The naturalisation of the stormwater drain running through the centre of Lismore, aka Browns Creek, has been on the cards for several years, and at Tuesday’s Lismore Council meeting, Councillor Vanessa Ekins moved a motion to begin the Browns Creek Naturalisation Project, which involves the removal of the existing concrete stormwater drain that traverses Lismore Park from Brewster Street through to Uralba Street, and reconstruction as a more natural watercourse.
During her speech to the chamber, Cr Ekins said that Lismore Park and the Browns Creek naturalisation is an absolute priority. ‘Some of the Councillors may remember adopting that plan more the 10 years ago.’
Over $1 million already collected
Cr Ekins said Council has also been collecting funds to do this work in the stormwater management plan for more than 10 years. ‘It’s a significant project – we have over $1 million already collected for it. We have met quite a few times in 2018 to look at the different designs for the naturalisation of the creek and the park. We wanted to make sure it would keep going as a flood channel, that it would work to cater for storm events and stormwater but it would also be an attractor to the park and provide a lot of opportunities for adventure play.
Cr Ekins said the plans hadn’t progressed since 2018. ‘Staff say they have no direction from us to go for funding to do it. So this is what this motion aims to do – give direction to our staff to say this is a priority for us.
Significant support from our community
‘We have the money, please go out and find some matching funding or finalise the designs come up with a timeframe and let us start working on doing this. It won’t happen immediately. It may take quite a few years to do that final design and to find some other funding for it but we know that we have significant support from our community for this project, But, it will be up to the next council to identify money in the budget for those designs and to come up and finalise the actual designs we want to work.
Cr Ekins said that a least three of the current councillors had worked on the project and lobbied hard on the Lismore Park Master Plan as part of their election campaigns. ‘We just know how much support there is from the community in it, so that’s why I’d like to see this council actually progress it. We’ve campaigned for it, we’ve adopted it and we’d actually like to see some action on it. We’ve got the funds and it’s in a prime location that will really activate that space. Lismore Park at the moment is just sitting there with empty concrete and shopping trolleys.
‘This is the first stage of the Lismore Park. It will literally bring life to that area, and I’d really like to see something happen in this space.
‘I am looking for your support.’
Lismore Park upgrades
When Council commenced investigation and planning of the proposed Lismore Park upgrades, it was identified that the Browns Creek project would potentially be an integral part of and significantly affected by whatever plans were developed for the overall upgrade of the park. It was also identified that the funding for the Browns Creek project could be used as a co-contribution to secure grant funding for the overall park upgrade.
The Lismore Urban Stormwater Management Plan (USMP) has an amount of approximately $1.2 million for the project.
In developing the plans for Lismore Park, significant work was undertaken regarding the design of the naturalisation of Browns Creek, including a preliminary budget estimate of approx. $2.3 million. This estimate is now two years old and based around a preliminary design only. Further work to develop and refine the design would be required to improve the accuracy and confidence in the cost estimate. A detailed assessment of ongoing operational and maintenance costs would also be required.
A decision to move forward with the project at this time would require either an additional allocation of funding based on the estimates already prepared or a revision of the scope of the project to match the available budget.
Cr Neil Marks said he was speaking against the motion. ‘The reason I speak against it, I because you mentioned that you’ve heard lots of people speaking who support this – I guess I talked to a lot of other different people who don’t.
Money ‘hidden in coffers’
‘However, I do understand and have supported the great of Lismore Park and its facilities for a hell of a long time. And going back to the extension of the Lismore Square, which is a long, long time ago now, probably the best part of 20 years, they put money aside – which is hidden in our coffers somewhere – to help fund a covered walkway between the square and the CBD. Now that money shouldn’t have been touched because it was a part of that DA – was a part of the conditions, and I’m hoping that somebody will find that because that can’t be spent anywhere else.
‘That whole park area has been for quite some time, an area that needs to be linked by it (the walkway). I guess the funds for the revitalization, or naturalisation of Browns Creek, have been held as our potential matching funding, our seed for that greater work that needs to be done, whether it be the walkway, whether it be the path with trees and lighting, or whether it be the grand plan that we’ve all heard about over the years – and it has grown from a $3 million project to a $35 million project and whatever it last was.’
Money in hand will not even do a fraction of the work
Cr Marks said that in a workshop not long ago Council were told, when asked about the revitalization of Browns Creek, that the amount of money that Council has will not even do a fraction of the work that is needed to be done. ‘Are we going to throw out the potential of gaining greater grants to do more than the creek? Because my fear is that once the creek is done, there are members of this council that will just go here, “we’ve done it, we’ve got it. We’re not going to do a damn thing with the rest of it”. And we’ll just have a dirty creek that’s going to be really hard to clean.
‘I’m not a fan of the concrete gutter either, but it needs to be a part of a greater plan. And I think we are at this particular stage, If we move ahead with this and just have it as one item, I think we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.’
Cr Eddie Lloyd spoke in support of this motion. ‘We’re in the sixth year of our four-year term, and for that long we have talked about Browns Creek naturalisation over and over again, but mainly in the broader scheme of this big Lismore Park.
$1.2 million sitting in stormwater fund
‘Mayor Ekins, Councillor Guise and I have lobbied very hard, have pushed this very hard, trying to get the naturalisation of Browns Creek done in this term – we haven’t been successful, even though there’s been $1.2 million sitting in our stormwater fund.
Cr Lloyd said that, unlike Cr Marks, she hadn’t met anyone in support of the drain in the heart of Lismore. ‘It’s remained that way when I think it should have been naturalised a couple of years ago at the very least.
‘It’s been held back because it’s been part of this Lismore Park Master Plan. I’m very thankful for this motion and for staff to renew their commitment. We want staff to know that this council wants this naturalisation process prioritised. We want to see it done.’
Cr Lloyd said that it’s agreed that the ‘mega million dollar’ Lismore Park is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. ‘The state’s in economic crisis, it could be a decade before any government even looks at funding something like this. But our community shouldn’t have to sit there and look at a drain for that period of time.
No more consultants and strategies
Cr Lloyd said the time for talk is over. ‘I really hope that this motion progresses action.
‘No more consultants, I mean $1.2 million is a lot of money if you speak to any bush regenerator in town. If you look at the beautiful regeneration they’ve done of the drain in Magellan Creek – there is different types of lomandras and boulders. It doesn’t cost the earth.
‘I think we spend too much money on consultants and strategies when we get anything done and it’s time to actually take some action. I’m speaking to staff, and hoping that they hear this direction because I believe this is the intent of the motion.
‘Every community survey we’ve done every time we’ve engaged our community on what they want, they say they want passive recreation, but no one wants passive recreation walking by a dirty drain with an old trolley in it.
Enjoying passive recreation
‘We want our community to enjoy Lismore Park and to enjoy passive recreation. Not only will the naturalisation of this creek, improve the amenity and enjoyment of our community members. It’s a great gift to our community, but it’s also going to assist in mitigating flood issues.
Cr Lloyd said it was a no brainer. ‘Let’s hope that this means that Browns Creek is finally going to be naturalised I asked for councillors to support this motion.’
Cr Adam Guise also spoke for the motion. ‘I just want to really acknowledge the importance of doing a project like this in the centre of our CBD.
The lifeblood of the town
‘This creek, which once was, is the lifeblood of our town and our original place here. This was a creek before we turned it into a drain. And by naturalising it, we readdress our relationship with our waterways and bring greater respect to what we put in our waterways and our relationship with the river, of which we are a river town.
‘It can no longer be just a concrete drain where we flush our rubbish, refuse, or hard surfaces or waterway to be out of sight out of mind.
‘We take ownership of our place in nature, and we create a beautiful place for people to visit and appreciate in the heart of our town.’
‘It would be a respite, a refuge, a place of learning, of discovery and play, and that would be particularly for kids and families but also for people working at the Square and in the CBD who need that opportunity to connect with nature and appreciate the green spaces that we have to offer.
Positive mental health benefits
‘With that comes positive mental health benefits in terms of exercise, passive recreation, respite and refuge. It obviously has habitat benefits, and those who say it wouldn’t attract habitat, you only have to go over to the Browns Creek regeneration on the Magellan street side where it’s been done at a lower cost, original form some years ago to create a beautiful habitat for birds for turret toward turtles.
‘So don’t discount what you can do by creating habitat spaces in our town.’
Cr Guise says that everyone can agree that the current plans for Lismore Park are over-the-top and unlikely to be funded in this financial climate. ‘Let’s start with the groundwork now of putting the plants and the waterways and the creek’s route in place so that we can then plan around that with future embellishments to the park.
‘This is a low cost, low maintenance, natural solution, that will bring locals and tourists alike to see what can be done in the heart of the CBD, so I really commend the Mayor for bringing this and ask that you support it.’
Browns Creek naturalisation is part of a vision
Cr Ekins put the motion to a vote and it was carried. Those in favour were Councillors Ekins, Lloyd, Bird, Cook and Guise. Those against were Councillors Morehouse and Marks.
Today Cr Ekins told The Echo that Browns Creek naturalisation had been part of her vision for Lismore for a long time, since she first started planting trees on the banks of the Wilsons River in 1999. ‘I have been closely watching other Councils rewild their urban watercourses and the evidence of the social and environmental benefits is overwhelming.
‘We need to do everything we can to make our city centre a healthy and happy place for our community to gather and enjoy and to help revive the heart of our region, our river.
‘Naturalising Browns Creek will improve our town socially, environmentally and aesthetically. Council will now work on the project designs and timelines, the funds have been collected for over 10 years in our urban stormwater management plan, now is the time to get it started and bring life back into Lismore Park.’