Tweed Cr Gary Bagnall stormed out of council chambers last night accusing mayor Barry Longland of ignoring the community over a controversial plan to fill in a pond surrounding Murwillumbah’s public library.
Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily he was ‘sick and tired of being betrayed’ by the mayor over community and environment issues, and he walked out in protest after the meeting had been going for around three hours.
Cr Bagnall said after the meeting he was ‘over’ the mayor ‘telling us one thing beforehand yet voting with the others (pro-development bloc) in the meeting’ and the library pond issue was the ‘last straw’.
Crs Bagnall and Longland, along with Greens Cr Katie Milne and Labor’s Michael Armstrong, make up the progressive bloc on the seven-member council, with the National Party’s Crs Warren Polglase and Phil Youngblutt and conservative Cr Carolyn Byrne on the ‘pro-development’ side.
However, the two groups don’t always vote in blocs.
Cr Bagnall said differences between himself and the mayor emerged last night in debate over the width of a proposed wildlife passage under a road through a wildlife corridor which developer Leda has to build for its Cobaki housing development.
He said there had already been enough cuts to the width of the proposed wildlife passage and was angered when the mayor proposed to cut the width of the passages recommended by staff even more.
‘Then the Murwillumbah library pond issue came up where staff have recommended doing away with it by filling it and landscaping it, but the kids love it and Cr Milne and I argued for it to be retained and made more attractive,’ Cr Bagnall said.
‘But no, Cr Longland in supporting the recommendation said that around five years ago the pond was identified as being “dangerous” as children may fall in it.
He said the river and rock wall in a large park were more of a danger than a shallow pond outside the library.
‘I asked how many children have drowned in it? If it’s dangerous, we can put mesh around it, the river on the edge of Budd Park is more dangerous and it would make more sense to put a fence along the river than to fill in the pond.
‘The children in our shire have for years enjoyed the library pond. It has been part of their childhood. It is like the rainforest around the Kingscliff library. Next thing they will want to cut down the Kingscliff library rainforest and turn it into lawn.
‘Cr Milne and I argued that the community wouldn’t like the pond being filled and residents should be consulted and their opinion sought, and an amendment for that was put up, but Cr Polglase moved the staff recommendation to do away with it and the mayor also agreed to rip the pond out,’ Cr Bagnall said.
‘That’s when I got up, told the mayor what I thought of him and walked out.
‘We were begging for the community to have a look at the plan and be given a say but they didn’t want a bar of it.
‘I told them that council seems to have a thing about ponds, they wanted to fill in the feature pond in Seabreeze Estate at Pottsville last year, not because it was dangerous, but because they it was too expensive to maintain the water level.
‘That was met with a huge outcry from the community. The community won and the pond is to stay and is being hooked up to run-off water from the streets.
‘I know kids love the library pond, my own kids love it. I saw a freshwater eel in there the other day and enjoyed seeing it there, we should beautify it, not do it in.’
Cr Bagnall said that the Gallery of Modern Art at South Bank in Brisbane had a large pond in the foyer about the same depth as the library’s with no fence.
He said the Murwillumbah library was on a main road and ‘any children outside the library should be supervised because of the road. The road is a greater danger than the pond and it would make more sense to put a fence up between the library and road,’ he said.
‘Crs Milne, Armstrong and I wanted to look at other ways to remediate any dangers to children drowning, but they weren’t interested in exploring them,’ Cr Bagnall said.
‘This has the potential of upsetting people, so we should allow them to express their thoughts before ripping out the pond. Who knows, the people might think the redesign is a good idea, but let them have their say first,’ he said.
The move by the three councillors to put the staff’s landscaping design plan out for public consultation for two weeks was lost 3-4 (Crs Bagnall, Milne and Armstrong for).
Cr Longland told Echonetdaily later that Cr Bagnall was ‘clearly upset when he left the meeting early’ and he was ‘not aware of the reasons for his actions so I would like the opportunity to have a discussion with him first before making any public comment’.