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Byron Shire
May 7, 2021

Richmond Council hits back at RSL

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Richmond Valley Council (RVC) has taken the unusual step of writing to residents over RSL LifeCare’s decision to terminate its agreement to build an aged care facility on land at the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome.

In February, RSL withdrew from the project, despite approval from the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP), citing a number of reasons including council delays.

But the council has disputed RSL’s version of events, saying the organisation had already claimed the project was close to unviable and describing its claim the council was dragging its feet as an excuse.

In the three page letter to Evans Head residents, RVC GM John Walker wrote, ‘the decision was treated with astonishment and disappointment by the Council and many residents’.

‘In making its decision, RSL LifeCare put forward its reasons and tried hard to ensure all the responsibility for the decision not to proceed rest [sic] with Council. This is not reality,’ the letter continues.

In making its case, the council quotes from a letter from RSL LifeCare in May 2012 advising, ‘overall the project has always been marginal from an economic perspective – marginal in terms of breaking even, not in terms of making a profit’.

The letter continues that the council negotiated a developer contribution of just 30 per cent of the amount the JRPP awarded and agreed to variations to the mix of residential care.

RVC admits that its failure to obtain registration of the subdivision was valid but argues ‘it was legally, but not morally, a reason to withdraw’.

‘Council is concerned that in making this decision RSL LifeCare has sought to lay all the responsibility on Council where it does not belong, ‘ Mr Walker wrote.

But Dr Richard Gates, who is president of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee, disputes the letter, saying it has quoted selectively from private correspondence from RSL LifeCare.

He also says that letter failed to mention that caveats held over the title held by several hangar owners (one of the issues raised by RSL) were still to be tested in court at the time of the letter’s being written.

The judge in the case found in favour of the hangar owners.

Another of the issues raised by RSL and disputed by RVC was the possibility that RSL would lose its aged care bed licences because of protracted delays.

But Dr Gates queries how RVC would know that information.

‘The Evans Head case was the longest outstanding case of unfulfilled bed allocation on record. Beds were granted in early 2001 and are supposed to be on the ground in two years. There was a lot of pressure for them to get beds on the ground as the matter was raised at Senate Estimates Committee on a number of occasions, the last being February this year. It wasn’t long after the matter was considered in Senate Estimates that RSL LifeCare pulled the plug on the development,’ he wrote to Echonetdaily.

‘The letter is a clever piece of sophistry meant to soften the sting of the RSL LifeCare letter of withdrawal and to shift the blame elsewhere for what is a monumental planning failure on Council’s part, but unfortunately it fails to do so. The letter leaves many more questions unanswered.

‘I call on the general manager now to post all correspondence relating to this matter on Council’s website so that ratepayers can draw their own conclusions. This correspondence should include but not be limited to the letter written by RSL LifeCare and all related correspondence, the report prepared for the JRPP for approval of the development in March 2012 and the letter from the Office of Airspace Administration.

‘The general manager should also give us a full account of the cost of the whole project to ratepayers that has not gone ahead and the full cost if it had gone ahead. By our estimate it cost at least $6 million to not proceed and somewhere around $15 million by way of subsidy if it had proceeded. Where is the business plan that we have been asking for years and when is Council going to be accountable for its actions?’

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