A Tweed shire councillor is pushing for an even bigger rail trail project for the shire, just weeks after the state government knocked back funding for a pilot rail trail in the town.
The $1.2 million rail trail from Murwillumbah’s disused railway station to its popular regional art gallery was part of a grand $75 million regional rail-trail bid.
But Cr Barry Longland now wants a bolder plan for the rail trail in Tweed shire to go from the railway station all the way to the Byron shire border at Crabbes Creek, around 10 kilometres.
And he’s suggested a state-appointed trust should own and operate the rail trail ‘independently of council’.
The Northern Rivers Rail Trail plan for a network of pedestrian and cyclist trails on the de-commisioned Casino-Murwillumbah train line, including the $1.2 million Murwillumbah section, was rejected in June in favour of a $5 million plan for a rail trail in sourthern NSW.
The rail trail plan is a divisive issue on the north coast, with lobby group TOOT campaigning to preserve the railway corridor to restore train services for public transport and tourism needs, while others favour rail trails.
During election campaigns it becomes a political football with politicians on all sides jumping on the bandwagon to support bringing back trains.
But some farmers in the Tweed shire are reportedly not happy with tourist rail trails running through or near their properties.
Tomorrow’s Tweed Shire Council meeting will see a debate on Cr Barry Longland’s notice of motion for the shire to once gain join with the Northern Rivers Rail Trail Inc (NRRT) group to lodge a bid, this time for a much longer rail trail from the Murwillumbah railway station to Crabbes Creek.
Cr Longland said that since the approval in June of the Rosewood to Tumbarumba Rail Trail in southern NSW, he’d been part of a series of meetings between the NRRT and state officials over the latest north coast rail-trail bid.
The meetings included minister for regional development, John Barilaro, who has responsibility for rail trail projects, and planning minister Rob Stokes. MPs Geoff Provest (Tweed) and Thomas George (Lismore), also attended.
Cr Longland says in his motion that ‘there is strong support from the government for a further EOI (Expression of Interest) for a section of a northern rivers rail trail covering one local government area with that council managing the project (as is the case with the successful Tumbarumba project)’.
He says both local MPs ‘strongly support the submission of a revised EOI’.
Cr Longland said council has previously allocated $275,000 of capital funding in its budget to progress the local rail trail project.
‘Given the limited capacity of Council to raise additional funds, the construction of the Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek section of the rail trail would require significant contributions from higher levels of government,’ he said in his outline to councillors.
‘The proposal recently submitted to the federal government under its National Stronger Regions Fund advises that the project would be delivered by council and in the long term handed over to a state created trust which would own, manage and operate the rail trail independently of council.
‘Under this model the rail trail would be maintained using existing State Rail funding for the corridor and income from the various ancillary businesses associated with the terminus structures.’
Cr Longland, a longtime supporter of rail trails since his two 12-month terms as mayor, is now seen by council watchers as the kingmaker at next month’s mayoral election with the recent loss of the progressive faction’s Cr Michael Armstrong (Labor).
Unlike Byron shire where the mayor is elected popularly for a four-year term, in the Tweed councillors decide each year who gets the top job, with the prestige and bigger pay packet.
But the seven-seat council is now six since Cr Armstrong resigned to look after his ailing father in a western NSW town.
That makes the fight for the mayoralty even trickier, where he or she can be selected by a name pulled out of a bucket if the vote is tied at 3-3.
It is no secret Cr Longland was bitterly disappointed after losing support from Cr Armstrong, Cr Gary Bagnall and the Greens’ Katie Milne last year to retain the mayoralty.
The three progressives swung their support around to popular Murwillumbah cafe owner Cr Bagnall after Cr Longland reneged on a deal to share the leadership each term.
The current and former mayors have not talked much, if at all, to each other since, and Cr Longland often upsets progressive-faction supporters by voting on major contentious issues with the pro-development faction of National Party aligned Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne.