An eleventh hour change of heart by the state government could see the demolition of the Mullumbimby and District War Memorial Hospital halted and the Byron Shire Council purchase the land for community use.
In an offer announced at yesterday’s 300-strong rally to save the site, north coast based Nationals MLC Franklin said the state government had put a 28-day stop work on the demolition of the old hospital buildings to allow the council time to make an offer.
‘I have been lobbying the minister for health for a number of weeks on this issue to try to get a positive outcome because it is so important to the community,’ Mr Franklin told Echonetdaily.
‘I’m thrilled that I have convinced him to stop the demolition for the next 28 days to allow Byron Council to purchase the site so it can be kept for community use.
‘Thank you to everyone in the community who has stood up and fought for the future of the site. Their voice has been heard loud and clear,’ Mr Franklin said.
But it may not all be plain sailing, with Byron mayor Simon Richardson indicating council had limited funds available to purchase the site and health minister Brad Hazzard telling media the money was necessary as a contribution towards the cost of the recently completed Byron Central Hospital.
Meanwhile, north coast Labor politicians have been quick to call for the state government to gift the site to the community.
Council must be quick
Minister Hazzard said the NSW Government was ‘willing to consider a reasonable offer from council’.
But despite government taking so long to come to the table, he added that council’s offer ‘needs to be made quickly otherwise remediation works will commence.’
‘The government is willing to put demolition works on hold if the council can get something to us in the next 28 days which guarantees public safety and benefit.
‘Given the latest report’s indication of the amount of asbestos located throughout the buildings our experts tell us the best and safest outcome for locals is to demolish the structures on the site.
‘But if the local council, with local knowledge, has a local perspective and an interest in purchase (which I have read it has publically stated), the NSW Government is willing to have discussions with Byron Shire Council to acquire the site.’
National Party ‘trick’
But NSW Labor’s shadow health minister Walt Secord, federal Richmond MP Justine Elliot and Byron Shire Councillor Paul Spooner have expressed their concern about the scheme, describing it as an ‘old National Party trick’.
Mr Secord said, ‘If the Nationals were genuine, they would simply transfer the land to Byron Shire Council or sell the parcel of land for a symbolic amount like $1.’
Mrs Elliot said, ‘The state government is ignoring that the land was hospital land and is already owned by the community. Unfortunately, the Liberals and Nationals want to put a price tag on everything in the state. They simply want to sell off everything.’
‘The community already owns this land and they shouldn’t have to pay twice.’
Mr Spooner said he wanted the Mullumbimby hospital land to remain under community control. ‘This is about ensuring that this community land is retained and used for the community. This is about meeting the community’s needs.’
Mr Secord added that ‘under the National Party scheme, a white shoe brigade property developer will be able to out-bid Byron Shire Council.’
The state government has also released the until-now secret asbestos report, which it has used to justify the demolition of hospital buildings.
Mr Hazzard said it was necessary to sell the site ‘because the deal was always that the taxpayers’ commitment of $88 million for the new Byron Central Hospital would be to some degree offset by the sale price of the Mullumbimby and the Byron Bay hospital sites.’
In 2010 then health minister Jillian Skinner sacked the hospital’s board of trustees at and the hospital site, which was gifted by a local resident in 1900, was taken over by the department.
Not much in council coffers
Byron mayor Simon Richardson has yet to respond to Echonetdaily’s request for a comment, but he told ABC radio this morning that while council is reluctant to hand over money for what until recently was community land, it would do so if a ‘reasonable price’ could be agreed upon.
‘We’re obviously really pleased that the state government is at least listening to the call from the community to stop the work: we’ve at least now got a stay of execution so we can now have a look and see what we can do,’ mayor Richardson said.
‘Today I’ll be speaking to the GM and we’ll have a look to see what we do have in the “Mullum kitty”. I don’t think we have as much as we had in Suffolk, which was a lucky break that we had a fair bit of unallocated Section 94 contributions.
‘When you say reasonable price, it’s hopefully a little bit better than market value.
‘We will certainly be putting together a price that the community and the council can afford, and what we think is reasonable for a for a building and a space that used to be community owned for about 100 years,’ Cr Richardson said.