A group of Brunswick Heads residents who removed several large barricades from a local road, which, they say, illegally obstructed public access to a boat ramp and foreshore land, were shocked last night to find they could face charges over their protest.
The plastic barricades were placed outside the main entrance to Byron Shire Council’s offices in Mullumbimby early yesterday morning, but removed by council workers before business hours and reinstalled on the foreshore road.
Police last night and this morning questioned several locals over what locals described as a ‘direct action’ over the long-running issue.
The residents are angry at North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP) management who they say ‘willfully defied’ council’s new licence agreement for the Ferry Reserve Caravan Park, which retains Riverside Crescent and the reserve foreshore for public use.
The barricades were controversially erected by park management the week before the new licence agreement was adopted by Council in August, sparking local outrage.
The issue has been raised in state parliament by MLC and former Byron mayor Jan Barham, who also questioned why the road was suddenly closed by park managers.
The state-government-run NCHP manages the town’s three Crown reserve caravan parks.
Up to nine residents took part in the action late on Wednesday night, which involved removing four two-metre-long barricades from Riverside Crescent at Ferry Reserve and transporting them in two vehicles to council offices.
Members of the group said campers nearby cheered them on as they carried out the protest action.
Spokesperson for the Foreshore Protection Group, Michele Grant, said locals took the ‘direct action to remove the unauthorised obstruction and return them to council’.
‘The local community has spent the past decade fighting alongside Council to retain public access to Ferry foreshore and boat ramp for all the people of NSW,’ Ms Grant told Echonetdaily.
‘This direct action is being taken to demonstrate community support for BSC’s new Caravan Park licence agreement and proposed new park boundaries and to encourage the minister for local government, Don Page, to endorse the agreement as soon as possible.
‘Council’s new licence agreement retains Ferry foreshore and the boat ramp for public use, outside the operational area of the caravan park.
‘Riverside Crescent remains the caravan park boundary and a public roadway; the use of the road has not changed, only the ownership.’
Resident Sarah Buchanan said ‘we believe the barricade is an “unauthorised” obstruction restricting access to a public roadway and boat ramp and have repeatedly requested their removal’.
‘We believe park management’s actions are provocative and insulting to both Council and the community, willfully undermining clearly stated directives in the new agreement.
‘Unfortunately, neither Council staff nor park management have been willing to take remedial action.’
Many locals question why the road was closed in the first place, as it acts as the main public access to the boat ramp. The other way to access the ramp currently is by driving into the caravan park, past the main entrance.
‘What’s the point in closing it?’ Ms Grant said.
‘These barricades obstructing public access were erected by NCHP without Council’s knowledge or approval or any prior community consultation.
‘We simply decided to return them to Council, their rightful owner, who incidentally was inappropriately charged several hundred dollars by NCHP for implementation of the “unauthorised” road closure.
‘We apologise for the inconvenience to all who work at Council but hope you can relate to the anger and frustration of Bruns locals who have spent the past decade fighting alongside Council to retain public access to Ferry Foreshore and boat ramp for all the people of NSW.’
Council’s acting general manager Phil Holloway said the barriers were removed first thing yesterday morning to allow access for staff and councillors to the buildings.
Mr Holloway said that at that stage, it was unknown who placed the barriers at the front of Council and chambers but believed they had been moved as a part of a protest over access to the Brunswick Heads foreshore.
Image :Paul Cooke, Michele Grant (Brunswick Heads Foreshore Group) and John Helman (Brunswick Heads Yacht Club representative) returning the Ferry Reserve bollards to their rightful owners yesterday, temporarily closing off access to Byron Shire Council offices as they made their statement.