Supporters of a popular cafe-gallery at Fingal Head, owned by the sister of Tweed Cr Katie Milne and facing closure over disputed compliance issues with Tweed Shire Council, claim a political witch hunt is behind the move.
Tomorrow councillors will decide the fate of the Sheoak Shack which, if closed down, will leave scores of local artists and musicians without an income.
A Facebook page called Help Save Sheoak Shack was formed recently and dozens of people have packed the council chambers to hear appeals in support of the cafe over the past couple of months, including one by a former senior council officer.
The cafe/gallery has been operating on the site without a hitch for more than 10 years but this year council staff have taken owner Andrea McKay to task over what they say are compliance issues related to insufficient car parking, structures within the road reserve, extended trading hours and live music.
Last Thursday, professional musician Greg Manson told councillors during community access the Sheoak was the only venue in the shire for the style of original music performed by his band, which included a local Indigenous player who wrote songs inspired by the Tweed River.
‘It beggars belief that you’d tear the stage out to put car parks in, and why, with a business that has not received complaints, council is now punishing this place,’ Mr Manson said.
‘Why the hell are you beating on this small business trying to survive and putting us all out of work? My income would drop 50 per cent and council has already stopped live music there on Sundays.
‘The question must be asked, why now when the place has been open for years with no complaints, why all of a sudden are you beating up on it?’
Mr Manson said the Fingal, Chinderah and Tweed communities would ‘miss out’ if the venue were forced to close, with many international backpackers and tourists attracted by the family-friendly, ‘funky riverside culture’.
A recent workshop with councillors came up with a proposal for Ms McKay to pay $60,000 for the construction of four roadside car-parking spaces in front of the riverside cafe/gallery.
But Ms McKay says the proposed parking at the front of the premises would block the riverside view, the ‘very reason the business was created’.
‘It also seems very unsafe to have cars reverse-parking on this corner. There seems to be no reason to build another formalised parking area in an area that is already well supplied with safer parking,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘During our peak times (on Saturday evenings) the existing parking areas are rarely used by boaties or fishermen so there is never a shortage of parking. The area across the road has never been used for anything other than parking and there has never been a problem.
‘This seems almost as ridiculous as parking on site.’
Ms McKay said she had proposed to pay a parking contribution rate of $12,000, ‘which could be used for a worthwhile community benefit and leave the parking area across the road’.
Council staff say councillors could either refuse the development consent for the venue outright due to ongoing issues, or defer it to allow Ms McKay the chance to provide further details in support of her claims, with a report brought back in October.
One supporter told Echonetdaily the move by council appeared to be a political witchhunt because the owner was the sister of the Greens’ Cr Milne.