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Byron Shire
December 3, 2021

Byron mayor and GM apologise over railway park fiasco

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Volunteers outside the Byron Environment Centre rotunda that was fenced off, with no notice, by Byron Council. Photo supplied.
Volunteers outside the Byron Environment Centre rotunda that was fenced off, with no notice, by Byron Council. Photo supplied.

Byron Shire Council’s general manager (GM) Ken Gainger has apologised to the Byron Bay Town Centre Masterplan Leadership Group and the community after two large gums and a palm were cut down in Railway Park without warning.

Additionally council staff appear to have misled the community by saying via email to the Byron Environment Centre (BEC) that the masterplan leadership team provided community feedback ‘that the BEC kiosk in Railway Square would best be located elsewhere.’ 

But Donald Maughan, co-chair of the Byron Bay Masterplan Team (BBMPT), told The Echo that, ‘The community group of the BBMPT had no knowledge of what was happening around the rotunda [kiosk] and do not know what is going on with regard to the letter from Council to relocate.’ Maughan also says the outcome of the masterplan group’s meeting last Wednesday was ‘total confusion’. He said, ‘The BBMPT had been expecting a reasonably detailed plan on what was going to be happening in that zone at [the] masterplan meeting, but were disappointed as there seemed to be a lack of definition of exactly the perimeter of the zone we were talking about.’

Mayor Simon Richardson, who has also apologised to the community, told The Echo, ‘the masterplan leadership team were thrown under a bus.’

The mayor’s apology comes just weeks after departing shots from fellow Greens member Tom Tabart, who told The Echo the mayor is being led by the GM, is not across the operation aspects of council and needs to improve his communication skills. 

Tabart told The Echo on October 18, ‘the general manager runs councillors like a clockwork train.’

The mayor explained how the events unfolded.

‘I was away and only when I returned on Wednesday I found out then about the trees – I was told they were preparatory works, yet the leadership didn’t know this.

‘I didn’t know the trees were being cut down until Thursday, which had nothing to do with the masterplan.’

He said it was an opportunity lost to kick off a very positive project for the town and trust and goodwill in the community need to be restored.

Asked what, as mayor, he was planning to do to address such an issue should it occur in the future, he replied that if the ‘level of miscommunication is so fundamentally entrenched, then protocol won’t fix it.’

‘This was extremely disrespectful to all the community leaders who are looking after the masterplan’, he said.

Asked where the buck stops (between staff and councillors), he said he ‘didn’t know but would like to know.’

GM’s mea culpa

Council’s general manager Ken Gainger told The Echo, ‘First the mea culpa. Yes, I did authorise staff to undertake preparatory works in the park as a prelude to the definitive upgrade works to come once approved by the Masterplan Leadership Group (MPLG) and Council.’ 

‘The preparatory works were needed before any upgrade could begin. The preparatory works authorised included the removal of two trees – one of which is renowned for dropping limbs – so its removal was primarily a public-safety factor. 

‘I acknowledged that we underestimated the level of public interest in the trees’ removal and neither consulted nor communicated this adequately. I have publicly apologised for this (see Council’s website).

‘The masterplan leadership group held a design charette for the park in July, and the landscape architect commissioned by Council attended.

‘The landscape architect took his design instructions from the MPLG, not from Council. The charette design brief notes are very high level with little detail, so it is unsurprising that the draft plans prepared were not high on detail. 

‘It is usual practice for detailed construction drawings to be produced once the concept plans are approved. 

‘The MPLG agreed with the landscape architect that the Cottonwoods should remain and be a feature of the upgrade plans. This has been honoured by the architect in the draft concept plans. The MPLG also supported Council liaising with the owner of the former Byronian Cafe to encourage an outdoor dining option on the northern fringe of the park – and in fact facilitated this by providing contact details and setting up a meeting. This was taken into consideration when the landscape architect and an independent tree consultant were consulted on the health of the trees including those along the northern edge of the park.

‘With regard to the Byron Environment Centre (BEC) kiosk notice, I have no direct knowledge of its issue or the significance of December 13. I presume this timing was connected to grant funding project delivery timelines.

‘My understanding is that retention of the kiosk was not part of the MPLG design brief, while for example retention of the Cottonwoods was.

‘So why the haste in preparing Railway Park for upgrade? There are several reasons including the concern of market stallholders about the need to relocate while bus-interchange works commence at Butler Street in March 2018 (current estimate given to Council), grant funding timing imperatives, and frustration expressed by MPLG leaders at the September meeting about the lack of progress with the Railway Park project.

‘I reiterate that none of this excuses the lack of consultation on tree removal; I am merely trying to provide some context.’

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  1. An interesting lack of communication here. Not uncommon in local govt unfortunately. The comment from Tom Tabart regarding the Mayor not being across the operational aspects of Council is interesting, as the LG Act clearly defines the role of Councillors as being strategic, not operational. The operational function of Council is the realm of the GM. That lack of understanding is the basis of many problems in local government generally, not just Byron Shire. A seasoned Councillor like Tom Tabart should know that.
    All that aside, the GM should have known that the community of Byron are very attached to their trees and should have consulted. He’s been there long enough to know that.

  2. I am calling for the Gm Ken Gainger to resign. He has shown a blattent disregard for the residents of the Byron Shire and especially to the Byron Bay townspeople. His apology was more like back handed slap. He has insulted the Mayor, the Council and the residents of our green shire. He should not be in any position of importance in the Byron Shire.

  3. Management of eucalyptus limb dropping in public parks is simple for any competent arborist. That it’s right outside the Byronian development which is set to claim a significant amount of public land might be more relevant.
    It’s easier to ask forgive than to ask permission, particularly when you know it won’t be given.

  4. The trees were removed for the new Café outdoor dining area obviously and the fact the Mayor and the GM both like that idea it got fast tracked before the tree removal could be vetoed.

    If we are being serious about an environment centre lets have one that you can visit, walk through to see exhibits etc Not a pamphlet storage area with fold up tables with leaflets being shoved in your hand as you pass by or look for somewhere to sit in peace. Its ugly, old and inadequate, put it with the visitors centre.
    $500,000 for a remodel of the park and NOONE mentioned the Rotunda in the planning stage. Really come on its Byron bay 2017 not Nimbin 1970.

  5. All sounds very suss.

    How on earth can an eviction notice be issued to BEC and council not know about it?

    Of course it’s a priority for ‘council to ‘liaise with cafe owner to encourage an outdoor dining option’ and remove trees to accommodate it in a PUBLIC park! What more can be exoected in a shire where worship at the alter of the almighty god of tourism now dominates everything.

    Too bad about the Byron Environment Center rotunda and the trees. Just more sacrifices at the alter of the almighty god of tourism.

  6. Having read about the removal of these trees without informing anyone, I am left wondering what interest does the Mayor or/and the GM have with the Byronian Cafe?

  7. Spot on Louise.. yes sadly its true ..
    …All hail the mighty tourist and endless parasitic consumerism and to hell with the locals, the environment and wildlife. ..
    Green shire? or is it just Greedy Bay…

  8. Another GM failure and another glib Simon talkfest. Progress? Nar. Many of us despair at the direction Byron has taken – overpriced, overdeveloped and run by an overbearing council. I’m over it.

    Time for another “Cate Coorey for Mayor” call.

  9. Sorry Ken Grainger, but you don’t deserve your position as GM. There is no way that this action can have been anything but a strategy ie cut it down first then deal with it later because we know we won’t get community consent to removing them completely without a fight. An apology after the fact is just humbug.

    If it wasn’t a strategy but was a true blunder, then you don’t have the finesse fitting to the position you hold, and you clearly don’t understand the Byron pysche – the residents that is, not the absentee landlords raping our community. We don’t need a GM like you. We need a GM who helps us retain community.

    You don’t even seem to understand that we don’t want a company such as Villaworld coming in and doing a large scale homogenous broadfields development such as that attempt at West Byron. We want individual lots sold to individual people who develop houses with their own individual style.

    You might be a nice bloke, but you failed miserably to convince me with your humbug apology.

  10. Some very bad reflections on Council here.. As a former Byron Shire Council officer, I was embarrassed by the lack of resources we had to care for the natural resources of the Shire.There is no doubt Byron is beautiful, but the level of facilities provided for the community is abysmal. For a shire that prides itself on its environmental credentials, the “environment centre” is an embarrassment. I currently work for a Qld Council that is a bit ‘red-necked”, but the budget we have to protect the environment is in the $millions, not the $hundreds that I had when I worked for Byron Shire.
    I was not aware that Villawood were trying to come to town, but if anyone needs a reason to be put off by them, take a visit to the “Augustus” estate at Hervey Bay. Western suburbs by the sea. Believe me, you don’t want them!


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