Ballina shire council has voted to remove the eastern road at Lake Ainsworth to create more public open space, and improve the health of the lake.
Often referred to as ‘the jewel in the crown of Ballina shire’, the lake has become increasingly popular with locals and tourists.
But that popularity has resulted in a traffic, safety and health issues.
Greens councillor Jeff Johnson, supported by Ken Johnson, moved the motion to close the eastern road, arguing it was a key measure to improve health and safety.
Councillors had heard that if the council’s own guidelines were applied, that swimming should be avoided during and for up to three days following rainfall, then the lake would only have been safe for swimming on 98 days of this year.
‘The recent public exhibition of the options to improve the access, amenity, and health of Lake Ainsworth revealed yet again that the majority of submissions want the eastern road removed,’ Cr Johnson said.
‘The increasing popularity of the Lake has resulted in the need to provide more open space, reduce the pollution and runoff associated with the road, and to improve safety and access.’
Both Crs Sue Meehan and Robyn Hordern acknowledged that the road closure would be a big change for the community but argued it would result in a ‘beautiful park area between the lake and the beach’.
Cr Keith Williams said the closure was ‘keeping faith with the community’, with various consultations showing it was a preferred option of the Lennox Head Residents’ Association and the Ballina Environment Centre.
Cr Williams said the eastern road was a ‘nightmare’ for parents, as there were picnic tables on one side, and the lake on the other.
With more and more traffic using the road, Cr Williams said it was unsafe with young children using the area.
Meanwhile, Cr Jeff Johnson argued that concerns about access to the sport and recreation facility at the northern end of the lake were unfounded due to the alternative access via the western road.
Cr Sharon Cadwallader said although the road closure was not a panacea to the lake’s problems, it was a start.
‘It will take a plethora of actions to save the lake because it’s become so popular,’ she said.
Cr Ben Smith was not convinced, arguing there was little evidence that closing the road would improve access and the health of the lake.
Along with Crs Paul Worth and Keith Johnson, he voted against the closure.
But the numbers were against them, and Cr Johnson’s motion was successful.
‘This is a huge win for the lake and the wider Lennox community who have been calling for the removal of the eastern road for over 10 years,’ Cr Johnson said.
‘I believe that once the road is removed and the area returned to a natural state people will rejoice and wonder why the road wasn’t removed years ago.’