An organiser of a campaign to stop what residents call a land grab of foreshore by the state government at Brunswick Heads faced court this week over a charge relating to a protest in which a controversial barricade across a public road was removed.
Michele Grant, convenor of the Brunswick Heads Foreshore Protection Group, pleaded not guilty to a charge of receiving and disposing of stolen property when she fronted Byron Bay Local Court last Thursday.
The case was adjourned until May 16 at Mullumbimby Court.
Ms Grant was among a group of at least a dozen Brunswick Heads residents who removed several large barricades last November from Riverside Crescent, which runs through the Ferry Reserve Caravan Park, and which they said illegally obstructed access to a public boat ramp.
Nearby campers apparently cheered them on as they carried out the protest action.
The barricades were later placed outside the main entrance to Byron Shire Council’s offices in Mullumbimby but removed by council workers and reinstalled on the foreshore road.
The residents were angry at North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP) management, who they said breached council’s new licence agreement for the caravan park, which retained Riverside Crescent and the reserve foreshore for public use.
A defiant Ms Grant told Echonetdaily she would vigorously defend the charge, which came three months after the protest by residents.
‘Why pick on the people? The greater theft is the theft of public land,’ she said.
‘The fact North Coast Holiday Parks are stealing public land and continue to operate outside their licence conditions and willfully ignoring park regulations is the real crime no one seems keen to investigate.’
Residents who supported the protest action attended the brief court hearing in a show of solidarity with Ms Grant.
Ms Grant said ownership of the barricades was an issue, as NCHP ‘claims we stole them’ but the residents’ group claim they were owned by Byron Shire Council and ‘we returned them’.
She said the protest aimed to highlight ongoing community support for retaining foreshore land for public use, outside the operational area of the village’s three public caravan parks.
Police at the time questioned several locals over the action. The barricades were erected on the public road by park management the week before the new licence agreement for the park was adopted by Council in August, sparking local outrage.
The issue was also raised in state parliament by MLC and former Byron mayor Jan Barham, who questioned why the road was suddenly closed by park managers.
The state-government-run NCHP manages the town’s three Crown reserve caravan parks.
Ms Grant said the local community had spent the past decade fighting alongside Council to retain public access to the Ferry Reserve foreshore and boat ramp ‘for all the people of NSW’.
Resident Sarah Buchanan said she believed the barricade was an ‘unauthorised’ obstruction restricting access to a public roadway and boat ramp that park management’s actions were ‘provocative and insulting’ to Council and the community.