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April 19, 2021

Park trust’s questionable accounting exposed

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Hans Lovejoy

A freedom of information request by The Echo last March for the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust’s 2012-13 annual report has revealed sparse and questionable accounting, according to a Byron Council staffer and Brunswick Heads residents.

The Echo’s Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request was made to the NSW government in the interest of transparency for public assets and owing to the trust’s financial details being kept from public scrutiny.

At a glance, gross income for all 22 caravan park reserves across the state was declared at $26,345,171 and gross expenditure $23,807,488.

Total liabilities are listed at $20,808,439 (debts $18,225,065 and other liabilities $2,583,374). The total profit/loss statement profit was $2,537,683.

Council’s director of corporate and community services, Mark Arnold, said at the time that the NHCP annual return ‘would appear to be prepared to meet the minimum standards for Crown Reserve financial reporting.’

‘Council in its budget and financial statements provides more detail to the community on its caravan park activities but would have provided similar detail in its returns to the Crown.’

While he says it’s ‘difficult to interpret the revenue information provided’, it appears to ‘only relate to leases and licences and may not include casual camping fees for cabins and sites.’

‘There may be some loans or capital funding through a Crown Land Grant but the shortfall would not be a grant but be derived from other sources. The Reserve Trust would be required to be self-funding. A simple income and expenditure statement for each park would provide this information.

‘The provision of remuneration information for a general manager is a statutory requirement and the remuneration for the other listed positions are public information (ie. determined by tribunal or parliamentary decision). On the basis that no similar provision applies to Reserve Trust staff, this may be the situation.’

Resident and member of the Foreshore Protection Group, Sean O’Meara, also agreed the report’s details were light for a multi-million dollar corporation.

Additionally he pointed to an incomplete sentence on page nine of the report.

Under Terrace Reserve Caravan Park funding, it reads, ‘The proposed project will consist of upgrading sites in the southern area of the park to improve infrastructure and the provision of a re-locatable amenities block. The upgrade will ensure all sites i’.

Mr O’Meara said that the report generally shows very limited information about what parks make and what money is spent on.

‘There are lots of details about loans granted, but virtually none of this money has been spent in Brunswick as yet.’

Remarkably, Mr O’Meara says that while all the parks under the trust’s control appear to only make a profit of $2.5 million, ‘Council [when it managed the asset] used to make this on Brunswick Parks alone.’

‘The 10 cabins at the Terrace Holiday Park are solidly booked all year, and I believe are making at least $50,000 each, if not more.

‘I also noticed a grant for security fencing of Lake Ainsworth!

‘The annual rent from 35 permanent tenants at the Terrace Reserve Holiday Park was $177,263 or $5,000 each.

‘Are they only paying $100 per week for this prime waterfront land? No wonder they are putting up such a fight! $72,000 rental for holiday vans? – I presume this is the 10 cabins.

‘Each of these I believe is capable of annual returns of this amount as they rent at $1,500 to $2,500 a week.’

Similarly, resident Patricia Warren told The Echo she found it difficult to make comment on the report, owing to the asset value being aggregated for all the caravan parks.

‘However, what is disturbing is the amount of approved loans for the upgrading of the parks that has occurred prior to the plans of management (POM) being on public exhibition. For example, in Massey Greene Holiday Park there were five new cabins and a camp kitchen approved on 09.10.12.’

View the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust 2012-13 annual return document.

PR campaign launched

Meanwhile, a leaflet promoting the planned developments to Brunswick Heads Holiday Parks and foreshore public reserves has been distributed throughout Byron Shire by the NSW government-run Crown Holiday Parks Trust, and critics say it has omissions and cherry-picked ‘facts’.

The trust’s communications and PR manager confirmed with Echonetdaily that the glossy A4 ‘Brunswick Community Update’ was an attempt to address public concerns and perceptions of its plans which are due to start shortly.

The recently adopted plans of management (POM) come in four documents, total 694 pages and are available at http://bit.ly/1kvpYov.

And while there is mention of the ‘independent audit’ that accompanied the public submissions to the development, the leaflet only noted one aspect of its findings.

The audit’s author, Dr John Mackenzie, paradoxically said that while assessment methodology was reliable, he observed discrepancies which yielded ‘significantly different results’ and ‘potential confusion’.

Dr Mackenzie also noted, ‘Numerous submissions contained a combination of supporting and opposing recommendations, and in such cases the inference that a submitter was either “opposed” or “supportive” of the plan(s) cannot be made with confidence.’

Of most significance was the public concern over the government take-over and cost-shifting from Council in 2006.

The audit said that while it was ‘beyond the scope of the planning,’ those concerns were not included in the submission report.

Despite Dr Mackenzie’s suggestion that those concerns be included, it appears unlikely there will be any acknowledgement.

Echonetdaily previously asked the NSW minister responsible, Kevin Humphries (Nationals), if the assets would be returned to Council, but was told that there ‘were no plans’.

Also missing from the trust’s leaflet was reference to the future of the Buccaneer boat hire business, which operates across the road from the pub.
Echonetdaily previously reported that the trust’s Jim Bolger tried to evict the business without warning last April and then refused to answer questions regarding a perceived conflict of interest with hiring boats.

And while the trust’s CEO Steve Edmonds spruiks its ‘41 amendments to the POMs’ as a result of public input, the issue of public access along Simpsons Creek remains ‘subject to reasonable conditions’ and security fencing through Terrace Reserve will only be erected as a ‘last resort’.

It is unclear how this reflects Mr Edmonds’s stated claims of a ‘partnership with the community,’ given many of the town’s chamber of commerce’s suggestions were also ignored.

Under one leaflet heading entitled ‘Not simply attractive real estate’ is the passage ‘Holiday parks are economic and environmental assets for tourists to the region and the the people.’

However, the leaflet comes without any guarantees that holiday parks services and fees won’t rise.

The trust manages 34 holiday parks across the state and was established by disgraced NSW Labor minister Tony Kelly in 2006.

 

 


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3 COMMENTS

  1. [With regards to questions] surrounding everything to do with NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust’s management, there’s no mention of where the buck stops.

    Surely there is a person within the government who could be presented with the information given here and a full explanation demanded by the paper, or any other interested party for that matter?

    The article is of great interest but somewhat inconclusive.

    I can’t wait to see a timely follow up & continued pressure maintained.

    There will be a follow up and continued pressure maintained, won’t there?

  2. I wish to address the distributed leaflet:

    The ‘Brunswick Community Update’ authorised by Steve Edmonds, CEO of the NSW Crown Holiday Park’s Trust, is nothing less than an insult. First and foremost, it must be demanded of Mr Edmonds that neither he nor his Trust release a document headed ‘Brunswick Community Update’. The Trust does not represent ‘the community’ and is not at liberty to assume that it does now or in the future. A non-equivocal heading is needed.
    I have long been involved in making submissions to Plans of Management for the caravan parks. Those submissions, together with others have been instrumental in exposing the fundamental issues of:
    i) illegal encroachments onto adjoining lands outside the operational boundary of the caravan parks
    ii) non-compliance in the operation of the caravan parks
    iii) fettered access along the foreshores of the Brunswick River.

    The referenced 41 amendments made to the exhibited Plans of Management did nothing to reflect those fundamentals. Instead, those 41 amendments at best can be described as cosmetic. I continue to be appalled with the:

    (i) grabbing via compulsory acquisition, adjoining Crown Lands into the operational area of the caravan parks in full knowledge of the community’s objection to it.
    ii) continuing non-compliance in the operation of the Terrace Holiday Park in so far that setbacks and buffer zones are not provided.
    iii) no provision for unfettered public access along the foreshore of Simpson’s Creek

    I am outraged and appalled with the lack of transparency in the manner in which submissions were treated and it gives rise to questions as to the partiality of the CHPT. The methodology of the audit is subject to question and can hardly be described as producing findings that were comprehensive, thorough and reliable. Instead, the process questions the validity on which the subsequent Ministerial decision was made.

    What did the community get?
    i) cosmetic changes to the internal layout of the caravan parks
    ii) recognition of the existing public access along the foreshore at Massey Greene and, subject to accurate measurement, a 10m setback from the top of the rock wall at Ferry Reserve
    iii) continuing unfettered access to the now recognised public boat ramp at Ferry Reserve
    iv) re-instatement of public access to the Kayak launch area at Massey Greene.
    v) an access pathway, deliberately not recognised as a ‘road’ for fear of interfering with NSW CHPT’s legislatively required setbacks if it was a road, albeit expected to function as a road on the western side of Massy Greene.
    vi) no re-instatement of public access along the foreshore of Simpson’s Creek but rather ‘conditional’ access through the caravan park leaving it to the discretionary judgement and politics of the local manager and his/her supervisor?
    vii) upgrade to the kayak lunching facilities to enhance the hiring business recently started from the Terrace caravan park
    viii) non-compliance of the Terrace caravan park in so far that legislatively required buffer zones have been violated
    viv) an undertaking to remove existing structures away from the foreshore sites to allow the re-establishment of a natural bank profile. This is in spite of the fact that some long term tenants were advised they could be expected to be relocated within the park when they took up a lease and in spite of the fact that others knowingly took the risk and were prepared to gamble on the politics of place, to lease a long term site. The youthfulness of some of these long term tenants make the realisation of this vision so far removed from the present that it lacks credibility. A time frame, as supported in submission by Byron Shire Council would have given some credence to this vision. Such a time frame of 5 years would have been in addition to the time when the caravan park issue gathered momentum 2000. This means long term tenants have already had 14 years to relocate and an additional time frame of 5 years would have brought that to 19 years.
    x) no 30% of sites for long term leasing in a context where affordable accommodation is critically needed.

    Adopted Plans of Management – Quick Facts
    Clarification of Land Zoning
    The land at the western end of Massey Greene between its ‘proper’ operational boundaries and the fence at the western end of Massey Greene was illegally encroached upon [during the tenure of] a former manager of Massey Greene. It has not been part of the legal operational area of the caravan park for decades but rather recognised as illegal by Byron Shire Council as early as June 1988 following the gazettal of the changes to the Local Government Act effective 1987. The community have never approved of this encroachment thus giving the lie to what has been implied in the statement…..”has been part of the operational area of the holiday park for decades” that those illegal encroachments have been condoned.

    Trust Compliance
    This entire paragraph is … misleading and reflects poorly on those who have crafted and taken the liberty to head it ‘Brunswick Community Update’. Those involved in the caravan park issue since the 1990’s are well aware of the politics of giving continuing licensing, through delegated authority, for the caravan parks to operate. Many, many of those licences were given in good faith, pending approved Plans of Management. The dismissal of Byron Shire Council in December 2006 as Reserve Trust Manager on highly [questionable] grounds, begs the question how any alleged Trust would posture otherwise. Those suspicions are well and truly documented in a Confidential Report to the Dept of Lands September 2005. The fact that Mr Jim Bolger made a discretionary decision to use the May 2013 licence as the operational boundaries of the caravan parks in the draft Plans of Management is nothing less than utterly appalling and that process and decision is deserving of independent scrutiny.

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