With so many prongs currently on the disaster response fork, it’s hard to know if Lismore Council is robbing Peter to pay Pauline as voting on leapfrogging issues means there is a possibility that everyone could lose – or win.
At the Council meeting earlier this week Councillor Vanessa Ekins moved a motion that Council prepare a draft policy and guidelines to allow multiple temporary dwellings on rural properties in times of disaster.
Cr Ekins said that owing to the significant homelessness experienced after the recent floods, and the urgency to provide accommodation, there may be opportunities to allow temporary housing on some rural properties. Cr Ekins said this would require adequate infrastructure to be provided.
‘With an understanding of the issues and assessment process, Council may decide to progress this opportunity,’ she said.
Cr Ekins understood that there would be several issues for consideration including: site suitability, provision of amenities and waste disposal, maximum number of temporary dwellings (and period temporary dwellings could remain on site), and registration, to name a few.
During public access Sally Flannery said Council’s primary governmental function is to manage infrastructure. ‘The state government is responsible for emergency response and housing, with some federal assistance in a disaster of this magnitude. I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that the state response to our housing crisis has been severely lacking.
’In Lismore, we’re still facing mass displacement, which is contributing to a huge decline in mental health. This motion intends to provide simply one more housing option. No, this will not suit everyone.’
Ms Flannery acknowledged that the program would come with issues or unforeseen problems. ‘I put it to community members for feedback and there was a particular interest from farmers who had lost income through loss of livestock or crops. ‘The additional income would be fantastic to assist with fencing and feeding livestock, while taking the stress off a family or person while they’re waiting to get into permanent accommodation.
‘To me, it’s a no brainer. And when it comes to community housing we need to be agile.’
An issue dear to some
Lismore resident Duncan said he is currently homeless because of the floods. ‘I guess that the issue of land sharing is near and dear to me.
‘Lismore was in a pretty serious housing crisis before the flood hit – it was very difficult for people to secure rentals, rental prices were very high, and property values are beyond the reach of a lot of people.
‘Obviously, the extraordinary flooding that we’ve just experienced has massively increased the problem.
‘It’s my belief that land-sharing offers a solution to ease the current burden of living, as well as offering rural properties and opportunity to create income and help to manage their land.
‘Personally, I’d like to see it expanded but I am sure that’s a contentious issue. I feel that it can create opportunities for increased land care activities, primary production in our region, increasing local food security and resilience for our environment.’
Cr Vanessa Ekins said the purpose of the motion was to find temporary accommodation for people in need, not create a backdoor subdivision opportunities for rural landholders.
Cr Ekins also added a note to the motion suggesting that there be a workshop first, and that a draft policy be prepared to look at all of the issues that were raised during public access.
‘I have some concerns about this. I put it up because it was raised by members of the community and I spent quite a bit of time down at the hub after the flood listening to stories and hearing people’s concerns about housing. And there was some feeling that people needed to get out of town – some of our community are living in hotel rooms in Brisbane and Coffs Harbour and far away from where they need to be.
’It’s really important that in times of natural disaster, that we do have immediate options for people,’ she said.
‘I think Council has dealt with that quite well in allowing temporary dwellings and caravans in people’s driveways so they can work on their homes, but this was another option that was proposed.’
Cr Ekins said one of her concerns was the need to provide infrastructure. ‘While you might be in your 20s and hip – it’s one thing to dig a pit for the toilet every day, and cart 20 litres of water in and out, and your laundry and your shopping and all that – but in times of disaster, people need to be comfortable,’ she said.
A planning framework
‘Having a planning framework like this means that people who may be open to having three or more caravans on their place, have actually thought about toilets and showers and laundry facilities, that we also have opportunity to speak with neighbours about the impact, and also that people aren’t isolated in a rural areas, who need to drive their kids to school every day and and and have that additional travel but also the impact on our road network, which we are really struggling to maintain as it is.
‘So there’s a lot of things to consider in this policy. It’s not immediate, but I think we could go through a careful process with our planning staff and looking at all the issues and making sure that everything’s in place.’
Cr Ekins said there needs to be a process ‘so we are just not dumping caravans on rural land and leaving people out there to dig the pit toilets with their pets running wild. It’s got to be done well, but in times of disaster this is potentially another option,’ she said.
Mayor Krieg opposed
The Mayor said he wanted to address the issue. ‘I know a good Chair is a quiet Chair, but I’m going to speak against this for the very simple fact that this ties in to item 10.6 [Disaster Management Committee] which I am very supportive of.
‘Obviously, if you don’t learn from mistakes of the past, then you’ve got no chance of moving forward. Whether or not this motion gets up, it’s a long process and it’s probably not going to service a lot of need in the very short term.
‘What we do need to do is to learn from this and put provisions in place through something like a disaster management committee so that we have things in place that we can implement straightaway. I think probably the biggest problem that we faced in this disaster is the length of time that things have rolled out – such as temporary accommodation, and that’s something that we really need to get better at as a council, in my opinion.’
Cr Krieg said these things aren’t going to happen straightaway. ‘Regardless of whether this motion gets passed, we’re looking for a month for a workshop, months more before the policy comes in place. This is not a quick fix. This is not a quick solution, which is why I’m not going to support this motion in its current form.’
Cr Colby’s view
Cr Peter Colby commented that councillors, generally, don’t know exactly what is going on. ‘We don’t understand the rules. We don’t understand the structures. When people approach us and say “can we do this or can’t we do this?” we don’t have the information ready at hand.
‘I think the workshop would be great so that everybody walked out of that room totally understanding what the limitations are out there in the community, what you can talk to people about, how you can help them, how you can refer them to the right people for advice – whether it’s sewage, whether it’s electricity, dwellings, property, whatever it is, I think it’s important as the council doesn’t seem to be informed,’ he said.
‘I think it’s important that they go out into the community and actually offer that support and comfort to these people to help them through the next two years, because it’s not going to be six months, it’s not going to be 12 months, it’s going to be two years for a lot of people. Then, in two years’ time when they get back into their houses, that’s when we have the mental [health] issues because people will relax, they’ll then start to realise what trauma they’ve been through,’ said Cr Colby.
‘I totally support the idea of having a workshop because I think the councillors need to be informed and understand what the council can do, what it can provide and how it can work.’
Just a workshop at this stage
Cr Ekins reminded councillors that the motion was just asking for a workshop. ‘As we’ve realised [there are] a whole lot of really complicated issues. And I know that’s probably frustrating for people who want a solution now in our community, but as we’re understanding with local government, it’s a very slow wheel that turns and there are many things to consider.
‘I think it’s worth us doing it thoroughly and properly having a workshop – understanding what the issues are, and then we can move ahead with a policy, if we feel brave enough,’ she said.
The final motion was that Council prepare a draft policy and guidelines to allow multiple temporary dwellings on rural properties in times of disaster, with:
A. Preparation of a planning proposal that permits multiple temporary moveable dwellings and associated structures as Exempt Development (LEP Schedule 2) in response to natural disasters in Zone RU1 Primary Production; and
B. Preparation of a draft policy to provide detailed guidelines and requirements for Exempt Development – ‘Natural Disaster Emergency Temporary Moveable Dwellings in Zone RU1 Primary Production.
The Mayor put the motion to a vote which was passed with Councillors Colby, Ekins, Hall, Jensen, Guise, Bird and Cook. Those against were Crs Rob, Gordon, Bing and Krieg.