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Byron Shire
July 13, 2024

Ballina ocean pool sees packed council gallery

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Artists impression of Ballina’s ocean pool.

Ballina Shire Council saw a packed gallery for its meeting yesterday as Cr Ben Smith put forward a motion to discontinue the Ballina Ocean Pool Project.

Cr Smith said that un-budgeted costs for the ocean pool and Council’s urgent need to respond to climate change risks rather than build infrastructure in vulnerable zones were put forward as key reasons he could not support the project.

Cr Jeff Johnson responded that Ocean Pool Committee had provided an engineering report and environmental study at no cost to Council that showed the Shelley Beach site was the most suitable.

Mayoral positioning

He further explained to Echonetdaily that he believes the recent scare campaign over the ocean pool is linked to the upcoming Council elections.

‘It’s hard not to think it’s linked to the Council elections that are coming up because the Ballina Ocean Pool committee has been working through the necessary planning reports for the last four to five years. This has been at no cost to Council as we received a $50,000 state government grant.’

Cr Meehan, who had seconded the motion to discontinue the ocean pool project, questioned Cr Johnson’s interpretation of the results of reports stating that the site ranked low in five out of ten criteria that were assessed. He said that debris from the river mouth, sand movement on the beach and backwash on a popular surfing break are major problems with the site. 

However, Cr Meehan said that the environmental impacts on one of only two rock platforms in the entire Shire was his primary reason for opposing the pool.

Defence of the pool

Cr Eoin Johnston provided a passionate defence of the work of the Ocean Pool Committee and commended them for five years of patient work to get the project to this stage.

A fired up Cr Keith Williams then let loose at Cr Jeff Johnson and was repeatedly warned to curtail his remarks by Ballina Mayor David Wright. 

Cr Williams said he regarded Cr Johnson’s behaviour as the greatest threat to the project at this time.  

‘I won’t support the motion to discontinue the project, but I will insist that this project be bought back under control.’

Cr Williams continued saying that, ‘while the Ocean Pool Committee is a Committee of Council it is completely inappropriate that members of the community raising legitimate concerns are publicly denigrated by a spokesperson for the Pool Committee.

I was concerned when I learned the Pool Committee has been negotiating an Indigenous Land Use Agreement before Councillors had even been briefed on the process. 

‘I was angry when I saw a media interview with a Pool Committee spokesperson claim that if they got funding they were ready to go to tender. 

‘I was nearly apoplectic when asked by Echonetdaily why I was changing my vote on the Pool and was it just about positioning for the Mayoral election,’ said Cr Williams.

There’s only one Councillor here that is using this issue to campaign for the Mayoralty. There’s only one Councillor using email lists to denigrate opponents and attack other Councillors. There’s only one Councillor using promoted social media posts to whip up support.

The community has a right to expect that this project will comply with Council’s established policies and processes. This includes the provision of sufficient  information to enable a properly structured community engagement process. We are not at that stage yet and certainly nowhere near green lighting this project’

The motion to discontinue the project was lost 7-3 with Councillors Smith, Meehan and Cadwallader voting for.

A foreshadowed motion from Cr Nathan Willis to receive a report on the financial implications of the project on the capital works budget and whether the Ocean Pool Committee should continue as a Committee of Council was then considered. 

Cr Willis said that the current arrangements with the Pool Committee as a Committee of Council were confusing governance and management roles and Councillors needed better information on the implications of potential pool costs on other important capital works projects.

The motion was adopted 7-3 with Councillors Johnson, Wright and Johnstone voting against.

Scare campaigns

Following the meeting Cr Jonson spoke to Echonetdaily and said that, ‘It just reminds me of the scare campaign related to a decision by Council to convert a parking lot on the banks of Lake Ainsworth at Lennox Head into a community park. Those wanting to park down there “cause they always had” came up with about ten different reasons why it shouldn’t go ahead, most reasons were very alarmist and designed to scare local residents. It was straight out of the “divide and conquer” playbook. The campaign almost stopped the project with the vote coming down to a casting vote by the Mayor.

Now I understand some people don’t want an ocean pool on the rocky shelf between Shelly and Lighthouse Beaches and that some surfers are telling people that Speeds Reef (an off shore surf break that only works in certain conditions) will become “unrideable” but there is no evidence to suggest that will be the case. 

In fact quite a few surfers have called me to say that they fully support the pool but don’t want to come out and say it. 

I’d just remind people that this issue will be looked at and modelled before the final size, shape and exact location are determined. 

As with all infrastructure and/or community facilities, there will be some opposition from people who would like to leave things as they are, or feel that the funding could be spent on other projects, I understand that. In the case of the Ocean Pool, I feel that the positives far out way any perceived negatives. 

‘My vision has always been for an iconic, world class, low maintenance pool that is accessible to people of all ages and swimming abilities, and all physical and mental abilities, locals as well as visitors to our beautiful Shire.’

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  1. Some people just like to get hysterical, beset with anxiety about the future. An ocean pool, free from chlorine, corn flake seaweed, jelly fish, jet skis, fishermen and who-knows-what in the future will be very popular with disabled and older folk, well with everyone. Maybe its running cost will be so low that it is the ONLY pool open in Ballina when sea water rises and energy is prohibitively expensive. I say let the project proceed to DA application and then judge it.

  2. Thousands of ocean lovers right along the coast of NSW enjoy the daily benefits of swimming in an ocean pool. Ballina councillors inability to move forward on serving and suppling its wider community with this much needed project is unfathomable.

  3. Everyone seems to think this this pool is going to be free if it gets built (god forbid) yet they (supporters) haven’t revealed what the extra public liability costs are, how much a pump for the pool costs (to fill and drain) ,the life expectancy of said pump given the corrosive nature of sea water and sand , the ongoig maintenance costs to clear out all the cans, bottles and whatever other rubbish gets thrown into it ( and it will happen) plus the upkeep of the pump. Every pool owner has to have fence around their pool including councils 2 existing pools so does this get “special ” exemption or is this another ever ongoing cost that no one wants to mention ? There’s a reason why there have been NO new ocean pools built for decades, they are simply not worth the cost. There are plenty of people saying that ocean pools are great andthat they had one where they used to live ,great move back there if you miss them so much. We had 2 in Sutherland shire where I grew up and I don’t miss them ,take your rose tinted glasses off or build a pool in your backyard and envite everyone else around to enjoy it

  4. The thing is, with the current and future residential developments in this shire, we need to look forward to future needs. We would all benefit from another safe place to cool off or swim, a glorious ocean pool would be awesome. The council pool does not even have a pool for toddlers! An ocean pool will be good for residents, good for visitors, good for business. It would take the pressure off Lake Ainsworth, provide a safe place no matter the season or the ocean conditions, hopefully no sharks or stingers, no chemicals, I’m excited!

  5. Marcel summed it up beautifully!
    Ballina Shire is managed with excellence, why can’t our Councilors get their act together?
    Please, just do it!

  6. As a resident of Shelly Beach Road, the idea of an ocean pool, in walking distance is quite appealing. My only concern is the water quality of the proposed site. Most people only swim in the warmer months. This coincides with storm season and poor water quality. From corn flake seaweed to river out flows the proposed site is contaminated for many months every year.

    I would have though seeking a grant to update local services ie Ambulance or Hospital would be a better use of government funding.

    Local population keeps expanding without local essential services.

  7. Why is itvwhen good community projects come along there are so many nay sayers, ocean pools are great grew up with them in Newcastle,bar beach and Merryweather beach spent many a late hot summer night with the family there they are fantastic as for cost yeah the tax payers ultimately pay but what a great cause and all the community gets to use it and to date the Newcastle pools are not fenced or full of rubish and like the ocean don’t need fencings, responsible parents are needed, think about it we live on the biggest island every one should be taught to swim.

  8. What a coincidence. I grew up in Cronulla, which is blessed with 3 salt water pools, including one a a location named… Shelley Beach. Never could stand chlorinated pools. Incidentally, chlorinated freshwater pools cost a fortune to run.
    When I first ran ((unsucessfully) for a seat on Byron Council in 1991 I put forward the idea of a salt water pool.
    Well done Ballina Council in progressing this long-term vision.

  9. Sydney has an ocean pool at almost every beach, used and loved buy hundreds of people everyday, even in winter, can’t seem why Ballina area residences wouldn’t do the same.

  10. Are they going to employ a life guard. A fence would make for a very ugly pool. You have a valid point as the existing pools down the coastline were all built before the present pool regulations came into existence. Would Council be exempt from these regulations?


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