Several hundred people filled the Brunswick Heads memorial hall last night, unanimously calling for the suspension of a contentious plan to add a carpark, deck, boardwalk and footpaths to two of the town’s popular foreshore parks.
They have also called for the state government to investigate the ‘flawed’ process which led to the trust it appointed drawing up the plans and the government itself in approving them.
Around 450 people rallied to the call by the Brunswick Heads Progress Association which says residents were never consulted over the plans, approved by lands minister Kevin Humphries in June last year.
The progress association, the longest-running in the state, says no residents were consulted and only interest groups such as the woodchop committee, carnival owners and the local business chamber were brought into the action.
Residents are opposed to some of the major works proposed, due to start after Easter, and which are believed to cost around $1 million.
The most controversial parts of the plans of management for Torakina Reserve at the river mouth is a proposed 18-space car park, access road and pedestrian pathways to replace a swathe of well-used grassed areas inside the reserve. At nearby Banner Park opposite the pub, a ‘huge’ 400-square-metre raised timber deck with fencing and a boardwalk is planned to be built along the foreshore.
A network of new footpaths and lighting through the town foreshore linking two of the caravan parks at The Terrace and Massey Greene is also opposed, as no details of types of surface or style of lighting have been given.
Members of the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust (NSWCHPT), set up by the government to run the crown reserve parks in 2013, failed to take up an invitation by the residents’ group to attend the meeting and hear their concerns.
Members of its affiliate which operates the parks, the secretive North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP), also failed to attend, while only a couple of Byron shire councillors showed up.
The trust, through its media liaison officer, has repeatedly failed to answer questions or respond to calls by Echonetdaily over the issue for months, despite initially telling media soon after its members were appointed that it would consult more widely with locals.
Locals at the meeting, chaired by progress association president Leonie Bolt, expressed anger at the makeover planned for the historic village.
Lack of maintenance
The lack of maintenance by the trust over the years at the parks of services such as toilets or maintaining grassed areas came under fire from early on in the meeting.
Ms Bolt said both the trust and Byron Shire Council, which also runs some of the public toilets (one at the southern entrance to the town is currently closed and fenced off), had ‘not done a good job’.
During questions, one audience member said the proposed carpark location at Torakina was already ‘too congested’ with many children playing there (near the bridge’s favourite jumping-off spot for children) and that the parking should be ‘spread’ elsewhere in the town, which drew loud applause.
Another said ‘not one cent’ should be spent on the proposed improvements till the existing old toilets were ‘ripped down’ and new ones built.
One said the car park would remove around 10 spaces already, meaning there would only be a net gain of 8 spaces, yet a big chunk of grassed picnic area would be lost.
In explaining the plans for Torakina reserve car park, Ms Bolt said some of the native trees would have to go to make way for it.
She suggested the trust only looked after itself and not the community as just before last Christmas, NCHP installed new pre-fabricated toilet and laundry facilities at the Terrace and Ferry Reserve caravan parks which it also controls.
Ms Bolt was greeted with loud applause when she said those park toilets were renewed, yet other public toilets outside the parks managed by the trust were in a ’Third World’ condition.
‘What this says to me is that commercial interest takes priority over public facilities,’ she said.
She said ‘not many people minded’ a new pathway around the edge of the reserve, vegetation management and a new upgraded toilet block there, noting that the toilets had not been upgraded for almost 20 years, as far as she knew.
One elderly longtime resident said she saw Torakina reserve, and the area where the carpark is proposed, ‘full of families at weekends’ with children celebrating birthdays.
She was also loudly cheered when she said ’children and motor cars don’t mix’.
Another longtime resident said most people visiting the village did so because of its natural attractions and friendly village atmosphere and because it was ‘not complicated or overdone or fancy’.
‘We don’t need it (the makeover), we want to stay a family friendly village,’ she said to loud applause.
The woman also said she’d written to NCHP over the plan many times but ‘they only came back with outrageous BS’, and ‘had no idea about our concerns’ and that ‘its bottom line’ was ‘commercialisation’.
‘I believe we need sterner action than just this meeting, we need action,’ she said to big applause.
Another complained that Banner Park had been let to degrade over time with grassed areas not up-kept or re-turfed and the toilets needed upgrading.
Ms Bolt said the deck would attract vermin such as rats and snakes as well as more litter and likely to impact on the historic Norfolk pines.
One man said the trust appointees were mostly developers and suspected the deck would set a precedent in which a the foreshore could be lined with similar structures, and commercial ventures brought in to use them.
One elderly person said she had no problem accessing the parks and felt they were adequate as is. ‘but a deck is not accessible’, a comment which also drew applause.
One respite worker said she often took disabled people to the parks and ‘we get around fine’.
‘It would be good to have that area grassed and some tree roots fixed, but the deck won’t be any better,’ she said.
One businesswoman said she feared that with more concrete footpaths around, the town would become a skateboard ‘free for all’.
One young man said Brunswick Heads was ‘so diverse’ with many open and accessible areas for all to use from woodchop to fishers and picnickers.
‘Keep it simple, open and flexible… the deck would only be for people wanting to sit down and have something to eat,’ he said.
Another longtime local said the rock walls had been neglected over time since he was a schoolboy when they ‘always had a good safe edge to them’ and that ‘rather than a scheme of boardwalks, maintain what’s there as we all know, that’s quite a feature of Bruns.’
Gum tree to go
The Banner Park ‘upgrade’ involved removing an old gum tree as it gets in the way of a proposed new and larger playground, which some people said should ‘stay there’ as it was home to much local bird life.
Ms Bolt said NCHP tried three times to remove the tree but Byron council only allowed it to lop some branches, but now it will have to make way for the playground.
One man said the proposed network of footpaths was a sham as ‘half of Bruns doesn’t have footpaths, it looks like it’s for their (caravan park) guests so they can get to the pub a bit quicker’.
Byron shire councillor Di Woods told the meeting the parks’ management was ‘a commercial venture’ and nothing to do with which of the two major parties were in power.
Cr Woods urged people to lobby both Labor, which instigated the plans of management after it took over the parks from Byron council nine years ago, and the coalition government about the trust and its plans.
The meeting was urged to fill in a questionnaire being circulated about the plans by 13 March.
Three motions were moved, including calling for a suspension of the plans which the meeting considered ‘flawed’ as they had not followed due process as no consultation with residents taking place.
It also called on the NSWCHPT to suspend all work till the residents’ views were taken into account and in the plans and for the lands minister to suspend the plans of management pending an investigation of the process used.
Echonetdaily is waiting for a response from the lands minister’s office.