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Byron Shire
June 22, 2021

No monument for this mayor

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Graham Askey

Mayors of Lismore past, finding ‘roads, rates and rubbish’ a bit boring, have usually managed to build a ‘monument’ to be remembered by. We’ve had new council chambers, flood levees, airport terminals and swimming pools constructed as tangible edifices to their reigns. Current mayor Jenny Dowell tried with a proposed new art gallery but was denied. It’s okay, it seems, for Lismore ratepayers to cover eye-watering recurrent losses on sporting venues like the Memorial Baths and the Goonellabah Aquatic Centre, but for the arts, definitely not.

Nevertheless, in the last four years, Dowell has overseen a quite respectable list of not-so-obvious achievements.

After being obliged to approve a housing development at McLeans Ridges, council imposed a moratorium on future rural residentials on the grounds that such dispersed developments are costly for council to service and also that they disrupt rural amenity.

Council refused ex-mayor Jeff Champion’s quarry extension, won an appeal in the Land and Environment Court, but still may be overruled by the State Planning Department.

Council finally accepted, after much handwringing, the Floodplain Management Committee’s advice that it was dangerous to continue to house people at the lowest part of the CBD basin and closed the Tourist Caravan Park. Long-term residents have all been re-housed by other agencies.

Lismore has long been blessed by competent staff work. During this term they have produced a new LEP, developed a Koala Management Plan, constructed a needed Southern Trunk Sewage Main, installed cost-saving energy-efficient street lighting throughout the city and provided for any future urban growth to occur at the more central North Lismore Plateau.

But not so praiseworthy was general manager Paul O’Sullivan’s decision to sell up two South Lismore pensioners to recover unpaid rates. Yes, they hadn’t been able pay for some years but there are scores of property owners in arrears, quite a few for much larger amounts, who haven’t been forced to sell. Council has now removed that delegated authority from the general manager.

Joni Mitchell’s song They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot got an airing when council narrowly overturned Richmond River County Council’s recommendation to completely demolish the heritage-listed old Lismore Club building so that a section of the CBD levee wall could be re-routed away from a riverbank subsidence zone.

What can be expected from the upcoming elections? Probably it will be more of the same. There are no burning issues apart from CSG drilling and no-one is in favour of that. Lismore generally votes along unstated tribal lines. Rubbish will still be collected, underfunded roads will continue to deteriorate and no candidate will be game to suggest any change to Lismore’s long-established rating structure of low rural and high commercial rates. This has deterred new business and keeps growth low. You’d think that was a Greens’, not a Nats’, policy.

So, no hordes of tourists or ‘white shoe brigades’ for Lismore. If you want excitement, live in Byron Shire.


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