Byron’s northern towns and suburbs have been ‘ignored’, with basic infrastructure such as sewerage pipes and drains suffering from long-term neglect, Byron Council was told last week.
Perhaps stung into action by the criticism, the Council promised to focus drain cleaning work in these neighbourhoods, and to assess infrastructure spending there, including the preparation of a timeline for major maintenance works.
These were among a raft of measures adopted by councillors at last week’s meeting, in a bid to assist residents in the north, and elsewhere, who remain severely impacted by the floods.
During the public access section of the meeting, Francesca Esposito, the chair of the North Byron District Activation Group, delivered a cutting assessment of Council’s operations in the north of the Shire, both before and after the floods.
‘In suburban Ocean Shores, we still have families sleeping in sleeping bags in their mouldy lounge rooms,’ Ms Esposito said.
‘Others are sleeping in tents in their backyards with no walls, no hot water. We’re showering at the gym and barbequing every day. We’re living in third world conditions.’
‘We are sick of being ignored in the north. We just want to get this job done and stop the pain that our community is in.’
Ms Espositto said residents in the north had told her that drains on their streets hadn’t been cleared by the Council in 15 years.
‘It’s generally accepted across the community that the floods didn’t need to be this bad, and that they wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for the blocked drains,’ she said.
‘Some people have lost everything, including myself, owing to the Council’s neglect of our maintenance in the North.’
‘We have 30 per cent of the houses in the north, but we don’t get anything like 30 per cent of the maintenance and capital works year in, year out.’
In response, councillors asked staff to prepare a report on the historical proportion of infrastructure spending in the Shire’s north.
Staff will also prepare a timeline for the assessment drains and sewerage infrastructure in this area, and the proposed program for sewerage and drainage works.
Council’s internal drain clearing team has been asked to focus its efforts on the north over the next six months, and residents in this area have been asked to report the worst cases of drainage or sewerage disrepair. While this may limit the impact of future flooding in this part of the Shire, it is unlikely to make much difference to those whose homes had already been severely affected.
Ms Esposito said that the number of people in this category is far higher than what Council is reporting.
‘In [Council] motion 9.1 it says the Byron Shire has had 500 homes and 1,200 people displaced,’ she said.
‘I’d like it to be noted in the minutes that this number is vastly incorrect.’
‘There were 2,343 homes that were flooded and 250 businesses – yes, we counted them by hand, house by house, street by street.
‘I attended an Insurance Council community meeting in Mullumbimby on Monday night and these figures were confirmed by the Insurance Council.
‘They provided me with stats showing that we had 2,854 claims in the eight suburbs in the north.
‘Most of these are residential claims and most of them are major losses.’
Govt to be lobbied
Councillors resolved at the meeting to lobby for more government help for locals impacted by the floods.
This will include the inadequacy of the $7,200 in rental support provided to people unable to live in their primary residence owing to flood impacts.
Also covered will be the lack of resilience in the communications network post-flood, including the need for more mobile service backup systems, and support for a government reinsurance program for flood-impacted communities in Northern NSW.
Francesca Esposito can be contacted at [email protected]