Byron the council seeks full control of Butler Street Reserve
Byron Shire councillors all agreed at last Thursday’s meeting to a staff report that recommends buying the Butler Street reserve from NSW Crown Lands.
Yet the late staff report – not included in the agenda – was criticised by Rainbow Region Stallholders Association president Gyan Purno in morning public access, who told the gallery his group had not been consulted.
The land is home to the monthly markets and weekly farmers markets.
‘This will force the markets to move,’ he said. ‘I have been talking about this for years… there are no developed plans and we have not been consulted.’
During his speech he used words like ‘appalled, sneaky, shameful’ and, ‘conflict of interest’.
Later in the day, Cr Paul Spooner (Country Labor) asked general manager (GM) Ken Gainger why it was necessary to buy the land given the council already manages it.
Gainger replied that as part of an arrangement with Crown Lands a few years ago for a carparking trial on the site, it was agreed there would be an opportunity to negotiate its purchase after the trial.
He also said the Crown Land Reserves Act 1978 was amended late last year, to allow Crown land that is of ‘local significance only’ to ‘be offered to councils, so the council would assume ownership of those properties.’ He said, ‘We believe that Butler Street [reserve] falls into that definition.’
Gainger added that, ‘the minister is very keen to hand it to us’ and that it could well be at a ‘token rate,’ which may be owing to its contamination and history as a rubbish tip.
So why buy? Gainger said, ‘We have a bus interchange proposal that has been developed by the department of transport.’
‘It was an election promise at the last state election. It was announced without any reference to the council.
‘So we were surprised when they announced it. They haven’t told us how much but we believe it is some millions of dollars.
‘And the project has stalled because of the intransigence of the Office of Crown Lands in terms of the unrealistic expectations they had about Transport [NSW] buying the property at full market rate. That project has been held up now for about 18 months.’
Gainger said the benefits of full ownership are not having to continue to negotiate with Crown Lands over future uses of the land and that it works within the masterplan.
But Cr Cate Coorey pointed out that there wasn’t consultation.
She said, ‘I think we had three months on this? And we couldn’t talk to these people? It bothers me that it’s a late report…’
But the mayor instead told the gallery this issue gives ‘cause for reflection’.
‘Right now,’ said the mayor, ‘on the surface, every community group within this Shire is very angry, cynical, suspicious, conspiratorial, whatever about the council.
‘I don’t know if it’s an inheritance of the previous council… I’m not sure of the conversation we need to have to take a breath, and [so that we are not] presumed we are the creators of chemtrails.
‘What we heard this morning was incredibly unfair [from Rainbow Region Stallholders Association president Gyan Purno].
‘The language used, the cynicism, the suspicion, was quite overbearing.
‘About a month ago we had a meeting where it was about, “How dare they take our land, Crown Lands are the evil demons. Wouldn’t it be great if council had it, we should be fighting for it.” Now here is an example of how terribly fraught it is to deal with Crown Lands… here’s an opportunity: we can get a piece of land for basically nothing and there is this cynicism that we are going to put a casino there or we are going to move the market… this default position that we are going to stuff it up for our community is a really sad state of affairs. What are we going to do with it, according to our masterplan?
‘Everything that’s happening now… except a bus interchange… everyone wants [buses] off Jonson Street into a place that makes it easier.
‘There is malaise that is out in the community,’ the mayor continued. He questioned whether the council needed ‘community engagement on every single thing they do at every single step…’
‘Maybe that’s what we are going to have to do. Whether they accept what we do is yet to be determined. Whether they represent the wider community groups is also yet to be determined.
‘So in answer to [Cr Coorey’s question] yes, we didn’t [tell the stallholders] that we were trying to get ownership from Crown. I’m not too sure that’s a great sin. It’s a sin if you think we are going to use it badly and kick the markets off. I’m not sure anyone here is remotely talking about that.’
Those comments sparked up Cr Basil Cameron, who said he wasn’t going to speak, ‘but after those comments I must.’
‘Perhaps we again need to look at our process. This is a late report. We haven’t exactly done the right thing.
‘Did we actually have the courtesy to make a call or send an email and say: “This is a late report, we know you have an interest in this…?”
‘Perhaps a little bit of conversation wouldn’t have gone astray. I wouldn’t be so concerned about cynicism as much as I think that we need to do all these things again with accountability and transparency.’
The mayor replied, ‘Agreed.’
Before the vote to proceed with seeking to purchase the land, Cr Spooner said, ‘It’s clear there is nothing sinister, but the nuance [for the wider community] may be lost.’
‘The speech [by Gyan] is an example of what we need to do in terms of communicating. We need to make sure the journey is taken together and not in isolation.’