Campaigners for sports fields in the north of Byron Shire are closer to realising their long-held ambition with Byron Shire Council taking steps to buy a block of rural land at Billinudgel for the facility.
Councillors last week ignored staff advice to put the long-awaited project on hold due to lack of funding and instead pushed to enter talks with the landowner to sort out the purchase of part of the property so the land could be developed into sports fields.
Council will pay a non-refundable $5,000 deposit on the land and the deal is conditional on the rezoning and subdivision of the portion of land wanted.
Ocean Shores locals had earlier appealed to councillors to bite the bullet and take up the offer, the only one made when recent expressions of interest were called.
Some councillors were concerned whether the right process in buying the land was being followed but councillors decided to obtain legal advice at the same time.
Ocean Shores Residents Association spokesperson Kath Norley told councillors that after 19 years it was time to make a decision ‘for a community that deserves a ground for perpetuity, 50 flat acres and at such a reasonable price’.
Ms Norley said council could acquire the land ‘for the equivalent of 2 years costed maintenance the Byron Regional cultural and sports centre’ and residents had companies willing to work for free on ground tests.
‘We want two fields laser levelled, top dressed, some composting toilets and a car park. Not much at all.
‘You have a chance to finalise something that will bring much joy to many, and heal an ailing community in the north which has many problems due to no open space,’ she said.
Crs Ross Tucker and Diane Woods expressed concern that if the land was bought before it was subdivided and rezoned, the process could be seen to be corrupted.
Cr Tucker said council shouldn’t create a perception of doing favours for some landowners and not others. ‘We’re walking down a very dangerous line, we ought to get some of the processes out of the way first’, he said.
Planning director Ray Darney said the land needed to be rezoned first.
Cr Simon Richardson said the land was perfect for sports fields and council should do all it could to buy it as soon as possible.
Staff said $1,125,000 was available in developer contribution funds for acquisition and embellishment of open space.
Mayor Jan Barham lambasted staff for what she said was a very negative report which shot the proposal down because it said funding would not allow it.
Cr Barham said ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ to read a report and ‘be told we can do something’.
‘We need to be told how we can do it, we want a can-do approach. This has been on the books since 1993, we need to be told how to do it, not how not to do it. It’s a common disappointment, ’ she said.
Cr Barham said that to ask the landowner to do something which was ‘not on’ could be a probity issue and ‘ICAC-able’.
‘To have these points raised now is a difficult process both for councillors and the community.’
She said councillors all agreed (on buying the land) but ‘we need the right processes’ and ‘staff support for undertaking what we need to do’.