The longtime saga over erecting a men’s shed at the Black Rocks sports field near Pottsville has ended after Tweed shire councillors last night narrowly voted to allow a five-year lease for the site.
Council chambers were packed with opponents, many koala activists, and men’s shed supporters.
The Pottsville and District Men’s Shed issue has divided the community over the years with environmentalists opposing the location due to the havoc they say it could pose to the dwindling local koala population which roams around there.
But Labor Cr Reece Byrnes, who pushed for the approval, said it was ‘temporary’ with a demountable structure and the men’s shed group should still look for another site.
‘I know some members of the environmental movement won’t be happy, but the community as a whole needs to come together and heal,’ Cr Byrnes told Echonetdaily this morning.
Last November a development application (DA) approved by the previous council was deferred by the new council, in which progressives had a slim one-vote majority.
But Cr Byrnes surprised his erstwhile colleagues recently by pushing for approval as per the previous DA.
He told Echonetdaily the ‘community rose up’ after the deferral, with social media highlighting how locals were ‘unhappy with the decision’.
‘I believe there is an overall majority behind the men’s shed, which has led us to now,’ he said.
Cr Byrnes said the alternative sites in around Pottsville mooted at last night’s meeting were not ‘viable’ as they were in residential areas and could be problematic with neighbours fearful of such a development in their backyard.
And the sites suggested by Tweed MP Geoff Provest, he said, would still require clearing of kola habitat and would come with ‘a big price tag,’
‘We were in a bind and I feel this was the best solution, after all it’s only temporary.’
Mayor Katie Milne and deputy mayor Chris Cherry tried unsuccessfully to defer the vote to allow for more time to find a site less impacting on koalas than at the sports field.
Cr Byrnes before the meeting issued a release saying:
‘Despite the intensity of this debate I believe that our community remains strongly committed to the protection and survival of such creatures and that is why in this motion I have called for continued monitoring of the koala population at Black Rocks.
‘However this debate is not just about wildlife, it is also about human beings and a community; the community of Pottsville and their right to use this field. I will not use this forum to call out the foul words and innuendo that have played out in that community, or to point fingers.
‘Instead, let each of us try and understand, even forgive, the other and let this community come together and heal.
‘Before us is at this time, there remains no viable or even cost effective alternative permanent site; the inaction of our state MP and no alternative that will not result in further tree clearing and habitat pressures. ‘