A last-ditch effort to stop Ballina Shire Council selling off two prime beachfront blocks of public land at Lennox Head to the state government for $1.3 million failed yesterday.
But the proceeds of the controversial sale will be directed to the upgrade of the Lennox Head Surf Lifesaving Club across the road from the two blocks in Ross Street, instead of straight into council coffers.
Cr Jeff Johnson again failed in his bid for council to withdraw its offer to sell the blocks to the state government for use by the adjoining Lake Ainsworth Caravan Park, which it took control of several years ago.
Cr Johnson said the land was sorely needed for use by a fast-growing community in a highly congested area and councillors should take note of the community outcry over the sale.
He said many saw the sale as ‘simply a commercial decision’ and council could easily sell large industrial lots it owned instead.
‘This should be deferred at least till a review of the Lake Ainsworth Management Plan is completed,’ he said.
A packed public gallery watched the long and sometimes heated debate in which mayor Phil Silver threatened to take action against Cr Johnson after he described the alternative proposal to redirect the sale proceeds to the surf club as a ‘bribe’.
But in the end, Cr Johnson voted with all other councillors for Cr David Wright’s motion to redirect the sale proceeds to the surf club after Cr Johnson’s motion was shot down 7–3, with only Crs Sharon Cadwallader and Sue Meehan backing it.
Lennox Head Chamber of Commerce president Louise Owen again appealed to councillors, saying council should sell other land it owned first before a prime block, which should be retained for the benefit of all locals and visitors.
Ms Owen questioned why there had been no community consultation on the sale of the land, which was ‘paid for by our rates, it’s our land and the community is saying don’t sell it’.
’I ask again why is it being sold and for whose benefit?’
She said more than 12,000 people had signed a petition against it and seven community groups had voiced opposition.
‘Once it’s sold, it’s gone forever and will be filled with cabins to earn more money for the state government, not the local area.’
The government-owned Lake Ainsworth Caravan Park has been using the blocks of land in Ross Street for several years for storage and a laundry facility under an arrangement with council.
The proposed sale has been mired in controversy from the start with the issue brought before council for a vote several times this year, including a failed rescission motion.
General manager Paul Hickey also came under flak for an alleged conflict of interest because of his friendship and business partnership with the administrator of the North Coast Holiday Parks Trust, Jim Bolger, with whom he used to work at Byron Shire Council.
Local government minister and Ballina MP Don Page became involved, saying he had investigated the conflict claim and was advised there was no link between the Ross Street land and the land Mr Hickey and Mr Bolger had jointly invested in at Angels Beach.
Cr Silver, whose casting vote initially was crucial in approving the sale, said during yesterday’s debate he had been willing to change his mind when he came to yesterday’s meeting but after hearing further argument on the issue, decided to stick to the sale.
Cr Wright said after the debate he believed that ‘in the long run people will be satisfied with the outcome’.
He said council would now direct $50,000 toward temporary emergency repairs at the surf club, allocate $200,000 for planning and design for the club’s redevelopment, fund a review of the 10-year-old Lake Ainsworth Management Plan, with the remainder quarantined for future surf club government-grant applications.
A previous motion to quarantine the money for the surf club redevelopment had failed at an earlier council meeting.