More than 100 Lennox Head locals staged a sit-in protest yesterday on the beachfront block of land that Ballina Shire Council controversially intends to sell to the state government to expand the adjoining Lake Ainsworth Caravan Park.
And more than 300 people, including visitors to the monthly markets at the seaside village, signed a petition calling on primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson and Ballina MP Don Page to stop the sale of the two blocks in Ross Street, which council has negotiated to sell to the North Coast Accommodation Trust (NCAT) for $1.3 million.
Ms Hodgkinson has yet to sign off on the contentious deal that has sparked widespread opposition from all the Lennox Head-based councillors and community groups who say the land is needed for community use in a congested area, especially with population set to almost treble over the next decade or so.
Cr Jeff Johnson addressed the protest as hundreds of people and traffic made their way in and out of the bustling markets.
‘While other councils are fighting the state government to protect their local community land from encroachment or takeover by state-run caravan parks, Ballina Shire Council is handing them this land on a plate and at a discounted price,’ Cr Johnson said.
He said the community was being ‘treated with contempt’ by the council, which recently narrowly voted to sell the land and use the money for shirewide infrastructure.
But Cr Johnson said he believed the real reason council wanted the money was to buy and redevelop land near the Wigmore Arcade shopping centre in Tamar Street, Ballina.
He said the Lennox land was transferred to the council by the CWA in the 1960s for $1 and was to be dedicated as a public reserve.
‘This land should be classified as community land and not sold off; it has strategic importance; the Lennox population is now at 6,000 but will soon double to 12,000 and with further development planned for land at the top of Ross Lane bringing in another 8,000 people, that will be 16,000 people living within a five-minute drive from here.
‘The area is already congested and public land like this is at a premium in the shire. This could be used in future for extra parking or for picnic tables and chairs or open space and trees; it will play a vital role in the future amenity of the area.
‘The surf club here needs redeveloping but council won’t use the money for that. Council has $30 million tied up in industrial land and can use some of that for it, and it’s a furphy they need to sell this community land to upgrade another community asset.
‘We need to send a clear message to council, the minister and the local member that we don’t want it sold.’
Cr Johnson said that council last May wrote to the van park operators asking them to shift ‘all their stuff’ from the land including a laundry and shipping containers after a proposed lease agreement with the NCAT which runs the van park fell through.
‘They refused to sign a lease agreement over the land, so they’re now using it free to bolster the park’s coffers. It’s a disgrace, we want them to take this fence down,’ he said to cheers from the crowd.
Cr Johnson said the community was never consulted about the sale and ‘everything about this deal stinks’.
Brunswick Heads local Sean O’Meara told the crowd that what was happening in Lennox mirrored what was happening across the north coast with state-run van parks ‘blocking public access’ to water frontage and fencing off their land to the wider community.
‘They will stop you getting to the lake; it’s outrageous’, Mr O’Meara said.
Lennox Head real estate agent Lois Buckett said council was selling the land ‘ridiculously cheaply’.
‘A 750-square-metre block of land up the road recently sold for $1.4 million and this is two blocks at 1,100 square metres for $1.3 million, so they’re giving them a bargain,’ she said.
Lennox Head Residents Association member Denise Stobart said the land should be kept for future generations of locals and not sold to a profit-making venture.
Former councillor Alan Rich said council had struggled to find land for a skate park, a CWA shed and fire station recently because there was just not enough public land left in Lennox Head and the sale didn’t make sense.
‘But it’s not a done deal and the key thing is to let Don Page know; he’s a good representative and hopefully should reverse this decision,’ Mr Rich said.
But Mr Page last week defended the sale, saying in the end it was up to council and that it’s ‘not as if the van park was going to build a skyscraper on it’.