NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner has not ruled out a Byron Shire Council bid for the government to hand back management of Brunswick Heads’ public caravan parks and Crown reserves.
Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson this week wrote to local government minister and Ballina MP Don Page urging him to support the council’s offer to once again manage the parks.
Cr Richardson said this follows widespread community concern over future development of the parks and reserves by state agency North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP), with draft plans of management now on display.
In 2006 the parks, then run by council, were controversially taken over by the state and handed to NCHP under then lands minister Tony Kelly, with a claim they had been mismanaged, run down and unsafe.
Mr Kelly five years later was found to have acted corruptly (but not prosecuted) by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) over the sale of a coastal property by the government.
In 2012, former Byron general manager Graeme Faulkner, in one of his last moves on council, lifted the veil of confidentially over the report used by the state government to justify the Brunswick Heads parks takeover, and was damning of its claims.
The report was also discredited by most councillors at the time as deceptive and full of misinformation in order to justify stripping council of its trusteeship of the parks.
Cr Richardson told media yesterday the parks should all be returned to council management as it could offer the state the same return as NCHP does.
‘It is clearly in the community’s interest because we, first and foremost, have the community’s interest at heart,’ he told APN Media.
And Cr Richardson has a strong case on the money side of things, as returns to council from park income has plummeted since the takeover.
A recent Echonetdaily report revealed that in 2011-12, NCHP paid $196,818 from park income to Byron Council, yet in 2003-04 when council ran the parks, it made almost $1 million ($860,553).
Mr Page told media it was ‘possible’ that Byron Council could become the trustee again in the future, while Mr Stoner said Byron Council, like any other member of the public or stakeholder group, was entitled to make a submission on the future of the parks and reserves.
Mr Stoner said he would be ‘guided ultimately’ by not only the submissions but ‘what is in the best interests of the public for what these reserve lands should serve’.
He said that ‘in terms of state government we have no plans to add to the Crown land estate, it’s already over 40 per cent of the land mass of NSW, we’ve probably got too much Crown land, this is why we call upon councils and reserve trusts to help us manage those lands,’ he said.
Only two weeks now remain before the close of submissions (21 February) on NCHP’s draft plans of management for the historic holiday town’s three parks and five foreshore Crown reserves.
NCHP intends spending around $10 million over the next five years on the ‘upgrade’.
The plans have outraged residents and Foreshore Protection Group campaigners who say public access along Simpsons Creek at the Terrace caravan park which for years they have fought to reinstate, was again being denied by NCHP.
They claim NCHP is using a handful of permanent residents living in cabins which illegally encroach on the foreshore as ‘pawns’ in the secretive agency’s plans to keep these cabins and current park configuration.
They also say that for years the residents and park managers have been on notice that under state law, the long-term residents there have to be relocated elsewhere within the park and the cabins moved away from along the foreshore.
Proposed improvements under the new plans which are generally welcome include public toilet upgrades, landscaping and some new footpaths in reserves.
But unpopular proposals include limiting or closing off public access along the foreshore at the Terrace, Massey Greene and Ferry Reserve caravan parks, reduced access to the public boat ramp at Ferry Reserve, a new two-storey park manager’s residence on land used by fishers and boaties at the harbour and footpaths up to two metres wide linking two of the caravan parks.
Banner Park, opposite the local pub, will be transformed under the plans with raised timber decking, new playground and concrete footpath along its entire grassy length.
One of the most unpopular proposals is NCHP’s plan to erect what locals say will be an unsightly 1.8-metre high steel mesh fence around the parks, destroying the quaint charm of the seaside town and locals’ amenity as a result.
Other concerns include boundary encroachments by the caravan parks into other public areas and road reserves.
Mr Stoner was in the Tweed for a meeting of his parliamentary team yesterday.
The NSW Nationals leader also reassured residents that public access along the foreshore would not be closed off.
‘I’m aware there’s a lot of concern in the community about a draft plan of management that’s been put forward but at this stage it’s only a draft, there’s been no decision made, what we’re keen to do is to preserve public access to the foreshore area, and that will be taken into account,’ Mr Stoner told a press conference on the NSW-Queensland border opposite Twin Towns services club yesterday.
‘The contentious issue is access along the foreshore, and in my deliberations when I consider the public submissions to the draft plan and before I make a decision, I’ll certainly be taking that into account,’ he said.
The comments appear to counter one of the most contentious proposals in the plan: NCHP’s reluctance to relocate around eight permanent residents on illegally encroached foreshore land at the Terrace in order to restore a primitive access trail along the foreshore.
Campaigners, backed by Cr Richardson, say access along the foreshore all around the town is ‘non-negotiable’ and improving that would be a tourism boon.
They say the plan lacks vision in this regard and denying access along the foreshore to locals and visitors alike was a not just illegal but immoral and anti-social.
Locals also are upset that a community plan to extend a walking and cycleway around the town is being ignored while the commercial interests of the NCHP are being pushed instead.
Hundreds of locals have attended two public information sessions on the plans in the past month.
Many told NCHP the community wants to preserve and protect the natural beauty of the quaint and historic holiday town.
Mr Page, like Mr Stoner, emphasised the plans were only ‘draft’ and encouraged council, ratepayers and stakeholders to make submissions.
Mr Page told APN Media that ‘ultimately it would be up to the Minister for Crown Lands to sign off on what goes ahead’.
‘I’m keen to keep community access to the foreshore and for development to be in keeping with the character of the area, but if there is a proposal to improve some barbecue facilities, no reasonable person can object to that,’ he said.
* See editorial ‘Stealing public land’ in Articles
* Documentary video on the issue by Sharon Shostak at: