At its ordinary meeting on 10 October 2013 Byron Shire Council authorised its general manager to: ‘… undertake all necessary actions to negotiate and finalise the Access Deed with Telstra…’
The site of the access deed in question is a disused water tower situated on recreational community land in Suffolk Park, now occupied by Telstra for over 10 years without paying rent, operating six mobile telephone communications towers. There was no consultation with, and fierce opposition from, the Suffolk Park Progress Association (SPPA) and the local community, including a lengthy blockade of the site, only to be finally reopened one day at 4am by a strong force of police officers.
The community’s main concerns at the time were the loss of $350,000 it paid council for use of the land for recreational purposes, and the threat from emissions affecting not only hundreds of residents living within a few metres of the installations, but the close proximity of proposed and now operating child care and sporting facilities.
Despite attempts by council, SPPA and the community, Telstra consistently refused to vacate the site or, when the opportunity presented itself, relocate with another carrier, Optus, who respected community sentiments and chose a more suitable site for their transmission tower. Recently, even in the face of more and very strong opposition, Telstra upgraded their facility with a considerable increase in health-threatening emissions.
The Telstra installation is classified ‘low impact’ by federal definition and therefore ‘above’ the law. But, not content with having ruined community aspirations forever, in their draft deed document Telstra now demand the inclusion of their right to sub-let the site to unspecified users for the proposed duration of the lease, or twenty years (Section 16 of the draft deed).
This might not only recover their proposed rental of under $15,000 per annum but opens up the site, with hundreds of residents living within a considered dangerous perimeter, to other telecommunications operators, even television stations. It is not inconceivable to see the site resembling that of the Paterson Street water tower, with a multitude of towers of all descriptions and, if the deed is signed as is, beyond the power of refusal or even consultation with Council or the community.
Now the time has finally arrived for Byron Shire Council’s general manager Ken Gainger to use his power, given him by Council Resolution 13-531, to sign a deed that would remove any council authority over what was once a beautiful piece of community land, as well as destroying any hope the community may have had for their land, forever. The SPPA strongly urges him to resubmit this threatening document to a meeting of councillors, the elected representatives of the community, to scrutinise and debate, to consult and hopefully throw out Section 16 and all its inherent dangers and threats to the community of Suffolk Park.
Donald Maughan, president, Suffolk Park Progress Association