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May 17, 2021

Mullumbimby Hospital must be demolished: report

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The NSW Government has offered Byron Shire Council the opportunity to buy back the Mullumbimby Hospital site. Photo Aslan Shand
The now closed Mullumbimby Hospital will have to be demolished, according to a new report, owing to widespread asbestos contamination. Photo Aslan Shand

Paul Bibby

The two main buildings at the Mullumbimby Hospital site will have to be completely demolished and the land remediated at a cost of more than $3 million after they were found to be riddled with asbestos that poses a high risk to future users and the surrounding community.

In a turn of events that could complicate Byron Council’s plan to purchase the 13-acre site from the state government, a new contamination report has found that asbestos containment measures on the site are failing, leaving demolition the only viable option.

The report, by HBI Australia, states that there is ‘unstable and degraded asbestos-containing material in all of the roof system/ceiling spaces at the facility’ except in the smaller, semi-detached birthing unit (Block B).

The degradation of this material was ‘extremely advanced’ and hazardous, the report said.

When coupled with the ‘deteriorating roof structure’, this presented ‘a very high risk to users and occupiers of the facility as well as the surrounding community’.

Exacerbating the risk, HBI found that measures put in place by NSW Health to contain the asbestos within ceilings and walls were only designed to last until 2016.

Those measures are now failing.

In addition, the soil beneath Block A is contaminated and that beneath Block C may also be tainted, meaning extensive remediation of the site will be needed before it is habitable.

HBI estimated that the costs of removal and remediation would exceed $3 million, significantly more than the $1.8 million previously quoted to NSW Health.

Campaigner ‘stunned’

Gill Lomath, a member of the Mullumbimby Hospital Site Project Reference Group, said she had been ‘stunned’ to learn the full extent of contamination and the likely cost of removal and remediation.

‘If what they’re saying is fact, it’s a pretty serious issue,’ said Ms Lomath, who is also a member of the Mullumbimby Hospital Action Group (MHAG).

‘It’s a very expensive process. The question is where do we get that money from and how will it encroach on other community projects being undertaken by Council?’

‘I just hope that it can be worked out in a way that allows the site to be used for the community.’

As more is learned about the amount and cost of work required on the site, using part of the property for commercial purposes may become a more attractive prospect for Byron Council.

The HBI report said that if the council went through with its plan to purchase the site, the operational costs were ‘unlikely to be offset by income for an as-yet unknown period of time’.

Greens councillor Jeanette Martin, who is also a member of the project reference group, said it was too soon to talk about commercial partnerships.

She said the council had commissioned a further report to more accurately determine the cost.

‘The first step is to find out how much it’s going to cost with the underlying understanding that this site is going to be for the community,’ Cr Martin said.

‘Maybe it’s [the cost] going to be completely out of control and maybe we won’t go ahead with buying the site. It’s very unlikely, but we need to keep that in mind.’

Options open

The state government offered to sell the site to the council for $1 in May following a long-running campaign to keep it in community hands.

Under the proposed deal, the council would undertake all works required to make the site safe and habitable.

A number of options for future use of the site remain on the table, including a retirement village, a women’s refuge, social housing, and an innovation hub.

‘It’s a question of what we can do and what will fit,’ Cr Martin said.

‘With 13 acres there is the option to do more than one thing. There’s so much need in our community and people are saying ‘here’s a great opportunity to meet some of that need’.

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  1. The operation was successful but the patient died. Mullumbimby Hospital’s two main buildings have been examined and dissected and the diagnosis is that asbestos is riddled within it’s organs giving it terminal cancer. Demolition and the land remediated is the only answer costing $3million. The public must be kept safe.

  2. Asbestos is everywhere, and when controlled properly the risk is relatively low. If that report is accurate, (and there is no reason that it wouldn’t be, given that only approved experts are permitted to inspect and report on these matters), then the buildings are indeed too far gone. Council should be wary of investing even $1 into the purchase of this land and then inheriting a multi-million dollar long-term problem.

  3. It is unfortunately the lack of knowledge and education, willingness to learn and listening to advice which makes people think they get a bargain from the council giving away a property for $1, easy to assume it was common knowledge how much it will cost to decontaminate the Land, unmentioned here that the way the Australian Government is dealing with this kind of legacy as ‘unappropriate’. Packing the contaminated sheds and material twice in fat black plastic and burring it for the next generations to find….. Well, as long Canada is still hauling Asbestos and still allowed to sell it world wide we are in a poor position to complain.

    Time to open an equation:
    How much is the land worth?
    If it is worth more than $4 but $5 million, that will be the final figure as ‘low density board’ or any other highly friable material was used in building or repairing the hospital, or if there was a Super 6 roof involved the decontamination of the earth surrounding the property, trickling into the soil for how long?….. go ahead but make the public, especially the next door neighbors aware of the danger involved living next door to a Asbestos demolition site.
    If it is not worth the money give it back to the council as they were aware of the costs involved, let them deal with the problem and hope it will be done properly and in time.


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