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.’