The old Byron District Hospital site has been given to the local community by the State Government, paving the way for the dilapidated facility to be transformed into a much-needed services hub.
After 18 months of hard work by a group of locals committed to keeping the facility in community hands, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced today that the 2,000sqm Shirley Street site would be ‘sold’ to Byron Council for a nominal fee of $1.
Mr Hazzard said the government would also provide $200,000 in funding to help the community undertake the major work needed to return the site to a useable state.
With the site previously slated for sale to the highest bidder – most likely a housing developer – today’s announcement is a significant win for the community.
It is also a political win for Nationals MLC Ben Franklin who had a central role in lobbying his Macquarie Street colleagues not to put the site on the open market.
Mr Franklin is standing for the State seat of Ballina at the next state election, where he will attempt to unseat the popular Greens incumbent Tamara Smith.
Tamara Smith MP, Member for Ballina welcomed the announcement. She told Echonetdaily, ‘I am so proud to have been part of the community driven process to take a proposal like this to the state government. With generations of residents support and donations towards equipment and improving the facilities of the hospital, it is so appropriate that the land now be returned to the people.’
‘This was a truly bi-partisan community project and I was so pleased that my office could participate in and contribute towards the final submission to the minister.”
‘Congratulations in particular to Chris Hanley, who has been the absolute champion of this project.
‘I am delighted at another community win for Byron Bay. Keeping a valuable, central site such as this in public ownership is the best result for the community,’ said Ms Smith.
While the exact terms of the ‘sale’ are not yet clear, it is understood Byron Council will act as trustee for the site while a committee of locals develops a detailed plan for its future use.
A preliminary proposal for the site has already been developed by a group of locals led by local real estate agent Chris Hanley and including Ms Smith, Mr Franklin and Byron Mayor Simon Richardson.
‘This is a great win for our local community,’ Mr Franklin said.
‘I heard what locals wanted and have been lobbying the NSW Government to ensure this property remains in community hands, with council and locals now in pole position to decide on its future.’
This proposal involves the creation of a community hub in which affordable rental accommodation is provided to organisations representing the welfare, health, education and cultural sectors.
It includes a business plan under which rents would be structured in three tiers, with Tier 1 being for commercial organisations and Tier 3 being a zero-cost space for community projects.
Once the facility is fully occupied, income would be distributed back to community organisations on a merit basis.
Fifteen organisations have supplied letters of intention, indicating their readiness and desire to be part of the hub.
While they have asked not to be named publicly in order to protect their existing lease arrangements, the list includes some of the region’s largest education and cultural institutions, as well as much smaller not-for-profit groups.