The ongoing battle by Brunswick Heads residents against encroachment of public land by the village’s three state-run Crown reserve caravan parks is set to drag on with Byron Shire Council’s new licensing conditions to guarantee public access to the foreshore yet to be approved by the local government minister.
Residents recently took direct action to re-open public access to the public boat ramp at Riverside Crescent in Ferry Reserve, controversially closed off with barricades by the park managers. The residents removed the barricades and dumped them at the front of the Council Chambers in Mullumbimby as a protest.
But Byron Shire Council’s acting general manager, Phil Holloway, told Echonetdaily the section of Riverside Crescent which runs through the middle of the Ferry Reserve was compulsorily acquired by the state government and gazetted in May this year.
Mr Holloway said that as a result, the former public road now forms part of the reserve and is managed by the North Coast Accommodation Trust (NCAT) as the reserve trust manager.
NCAT administrator Jim Bolger recently told Echonetdaily the road was closed because it was now part of the Ferry Reserve Caravan Park grounds, but Mr Holloway said Council was told it was closed ‘to stop cars driving through at 60km/h’.
But the Foreshore Protection Group, made up locals fighting the encroachments, say the action by NCAT in closing off the road was ‘wilful defiance’ of Council’s new licence agreement for the caravan park which they say retains the road and foreshore for public use.
Mr Holloway said public access to the foreshore was at the heart of the community’s concern.
‘Under the Local Government Act, Council issues caravan park operating licences subject to conditions. For Ferry Reserve, this included retaining public access to the foreshore and that the land not form part of the caravan park operations. This condition, and others, is yet to be approved by minister for local government,’ Mr Holloway told Echonetdaily.
‘However, it remains that the acquired part of Riverside Crescent is no longer a public road. As a result, Council staff have been informed that it has been closed to motor vehicle traffic to stop cars driving through at 60 kilometres. It has not been closed to pedestrians,’ he said.
Mr Holloway said a report on the issue will be considered by councillors at next week’s (December 6) meeting.
Councillors today (Friday) are expected to inspect the caravan park encroachments, while residents yesterday accompanied staff on an inspection.
Local government minister and Ballina MP Don Page told parliament recently the issue could end up in court.
Under questioning from former Byron mayor, MLC Jan Barham, Mr Page said he had referred Council’s application for conditions of approval for the licences of the three caravan parks to the Division of Local Government.
Mr Page said Council was ‘seeking to impose additional conditions’ and the division was assessing those.
Ms Barham said, ‘the Crown has now taken the area and used it without approval. That is the point. Council resolved specifically that the licence would not include the road area. It has now been blockaded, which means that people cannot access the foreshore. That is the concern.’
Mr Page said Council and Crown Lands ‘should have further discussions and negotiations because we do not want this to end up in court, which is a real possibility’.
Before last year’s state election, which swept the coalition into power, Mr Page campaigned on the back of support for public access to public land, saying he ‘cannot support any measure that denies public access to our public foreshores’.
‘Nor can I support the use of the state’s compulsory acquisition powers to acquire Council-owned land to facilitate inappropriate development which is opposed by the Council and the community,’ he said during the election campaign.
But a Foreshore Protection Group spokesperson told Echonetdaily that ‘six months later the NSW government is now compulsorily acquiring Council-owned land to facilitate totally inappropriate development’.
In Council’s report on the issue to be tabled next week, staff give a history of the issue, including a recent letter sent by local government division’s chief executive Ross Woodward.
‘I am concerned that the Council has not formally consulted with NCAT as it would appear that the additional conditions, if imposed, would have significant implications to the current operation of these caravan parks,’ Mr Woodward said.
‘Before giving further consideration to the Council’s application, I will require evidence of the Council having made a constructive effort to resolve this issue by direct negotiations with NCAT.’
Council denies they have not consulted and provided evidence of a ‘constructive effort’ in doing so, including meetings and correspondence between the two organisations over the new licensing conditions.
In a letter to Council two weeks ago, administrator Mr Bolger said the trust ‘does not agree to the inclusion of a 3-metre setback from the riverbank at the Terrace reserve’.
In Mr Bolger’s response opposing the new conditions, he claims the annual loss of revenue as a result of the new conditions for the three parks totals just over $1 million.
Mr Bolger also said some caravan park sites would have to be removed and some buildings and structures demolished.