Brunswick Heads residents expressed their anger, disappointment and frustration on Wednesday at the state-appointed manager behind controversial plans to upgrade the town’s three public caravan parks and four Crown coastal reserves.
Several local mums were shocked to learn from NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust (NSWCHPT) manager Jim Bolger that under the plans for The Terrace Holiday Park, public access along the Simpsons Creek foreshore, or even through the park, by which children to walk to school, will be closed off or restricted.
The plan involves erecting a 1.8-metre-high steel mesh fence all around the boundary of that park, shutting out locals altogether.
‘This sends the message that children are not welcome in Bruns,’ one mum angrily told Mr Bolger, while another said the plans put children in danger as they would have to walk along or cross roads during busy periods rather than walk through the park.
A public information session in the town’s Banner Park on Wednesday where the parks’ draft plans of management were on view almost became a public complaint forum over some of the more contentious proposals that have incensed locals, including the blocking of public access along the foreshore.
Mr Bolger said the upgrade works for the three holiday parks and four reserves, which included boardwalks, footpaths and refurbished toilets, were estimated to cost around $10 million and would take around five years to complete.
The much-anticipated draft plans of management for the Terrace Reserve, Massey Greene and Ferry Reserve holiday parks are now on public exhibition until 21 February, along with draft plans for Banner and Terrace parks, Torakina and Simpsons Creek reserves.
Copies of the plans and maps were available for viewing by the public at the information stall at Banner Park presided over by Mr Bolger.
But many locals told Echonetdaily they’re outraged they were not consulted beforehand on what was proposed.
Dave Kolb said the NCHPT had breached its own plan of management guidelines by not consulting with the community as the draft was being prepared, rather than at the end of the process.
Mr Kolb and others questioned Mr Bolger over a proposed new two-storey manager’s residence at Massey Greene park, which they say is outside its operational boundary and intrudes into space/roadway for boat harbour users.
Other issues include proposed campsites on the foreshore at Ferry Reserve on what should be public access way.
One local said, ‘we want this town left in its more natural state, we don’t want to live on the Gold Coast’.
Residents say foreshore boundaries in the plans are ‘dodgy’ and not complying with council licensing for the commercial operation of the parks.
The public is also set to lose its usual access to the popular boat ramp at Ferry Reserve, as well as some parkland to make room for extra car parking spaces in Torakina Park.
‘You have not listened to the locals, you never have and you never will,’ one resident told Mr Bolger, saying his submissions on draft management plans for the parks had, like every other one by locals, been ignored.
Longtime local Ruth Fox told Mr Bolger she had written and emailed park managers many times over the years complaining about erosion in front of her place near Massey Greene Caravan Park and other issues but had never received a reply.
Mr Bolger said he would get a lands department officer to call her.
Former Byron Shire councillor Tom Tabart, who has long fought to stop the parks encroaching on public road reserves and outside their boundaries, said state government ‘didn’t care what the locals thought and would do just what they want’.
Mr Tabart attended the information stall at Banner Park along with Byron mayor Simon Richardson, former Byron mayor and MLC Jan Barham, as well as Crs Duncan Dey and Di Woods.
Mayor Richardson last year told Echonetdaily that public access along the foreshore was a must for locals and tourists and ‘non-negotiable’.
Public cut off
But Mr Bolger and his team have insisted on pushing ahead with the most contentious part of the plans, which cuts off access along the foreshore to locals and the general public.
Many locals told Echonetdaily they considered public access along a foreshore an Australian birthright and for many years locals have lobbied to have such continuous access along the Simpsons Creek foreshore guaranteed.
Longtime locals recall such a pathway along the creek existed all the way to the bowling club before the park encroached on it, and many want to reinstate a continuous walkway along the foreshore around the town as a tourist drawcard.
But Mr Bolger said that during public and school holidays and weekends locals would be locked out of walking through the Terrace park to access the foreshore or get to town and would at other times have to use the internal caravan park road.
He claimed the permanent residents living in up to 15 demountable homes right on the foreshore at Simpson’s Creek did not want the public foreshore access and that’s why he included that in the plan.
This is despite previous commitments to gradually relocate them elsewhere in the park.
Mr Bolger claimed that a 2007 police crime audit was the reason for fencing locals out with the 1.8-metre-high wall, but locals told him they were more afraid of the caravan park tenants, mostly youth, who stayed there during music festivals and got drunk then wandered the streets.
‘I’ve had stuff ripped off from my backyard by some of those people staying in your parks over the summer, so don’t tell us that outsiders (non-park tenants) are the problem,’ one local told him.
‘When there’s a crime in Brunswick Heads, where’s the first place police look? The Terrace caravan park,’ another said.
Mr Bolger also claimed there was no legal requirement for a ten-metre buffer zone from the creek’s high-tide mark to any structures within the park, but locals fiercely disputed this.
But Brunswick’s Foreshore Protection Group (FPG) spokesperson Michele Grant said Mr Bolger’s suggestion there was no legal requirement was ‘outrageous’.
‘The issue is compliance. Why does he believe he’s exempt from the law?’ Ms Grant said.
She said the foreshore walkway was obstructed by park sites and permanent residents and that ‘Byron Shire Council park rules (1991) also explicitly state pedestrian access is permitted along foreshore’.
‘The three-metre buffer zone and 10-metre setback has also been a Council requirement since 2000 via various resolutions and is included in the latest park licence agreement [August 2012],’ she said.
Mr Bolger also told locals seeking answers on Wednesday that ‘we can’t meet what everyone wants because there’s conflict between what tourists want and with what the local community wants’.
But several people took him to task on that, saying, ‘we pay rates and we have to have a say’.
One woman then asked him, ‘what’s more important, the tourists or local community? We have to live here. This is also about what we want; we clean up the mess after the tourists leave, we pay rates, we look after this area at our expense,’ one woman said.
Another woman told Mr Bolger, ‘Look what happened to Byron, it’s the absolute pits, full of sick teenagers and alcoholic violence because people like you want to take over areas like this for your own benefit to profit from’.
Another said, ‘Bruns is still old fashioned, and that’s why people love it, yet you want to pave paradise’.
Others asked Mr Bolger if their submissions ‘are going to be taken seriously, because they have been totally ignored in the past’.
FPG member and longtime local Patricia Warren took a forensic interest in the plans, saying that in terms of The Terrace, it appeared managers were hellbent on keeping the 15-odd dwellings illegally encroaching on the foreshore, to further boost their profits.
Ms Warren said NSWCHPT seemed to be trying to use a clause in a 1986 ordinance of the Local Government Act ‘to thwart not only the intent and spirit of the that regulation but the longstanding community’s demand for a reinstatement of the foreshore walkway along Simpsons Creek’.
She said the scale of the proposed upgrades of the caravan parks amounted to a ‘redevelopment’ and not as intended ‘to provide time to bring the caravan parks into compliance’.
It appeared to be ‘a politically motivated move with NSWCHPT intending to use the provisions to claim exemptions ‘to do nothing to reinstate the walkway along Simpson’s Creek now or in the future’.
Mr Bolger agreed there was a lot of dissatisfaction and ‘angst’ by locals over the plans, and assured Echonetdaily he would let the Trust know about such a response on the day.
Local residents involved in the Foreshore Protection Group set up a rival stall in the park to outline their concerns about the plans, while others staged a small protest performance.
FPG described the plans as ‘totally contrary to the principles of public Crown land and why it was zoned as such 100 years ago’.
‘These public foreshore Crown land areas of Brunswick Heads is land that was reserved for all so its natural beauty and recreational offerings were to be kept in perpetuity and never monopolised or built out by anyone,’ the FPG says in its flyer.
‘Astoundingly these “protected” areas once controlled by the conservation-minded Department of Crown Lands is now controlled by the NSW Department of Trade and Investment.
‘In late 2013 the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust was established to validate the actions of North Coast Holiday Parks and expand their agenda and business plan across all NSW.
‘It is clear from the new board’s makeup that it too will be nothing more than a development company intent on then commercially leasing these new developments to the highest bidder.
‘The new trust board is chaired by Mr Alan Revell, a senior property industry executive and principal of the Barton Property Group. Other members are Matthew Toohey, a former general manager, property, for Bunnings and Margaret Haseltine, professional board director and former senior executive with Mars Foods.
‘It is understood all the board are city based yet every single holiday park (more than 40 and increasing) they have been “entrusted” with is in rural areas.
‘The fundamental Crown land principles of environmental protection, conservation, ecological sustainability, public use and recreational enjoyment are the exact opposite from what this new trust plans to do.
‘What skills could these people possibly bring to abide by the principles of Crown land?
‘The obvious agenda here is that this land is being occupied, rezoned and groomed for privatisation.
‘The NSW government intends to make billions out of long-term private leasing of well-used public land they have no legal right to use in this manner or profit from.
‘The majority of this land is zoned “Public Purpose Recreation”, but the state government now argues a town’s riverside parkland can be fenced off and built out completely with private tourist accommodation that provides no open space at all.
‘In doing so it excludes local families from recreating on the land and river they have played, swum and fished in for generations.’
The plans are now available on the Crown Lands ‘Have Your Say’ webpage or on the North Coast Holiday Parks webpage. A document with frequently asked questions is also included on the North Coast Holiday Parks webpage.
Submissions can be sent to: NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust, PO Box 647, Ballina, NSW 2478 or by email to: [email protected]