Tweed councillors are set to ramp up the shire’s declared opposition to coal seam gas (CSG) development by adding ‘Gasfield Free’ signs to existing entry and locality signs.
The move, backed by the Gasfield Free Northern Rivers and Lock the Gate Tweed campaigns, is set to be debated on Thursday and is expected to get the green light from the progressive majority on council.
The proposal for the new additions to the signs went on public exhibition recently and drew overwhelming support, with 392 of 458 responses ‘for’ and 62 ‘against’.
But a Tweed business group claims it’s a waste of ratepayer money (the cost of the proposed 11 new signs is just over $2,000) and sends the wrong message to businesses looking to invest in the shire.
The Tweed Heads Chamber of Commerce and Industry also claimed that the signs were ‘inconsistent with the objectives’ of the Tweed’s peak tourism body, Destination Tweed, but the tourism organisation’s chief says the proposed new signs are ‘quite benign’ and he had no real objection to them.
Council staff have recommend the installation of 11 CSG-free signs mounted on new and existing entry and locality signs throughout the Tweed.
Staff say that simply mounting a smaller sign with the CSG-free wording onto the existing Tweed shire signs would help in ‘mitigating Council’s risk of damaging the relationship with the state government by ensuring the signs do not present Council as a lobbying group’, as well as minimising the risk of graffiti and cost of removal.
The Roads and Maritime Service objected to council’s request to instal similar signs on the state-owned road reserve along the Pacific Highway at the northern and southern entrances to the shire, saying they would not meet its minimum standards and would only be suitable for low-speed road environments.
The Banora Point Residents Association also objected to the signs. Secretary Pat Tate told council that the signs could set a precedent for ‘some other group to pressure council on an issue’.
But Mrs Tate pointed out that objection to the signs did not mean its members agreed or disagreed on the arguments over the CSG issue.
In her letter, Tweed Heads Chamber of Commerce secretary Maggie Ann Leybourne said the chamber, which she claimed had 1,000 members, objected to the signs because ‘this is not the message council should convey to visitors and investors alike’ who cross the border into the Tweed.
She said that if implemented, the policy would turn people away who are thinking of starting a business in the Tweed ‘that may be a little left of field’.
In his letter to council Destination Tweed’s CEO Bill Tatchell said a recent radio news report saying his group was opposed to the signs was inaccurate, wished council luck with the proposal and said his organisation was happy to be part of the process.
Council senior officer David Oxenham in his report repeated the incorrect information, saying the Tweed Heads business chamber, Banora Point Residents Association and Destination Tweed were opposed to the signs.
But Mr Oxenham told Echonetdaily his report ‘incorrectly advises that Destination Tweed opposes the signage. The report will be corrected and reissued’.
Mr Tatchell (Destination Tweed CEO) told Echonetdaily that initially he had been ‘led to believe’ the new signs would be a ‘giant bold political statement’ which gave a negative message.
But on learning about the size, placement and look of the new signs, he said ‘they’re really no big deal’, the signs were a ‘simple statement’ on the CSG issue, and that the negativity may have been part of a ‘scaremongering campaign’.
Deputy mayor Michael Armstrong has foreshadowed a motion, to be put to Tweed Shire Council on Thursday, that welcomes the policy announcement from the recent NSW Labor conference in support of an immediate moratorium on all CSG activities and licences on the north coast. The Labor policy announcement also calls for those areas to be declared ‘CSG Free’ and ‘therefore be off limits to the coal seam gas and unconventional gas industries’.
Mr Armstrong’s motion also calls on the coalition government to support the moratorium.