In a continuation of unpicking the past at this week’s ordinary meeting, new Lismore City Councillor Big Rob proposed a motion to reconsider another decision made by the last Council in November.
The motion asked that Council takes no further action in relation to its decision of 9 November 2021 (Item BP21/779) to reclassify and transfer Council-owned community land at 9 Sibley Street, Nimbin (Peace Park – Lot 1 DP 305607) to Nimbin Neighbourhood & Information Centre and that staff prepare suitable information and budget estimates for consideration in the upcoming Operational Plan and budget process to prepare a Plan of Management relating to the Peace Park in Nimbin.
The motion also suggested staff consider leasing, licensing and other options in relation to the request from the Nimbin Neighbourhood & Information Centre, and prepare a report to be brought back to Council for consideration.
The legalities of giving away community land
Cr Rob’s comments on the motion aimed to have Council consider various options and the legalities of giving away community land prior to making a decision.
Staff comments, outlined in the report to Council in November, were that the Nimbin community, through the Nimbin Neighborhood & Information Centre (NNIC), paid for the purchase of what is now the Nimbin Community Centre and Peace Park.
In 2009 the Nimbin Community Centre Inc. advised Council they would not exercise their option to become owners of Peace Park because of ongoing public liability costs associated with the proposed development of the site as a skate park. At that time they requested the land be retained by Council and reclassified as ‘Community’ land.
The subsequent purchase of a dilapidated house at 7 Sibley Street by NNIC in 2012 was again achieved through community fundraising efforts and was seen as a desirable outcome for the Nimbin community, because of its strategic location adjacent to the skatepark.
A master plan was prepared to develop the site as a Sustainable Living Hub to share skills and promote all aspects of affordable housing.
This process involved extensive community input and consultation, including Lismore City Council advising that in order to address access and parking requirements, the master plan should include the adjoining land at Peace Park.
When NNIC approached Council last year about reclassification and transferring part of Peace Park, the option of preparing a Plan of Management and an Occupation Agreement for the use of part of the site for the Sustainable Living Hub project was considered as an option in the report to Council in November 2021, but was not supported by staff.
Reasons given were that it would create uncertainty for both parties, and comes with significant state government oversight, including a requirement for ministerial approval for any lease exceeding 21 years.
In accordance with Council’s previous resolution, a planning proposal for the reclassification of approximately 1510m2 of Peace Park has been prepared.
It was intended to report this matter back to Council in March 2022.
Manager of the NNIC, Natalie Meyer, spoke during Public Access. ‘I’ve been in the job for 22 years and I have responsibility for the carriage of the 7 Sibley Street project,’ she said.
‘I have a long history of working with council and council staff and councillors, going back before the last council, the council before and the council before that, and I understand that not all of you are across what this is about and also not across everything that’s going on in Nimbin. I get that because you only just got here. Fair enough.
‘But I want to assure you that this wasn’t some rough, sudden rash decision that was made by the last council at the last sitting of their former term. This has been going on for at least 10 years. In fact, the total history of this goes back to before 1998. So this has a long history, and there’s a lot to it.’
Ms Meyer said she wanted to appear at Council in case they had any questions. ‘I’m not going to summarise a project all over again because I don’t want to bore you or drive you crazy – or alienate you, that would be terrible. I just want you to know the reason why it came up at that last council meeting was pure coincidence. It was just how the timing rolled out, and looks like it maybe wasn’t in our best interest.
‘Mostly I want to say to you that before you make any decisions about this it’s really important that you get across the context and get across the broader context of Nimbin and the long history of the matter.’
The business of manufacturing red tape?
Natalie Meyer went on to say, ‘I also want to point out that the decision that was made was in principle to support and to progress the matter and there’s a long process ahead of us.
‘There’s already a lot of red tape involved in this, so unless Council is going into the business of manufacturing red tape, there’s not a lot to be gained from throwing even more red tape at it.’
Cr Big Rob began by announcing there had been discussions earlier in the evening and he hoped, mid-motion, to add an amendment to defer the motion until March. ’This is to allow Council time to further consult with the community.
‘All the [motion] points remain as items to be considered later.’
Cr Elly Bird spoke against the ‘amended’ motion. ‘What we’re dealing with here is the process of a planning proposal which is about a proposed rezoning and boundary adjustment, to progress a matter that has, as Ms Meyer has pointed out, been in train for 10 years.’
Carefully worked through and carefully considered
‘This has been very carefully worked through and very carefully considered by council staff,’ said Cr Bird. ‘I’m blessed to have been dealing with a planning proposal through another council. And they take a very long time. There’s a lot of consideration that needs to be done.
‘The motion that we passed in November was to in principle support the progress of the planning proposal, and the planning proposal would come to us in March 2022.
‘For final determination, in which case the report would give us all of the information, the maps, the boundaries, the adjustments, it would outline exactly what the proposal looks like, what the community are proposing.
‘I would also remind councillors that we have had significant emails in on this matter – a number of representations from prominent members of the Nimbin community.
‘If this motion was to be successful, those exact same people would be engaging with councillors on the exact same matter. So, I would suggest that the community consultation has already occurred. It’s been occurring for a number of years, it’s occurred through Council processes; they’ve contacted you through your emails and outlined very clearly the proposal that is before us and the matter will come again in March for further consideration and decision.’
Kicking the can
‘I suggest that this motion is just kicking the can down the road and giving uncertainty to a community that has been very carefully progressing something for a number of years,’ continued Cr Bird.
‘I’d also remind you the history that has been presented in this chamber tonight, that the land was bought and paid for over and again by the community in Nimbin. And that community is intensely and incredibly proactive in shaping their community assets. They are an incredible asset to Lismore City Council, in that they pay for, manage and run their own infrastructure.
‘We should be supporting them and making the process easy for them to meet the outcomes that the community has outlined in the emails – more than 500 community members have engaged in this process. The community consultation has been done.
‘And I appreciate that councillors are new to the chamber and need to wrap their heads around it, but that report will come to you in March as a fully-fledged planning proposal. You’ll be able to consider the matter in greater detail at that time.
‘At that time, if you decide to you could defer it or you could – I’m not even going to say you could refuse it – because that would be terrible outcome. But you can consider it in its entirety at the March council meeting.’
No Plan of Management
Cr Big Rob said that as far as he can tell there is no Plan of Management for the land. ‘It’s community land. In section 36 of the Local Government Act requires a Plan of Management. We can’t do anything until we have a Plan of Management for the land.
‘The Sustainable Living Community Plan was last revised on the 22nd of the 11th, 2015, and it expired last year. So the current plan the Lismore City Council Sport and Rec plan goes to 2024 is in direct conflict with what is being asked for and we live in community.
‘The only first time this request has came up to do this boundary adjustment was on the second of September 21. So this isn’t been planned for 20 years. The land was bought years ago.
‘I strongly suggest everyone support this motion because the issues that are going to be raised are going to determine whether or not this can proceed at all and at the moment.’
The motion, with the amendment, was put to a vote and passed – as expected, Councillors Colby, Hall, Jensen, Rob, Gordon, Bing and Krieg voted for and Councillors Bird, Ekins, Cook and Guise voted against.
Uncertainty for the Nimbin community
After the meeting, Cr Elly Bird said that the deferral, unfortunately, creates uncertainty for the Nimbin community who have been carefully and thoroughly working towards this planning proposal for some time now. ‘Councillors will be visiting Nimbin to have a look at the proposal first-hand and to undertake further community consultation,’ she said.
‘There has been significant consultation to date with hundreds of community members committed to seeing this project realised, and I am hopeful that once Councillors see the merits of the project and appreciate the diligence that has been applied to date we can progress with the Planning Proposal which was already due to come to Council at our March meeting.’