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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Fate of former Byron Hospital up this week

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The old Byron District Hospital. File photo

Paul Bibby

Responsibility for the management of the old Byron Hospital site is set to be handed over to an incorporated not-for-profit company, which will have the power to decide who will be part of the new community services hub being set up there.

In a move which is partly being conducted behind closed doors owing to its ‘commercially sensitive’ nature, Byron Council will decide at this week’s Council meeting whether or not to award a head lease to a company called Old Byron Hospital Pty Ltd.

The vote itself is set to take place away from public view, and three of the four key documents in relation to the move have been listed as confidential on the Byron Council website.

However, The Echo has learned that Old Byron Hospital Pty Ltd is made up of the same group of community members who birthed the idea of returning the disused site to the community in 2016.

They then helped convinced NSW Health to sell the site to Byron Council in late 2018 for $1.

‘It’s same group of people that Council entrusted from the start’, the Chair of the company, local realtor Chris Hanley, said.

‘We’ve been really busy during COVID-19 – in there doing the work.’

‘We’ve been helping Council to repurpose the building, speaking to landscape architects, talking to prospective tenants’.

Mr Hanley has had involvement in a series of significant community projects over the years, including setting up the Byron Bay Writers Festival.

Should it be granted the head lease as expected, Old Byron Hospital Pty Ltd will have the power to decide which organisations are given leases to operate out of the Shirley Street site.

The identity of the organisations vying for a spot has been kept confidential.

However, The Echo understands that they will come from the welfare, health, education and cultural sectors, and that Southern Cross University is among those tossing their hat into the ring.

It is also understood that rents will be structured in three tiers, with tier one being for commercial organisations, and tier three being a zero-cost space for community projects.

The Echo asked Byron Council why three of the reports in relation to the matter were being kept confidential.

The following response was recived: ‘The report [sic] contains details of negotiations between Council and a proposed head lessee for the site, as well as financial modelling for the ongoing operations of the site over a 20 year period.

‘Publishing this information at this point in time may jeopardise negotiations between the head lessee and eventual tenants of the site.’

One document, which was confidential – the constitution of the not-for-profit company – was later made available following enquiries by The Echo.

A Council spokesperson said the listing of the constitution as confidential had been done in error.

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  1. “behind closed doors owing to its ‘commercially sensitive’ nature”
    What a BS statement with a very lame excuse.
    Really…”commercial sensitivity”..
    It’s a two bit has- been hospital site that is plumb in the middle of Byron with a shed load of potential for $$$$ rental or as a scalable asset and which Byron Council want to “offload” via a leasing arrangement.
    Byron Shire like many local and state government department have not got the “balls” to come out with the “truth” because if they do, then they will get properly scrutinised by the general public.
    When a “commercial sensitivity” starts gets branded about…state ICAC should be front and centre knocking on Bryon Councils front door..investigating..

  2. I agree with Peter that the property has potential for a shed load of dollars and as such, being a Council asset, any leases should be subject to a competitive tender process. This includes any subleases envisaged for the tiered rent arrangements suggested.

    The trouble with the definitions of ‘commercial, not-for-profit and community’ is that, although they have structural and statutory implications, there can be little difference in practice in the profit driven reality with implications for existing non-Council subsidised businesses.

    This is indeed an example of where there should be the utmost transparency not the veil of ‘commercial sensitivity’.


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