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Byron Shire
May 20, 2022

Creating homelessness

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The floods are leaving people homeless and families split

There was a housing crisis on the Northern Rivers, then we had the floods of 2022 and the issue has left increasing numbers of people homeless and struggling to find alternative accommodation.

Having lived for 80 years on Argyle Street with a history of family living from number 1 to number 57 over four generations I can state none of these homes have ever flooded. The town infrastructure was constructed to service much smaller numbers of houses and people. Even with some growth and less maintenance happening, and with a moratorium on development while the sewage treatment plant was being upgraded, town managed – no flooding.

Then came the development – Tallowood plus the second residence in every backyard, six units on a house block on Argyle Street, similar on Stuart Street etc. No extra infrastructure. Drains overgrown and blocked. Then came the M1 motorway creating a levee to keep water in Mullumbimby, Woodburn and all towns along the way.

In 2011 the Honourable Bill Shorten commissioned an inquiry into flood insurance and related matters, the ‘Natural Disaster Insurance Review’. This stated that the distinction between storm damage and flood damage is seen as arcane and artificial. It also recommended that all insurance policies have flood included. Many other interesting recommendations were made.

Following the 2017 flood, Hans Lovejoy published an article quoting hydrologist, Duncan Dey,stating that many gutters were blocked, uncared for, and ignored. Also quoted was Council’s Flood and Drainage Engineer, James Flockton, saying drainage structures built by NSW councils are only designed to withstand five to ten year rainfall events at best. He also advised that if Saltwater Creek were cleared and improved, then water would bypass the town. There were many other recommendations.

So, with full knowledge of the dangers they were creating Council continued to pass DAs for excessive development without any improved infrastructure.

Both NSW State and federal governments are responsible for the disaster caused by the M1 motorway and should be held responsible for fixing it before future flooding of previously flood-free homes.

Instead of the media emphasis and community pressure being on rectifying these egregious situations, the plight of the homeless is uppermost. Council and community groups are pushing for building on top of carparks, building on all Council land, and building along the rail corridor on Prince Street (which didn’t flood, although it might in the future if you fill it up with buildings), which will result in large numbers of people using inadequate infrastructure. Or yet more water will be diverted down Argyle, Queen, Crown, and Ann streets and New City Road – this will create homelessness in these streets which have been flood free for 200 years!

People are using their money, time, and energy organising raising their homes, this is a Council and government responsibility. Put the pressure where it belongs. Please consider homelessness with more thought to those of us that are not yet homeless.

Marlene Crompton, Mullumbimby

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  1. Just a brief comment on the oft-repeated assertion that the construction of the M1 was responsible for the severe flooding at Woodburn & Broadwater…..
    This claim overlooks several indisputable meteorological facts: that this was a record amount of rainfall – several upstream catchment sites recorded in excess of 600mm in 24 hours (compared with >600mm in 48 hours with Cyclone Debbie in 2017), + a record intensity of rainfall – up to 130mm per hour, regularly over 60mm/hr for the preceding 18 hours. Of course this will be reflected in higher flood heights, faster rises &. swifter flowing floodwaters – all of which have been blamed on the M1.

    Everywhere upstream of these villages where there is no M1, on BOTH the Wilsons & Richmond Rivers – Lismore, Casino and Coraki all experienced record flood heights metres higher than previous records of 1954 and 1893, so downstream of the confluence of TWO rivers experiencing record floods simultaneously, the effects would be magnified further irrespective of the M1. Just look at Coraki.

    At its’ closest, the M1 is between 800m to 1.5km from these towns – so it can hardly be considered a confining levee-like structure, & IF it were, such a flow-confining obstacle one would expect far less flooding on the eastern side of the M1, which wasn’t the case – the record flood heights occurred on both sides of the M1, as far as the floodwaters could spread. Also worth pointing out that the construction of the M1 was at an advanced stage at the time of the last major (& near record) flood in 2017, but these “ponding” effects were not evident for a structure that is now being blamed.

    The severity of this event is all to do with rainfall amounts & rainfall intensities – which no doubt when the statisticians & mathematicians have finalised their “event attribution analysis” in a few months, just like the drought & bushfires, we will hear how much this event can be attributed to, & was worsened by our already changed climate.

  2. A number of councilors are advocating the use of the local rail corridor for village and industrial development. The rail corridor between Mullumbimby and Byron Bay is on the Brunswick Valley floodplain and sections of it regularly suffer flooding particularly on what the officially named the Tyagarah Swamp.


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