retained by the community, saying the only condition was for council to find a suitable location for a new hall for the CWA.
Late last month Ballina mayor Phil Silver used his casting vote to break a deadlocked 5-5 vote on a rescission motion aimed at overturning the decision to sell the two blocks in Ross Street to the North Coast Accommodation Trust (NCAT), which runs the van park.
But Cr Jeff Johnson, who led the move to try and reverse the decision to sell, won’t let the issue lie down and has organised a sit-in protest at the land at 11am on Sunday at which members of around a dozen community groups opposed to the sale are set to attend.
Cr Johnson said he would also call on primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson not to buy the land for a range of reasons including a lack of community consultation or support.
‘The land also should have been classified as community land, not operational, and therefore unable to be sold,’ he said.
‘Everything about this deal stinks. Councillors were not made aware that it was given to council by the CWA for $1 for use by the community.’
But Ballina MP Don Page said the state government gave the land to the CWA in 1956 and in 1990, the CWA sold the land to the council for $1 in exchange for the council building a new CWA hall on Williams Reserve at Lennox Head ‘and it was agreed by both parties that any existing caveats be removed, which occurred’.
Mr Page told Echonetdaily that the land sale would ‘allow for the extension of a caravan park next door, nothing else’.
Cr Johnson said the initial moves to sell the land were ‘camouflaged’ as no other options for the future of the land were brought back to council to consider when council resolved in November last year for the general manager to negotiate a possible sale of the land.
‘The valuation of the two blocks is believed to have been $1.36 million so the sale price was below the valuation,’ he said.
‘The caravan park also got their own valuation which was not shown to council, yet it was agreed to flog it off to them without seeing their valuation. The price also did not take into account the premium, as per the council report, for an adjoining landowner buying it, so it was clearly a discounted price for whatever reason.’
At the last council meeting, acting general manager Paul Tsikleas said council had last year offered the blocks of land for rent to the Crown (the van park owners) for just over $30,000 or half the commercial market rent. Mr Tsikleas said a $5,000 offer by the Crown (through the NCAT) for the lease was rejected by council.
Cr Johnson said that as a result, the van park ‘ended up using the land for free’ for overflow camping, storage and a laundry.
‘Yet the van park generates around $15,000 from it,’ he said.
‘Council should have kicked them off and used it for community land,’ he said.
Mr Tsikleas, council’s commercial services manager, will now continue negotiations with the trust over the sale as general manager Paul Hickey declared a perceived non-pecuniary conflict of interest after Echonetdaily revealed he had been a partner with trust administrator Jim Bolger in an investment unit, since sold.
The two had worked together previously with Byron Shire Council.
Mayor Phil Silver, in response to questions directed at Mr Hickey, told Echonetdaily that he believed Mr Hickey had no conflict of interest in the issue.
Mr Page agreed, saying he ‘had the pecuniary interest matter investigated once it was brought to my attention’.
‘I’m advised that in this case there is no conflict of interest because there is no nexus between the land under question (adjoining the caravan park) and the jointly-owned land at Angels Beach,’ he said.
Cr Silver also said Mr Hickey’s annual declaration of interest return states that the private sale of the unit jointly owned by Mr Bolger and Mr Hickey was finalised in November 2010.
But Echonetdaily has been sent a copy of the transfer of the unit, which was witnessed and signed by Mr Hickey’s council secretary, only last November.
‘I again emphasise that there is no interest that I know of for the general manager to declare and unfortunately it appears that your newspaper is being used by individuals who wish to cast dispersions (sic) on this council. I would suggest that you encourage your unnamed correspondents to focus on the merits of the sale, rather than the personalities involved.’