Brunswick Heads residents claim the submission process for controversial redevelopment plans for the town’s public foreshore caravan parks and reserves has the potential for corruption and are calling for an independent assessor to be appointed.
The public exhibition period for the draft plans of management for the three caravan parks and five Crown reserves ended last Friday but many locals only just found out they had to send their submissions to the very body which is proposing the contentious plans.
Submissions had to be sent to the newly-created NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust via an email address used by the general manager of North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP), Jim Bolger, the driving force behind the plans which have sparked outrage by ignoring longstanding call to restore and maintain access along the foreshore.
Residents say having either trust involved in the submissions collating process lacks transparency and is akin to having the ‘vampire in charge of the blood bank’.
But deputy premier Andrew Stoner, the minister in charge of Crown lands, doesn’t agree, claiming it’s all above aboard.
Mr Stoner’s spokesman pointed out that ‘the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust Board sits above North Coast Holiday Parks and part of their role is to scrutinise the actions of the Brunswick management’.
The spokesman told Echonetdaily that ‘all submissions received will be compiled and analysed for consideration by the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust Board’ and the draft plans would be ‘finalised for approval by the Trust Board and then forwarded to the Deputy Premier for consideration in accordance with the Crown Lands Act’.
‘The Trust Board’s response to issues raised during the public exhibition period will be considered by the deputy premier in making his decision as to whether to adopt the final Plans of Management,’ the spokesman said.
But the Brunswick Heads Progress Association says it’s ‘extremely concerned’ the newly established NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust, ‘as trustees of our most valued public crown land spaces, ‘has totally ignored the key principles of Crown Land for what appears to be pure commercial purposes’.
In its submission, the progress association said an independent body should collate submissions ‘to show openness and transparency and a report on the content of those submissions to be made publicly available to those who responded’ to the plans of management.
Progress association member Patricia Warren said, ‘if the Trust’s role is one of scrutiny then how in the hell did it approve Mr Bolger’s recommendations to put the May licence boundaries out on public exhibition in full knowledge of (Byron Shire) Council’s non agreement to those boundaries, and no advice from Council to use those boundaries’.
‘The Trust cannot say it did not know about the controversy over the boundaries,’ Ms Warren said, adding that a paper trail existed via emails to [email protected] (an email address used by Mr Bolger).
‘But it would seem all correspondence to the [email protected] is a mail box and all paths lead to Jim Bolger. Given the widespread lack of credibility in Mr Bolger in the eyes of the residents, it is only appropriate that submissions are removed from him, and the independent scrutiny of those submissions include Council and community members.’
Ms Warren also said the membership of the board ‘is far too biased towards commercial interests above the greater public interest, thus the need for transparency in the collation and analysis of the submissions’.
The Foreshore Protection Group, which has long campaigned against the caravan park management’s control of the parks, said the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust was established late last year ‘to validate the actions of North Coast Holiday Parks and expand their agenda and business plan across all NSW’.
Group spokesman Sean O’Meara said recently that it was ‘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,’ Mr O’Meara said.
‘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 a rural area.
‘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?’ he said.
A spokesman for local government minister, Ballina MP Don Page, when questioned about the transparency of the submission process, referred Echonetdaily to Mr Stoner’s spokesman’s response, surprisingly even providing the excerpt focusing on the legal aspect whereby the plans would be ‘finalised and approved by the trust in accordance with the Crown Lands Act’.