An auction of ‘surplus’ Education Department land at Suffolk Park has been cancelled after the intervention of education minister Adrian Piccoli.
The embattled minister, who resigned as deputy premier yesterday morning, announced the sale’s postponement in the afternoon.
The land, which is currently used for sports fields, a children’s playground and a food garden, has been the subject of a community campaign since the impending sale was first announced earlier this month.
North coast-based MLC Ben Franklin, who took over as the government spokesperson for the region after the Nationals lost the state seat of Ballina to the Greens at the last election, lost no time in claiming credit for the minister’s last-minute turnaround.
‘As a result of my representations this public sale will not proceed and instead Byron Shire Council will be able to purchase the land and ensure that it remains available to the community,’ he said in a media release.
‘As a Nationals MP, I am proud to be part of a government that has listened to the community’s wishes and acted for the benefit of all local residents,’ he added.
Not required for future growth
Minister Piccoli said the department ‘regularly buys and sells land in order to target the provision of schools in growth areas and the Suffolk Park site was not considered required for future growth,’
‘After strong representations from Ben Franklin regarding the importance of the land remaining available to the community, I have withdrawn it from public sale and have instructed the Department of Education to negotiate a sale with Byron Shire Council instead,’ he added.
But the Suffolk Park Progress Association, which has organised a protest against the sale at the site this afternoon, said it was far from a done deal and they would not be calling off their rally.
Meeting organiser Patsy Brosnan described the situation as ‘half time in a game of political football’.
‘The negotiations have to take place. Byron Shire Council has to be able to find a figure that they can both agree on [and] that the council can afford.
‘And when it’s all signed and sealed then we can celebrate,’ she told ABC radio this morning.
The rally will be held onsite at 5:30pm. Speakers will include Byron mayor Simon Richardson and Coogera Pre School director Victoria Handley, whose pupils regularly visit the community gardens as part of their curriculum.