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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Hans Lovejoy

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…

And so begins The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Who would think that a report on modern local governance would have anything to do with an epic 1859 tome set in both London and Paris around the time of the French Revolution in the late 1700s?

Of course it doesn’t, but there’s no harm in trying to spark up a dry council report from last Thursday, when our elected councillors gathered to thrash through items of varying degrees of interest and consequence.

Off with their letting policy

When you are a limp third appendage of government (like councils are), sternly worded letters to state ministers are about as forceful as you can get (unless they revolt!).

Take councillors’ response to the NSW government’s holiday letting position.

Plans to address the issue by the Libs-Nats are looking like a shambles in the making, and all Council can do is let its voice be known. So it did.

All members of the Legislative Council (NSW lower house MPs) will get a letter from Council explaining that the soon-to-be-passed Fair Trading Amendment (Short Term Rental Accommodation) Bill 2018 is unworkable and lacks detail. Furthermore, the MPs will be told that the Code of Conduct advisory committee ‘was convened without the invitation of concerned community groups and that consists of a majority of representatives from the holiday letting industry.’ Yikes.

For those who doubt the state government are a bunch of deluded, self-interested, arrogant bozos thumbing their noses at any sense of community cohesion and equity – this Bill is it!

Off with their CSG-free signs

With Nationals-aligned councillor Alan Hunter being the sole conservative right-wing voice of Byron Shire Council, we don’t hear much from from him in the way of motions.

Or amendments. Or foreshadowed motions.

Yet perhaps that’s just as well, because his last contribution in Council on Thursday was absurd to the extreme.

He wanted the CSG-free signs around Byron Shire villages replaced with native-animal awareness signs instead.

Cr Hunter argued it’s all too political. ‘We don’t allow [signs like this] for elections,’ he said.

Yet it was an argument made to himself, as no-one was remotely interested in voting for his idea.

He courageously continued: ‘We should instead be addressing something closer to our heart, and help protect our furry friends.’

Furry friends

Yes – our furry friends.

But the logic appears weak – if Cr Hunter were really concerned about our furry friends, he would be a vocal opponent of the National Party’s shocking land-clearing laws, which have seen an 800 per cent jump in the state since their introduction.

Anyway the signs – which say how many people were against CSG in the Shire’s townships – were erected around five years ago when the CSG movement was in full swing.

The movement was mostly a result of a Nationals-aligned property owner in Bentley, near Lismore, who sparked outrage with a CSG well proposal along with junior mining corp Metgasco.

It turns out a large percentage of the electorate on the northern rivers think fracking is unsafe and a better option is renewables.

The Bentley campaign led in part to the Nats being booted from the seat of Ballina and replaced with a Greens MP.

Funnily enough, Alan is not particularly popular with his neighbours where he lives.

His neighbours were unimpressed after he ramped up his self-storage/farm terminal business on his quiet street in Myocum.

From his motion, it appears Hunter would like to extend his unpopularity not to just his immediate neighbours, but to around 90 per cent of the north coast electorate.

There were many ridiculous elements to Alan’s motion, but the most impressive was that Alan wanted to replace signs that were paid for by CSG-free fundraising efforts. Council only had a minor role in making it happen.

Well done, Alan, even if the only purpose you serve is as a warning to others.

Instead, councillors agreed (but not Cr Hunter) to allocate $5,000 for the purchase and installation of native-animal awareness signs, funded from the environment and enforcement levy reserve, subject to the approval of the Transport and Infrastructure Advisory Committee.

Tweed St, Bruns

A tussle between the progress association and the business chamber over what to do with Tweed Street was finally sorted out – councillors voted to allocate $94,700 towards Tweed Street projects in the 2018–2019 budget, with funding provided from the sources identified in the financial implications section of this report.

A motion from Cr Cameron was also supported, which asks for a staff report on the development of a masterplan for Brunswick Heads with an initial access and movement study.

OS subdivision deferred

A Development Application (DA) to subdivide four lots, remove trees, and create earthworks and associated infrastructure at 8 Coomburra Crescent in Ocean Shores was deferred after councillors voted to ask the applicant to investigate the ‘possibilities of narrowing the driveway to allow for increased vegetation.’

More importantly, they requested staff to confirm that Council’s ‘stormwater infrastructure is of a size and management regime to adequately receive stormwater generated by this subdivision’.

Additionally councillors asked to ‘Ensure that the community have a longer period in which to consider the geotechnical aspects and implications within the development application, and that when reported back to Council a more expansive report from staff on this aspect be presented.’

Bruns coms tower

While Wilsons Creek residents prepare to fight a telecom tower in their valley, Brunswick Heads residents are also facing the ever-expanding proliferation of communciations towers across the country.

A 30m Telstra telecoms tower proposal, located at the Brunswick Heads Bowling Club was deferred by councillors at the meeting, after it became clear there had been no consultation with those who could be affected.

Councillors were made aware in morning public access that the business chamber had not been asked about the tower– nor anyone in Brunswick Heads for that matter.

It’s sorta odd considering Council are required to advertise such things. Is there a new communications strategy needed to inform the public of contentious DAs?

The deferral was supported by all councillors except Crs Spooner (Labor) and Alan Hunter (Nationals-aligned).

Cr Spooner put forward an amendment that sought to allow the tower, but it turned out the only one other than Cr Spooner who thought that was a good idea was Cr Alan Hunter.

Butler Street Reserve lights

$85,000 from the Property Reserve will be allocated to complete stage one of the Butler Street Reserve lighting project, while staff will look at additional lighting options for the area.

And, ‘If budget and the SEPP permits, [Council will] install lighting on the east–west link through the rail corridor.’

Trust us, we are the government

Remember the Community Solutions Panel? It helped restore our trust in Council, Council said at the time.

There was a wobbly patch at the end of last year with all sorts of unpredictable and odd secret decisions by management, so consultants were valiantly employed to improve Council’s credibility.

Anyhoo, councillors seem keen to explore this idea more, and have endorsed the next steps for ‘The Byron Model’ of deliberative democracy.

So beware, ye humble ratepayer/voter: councillors and staff will be soon launching a public relations exercise to make us all feel like our voices are being heard.

Never mind nothing much has changed internally in Council to ensure certain actions of councillors and staff will not occur again.

Remember – this is about trust, not reform.

The plan is to continue the Community Solutions panel idea, and rebrand it a ‘Co-design Group’.

Members will be randomly appointed and travel a rollercoaster ride of phasing stages and workshops.

It could all start as soon as September. Sounds fun?


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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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