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Byron Shire
August 14, 2022

Lismore City Council votes against land-swaps and buybacks

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House in North Lismore with rising floodwaters, 30 March 2022. Photo Adam Guise.

The Lismore City Council has voted against asking the federal government and NSW Northern Rivers Reconstruction Commission [NRRC] for prioritised land buybacks and swaps after devastating floods earlier this year.

Greens Councillor Adam Guise put forward the motion at June’s ordinary council meeting, which turned out to be another past-midnight bureaucratic challenge by the kindest terms.

‘We are at the bottom end of a water cycle,’ Cr Guise said, ‘we can’t engineer our way out of this’.

‘We need to acknowledge our precarious place, living on a floodplain,’ Cr Guise said.

‘I live on the floodplain, many people do, we do business on the floodplain,’ he said.

Cr Adam Guise.

‘It’s with a sad and heavy heart, as a person who wanted to grow old in Lismore,’ Cr Guise said, raising the issue of buybacks and land swaps, ‘but I recognise climate change’.

‘This is no longer a viable option,’ Cr Guise continued, ‘I want us to advocate to a new government, not like the tired government that abandoned us in our time of need’.

‘We need nation-building money,’ Cr Guise said.

Mayor’s team goes against the flow on post-flood rebuilds

Cr Guise also called on councillors to ask for support ‘investigating engineering solutions such as floating houses, flood resilient design, home relocations, house raising and pre-flood evacuations of people and property’.

But the mayor’s majority team of six, voted in thanks largely to the power of voting one for Mayor Steve Krieg, voted against the motion.

Lismore City Mayor Steve Krieg  at the Goonellabah Community Centre polling booth during the 2021 NSW Local Government Elections. Photo Tree Faerie.

There was surprisingly little debate compared to other contentious items such as a proposed housing estate in Goonellabah and suggested changes to the codes of practice for ordinary meetings.

Yet the vote against buybacks and land-swaps was significant in many terms.

The Tweed Shire Council appeared to be lobbying in the opposite direction, with Mayor Chris Cherry later meeting with new Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to press for more land-swap project funding in her shire.

Ultimately, head of the NRCC, David Witherdin, had the power to revoke land on behalf of the state anyway.

NRRC CEO David Witherdin

Lismore left languishing after catastrophic floods

Mr WItherdin was in charge of the entire rebuild process from a state government perspective, although the NRCC was to have a board and was to be informed by local governments and communities.

The NRCC powers as outlined by the government earlier this year clearly included the power to compulsorily acquire land and powers to build new projects without local government consent on public land.

Lismore was twice flooded with catastrophic impacts in early 2022, leaving many residents and business owners traumatised and uncertain whether to rebuild.

Flooding in Lismore, showing Workers Club and NORPA, 31 March 2022. Photo David Lowe.

Debates were still alive on local social media groups as to whether it was best to stay or go, with some suggesting a new town could be built on higher ground in Goonellabah.

Over in Queensland, it seemed the government had moved ahead with land-swap and house-raising schemes along with new flood-proofing projects.

But as one of Australia’s oldest regional cities, Lismore seemed more difficult to relinquish.

The glory of Lismore

The riverside town had a long and complex history since European settlement, and had the urban architectural history to show for it.

Many of the city’s buildings were architectural gems, rare reminders of a barely recognised Australian Art Deco period, not to mention a haven for Queenslanders and other earlier century treasures.

Junction Keen and Woodlark Streets, Lismore, with rising floodwater. Photo David Lowe.

The city’s laneways had taken on a more modern urban grit cool of their own, complete with grand-scale street art worthy of any European tourist hot-spot.

Alongside the empty shops and homelessness, hipster and artisan boutiques were popping up for a brief period of glory in Lismore before the 28 February floods hit.

Lismore’s Back Alley Gallery in Eggins Lane features art from local street artists.

The careful attention to tasty treats and hand-crafted indulgences fit in beautifully beside the traditional country-style offerings of scones, tea and cakes, sewing supplies, gadget stores, cheap fashion outlets and migrant endeavours in a way only Lismore could pull off, so unpretentious as it was.

The rural town has always attracted and welcomed otherwise misfits – the annual Tropical Fruits festival celebrates a thriving LGBQTI+ community; refugees from various countries around the world have settled there; Nimbin’s alternative culture is a mere 20 mins away; and of course, there are the farmers, factory workers and many artists.

The city has long been a tragic example of potential, with earlier plans suggesting the same consultants who’d led the laneway revival in Melbourne were interested in working on Lismore.

Mayor’s team against land-swaps and buybacks

But with prolonged delays accessing financial support or even guidance from either state or federal authorities, many in Lismore have expressed a distinct sense of abandonment in local social media groups.

Some share daily recounts of personal flood experiences, many written by otherwise ordinary civilians with no prior publishing experience.

All are harrowing testimonies to endurance and hope.

The Lismore City Council voted 6-5 against expressing support for land buybacks and swaps after 2022’s catastrophes.

The mayor’s team of six voted against: Crs Steve Krieg, Peter Colby, Andrew Bing, Andre Gordon, Jeri Hall, and Erika Jensen.

Greens Crs Adam Guise and Vanessa Ekins voted for, along with Labor Cr Darlene Cook, Our Sustainable Future member Elly Bird and Independent Cr Big Rob.

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  1. Get a ‘life’ Council & quit leaving local people out in the cold.
    Try growing up for starters. You do not own the ones who are

  2. If not land swaps and buy backs, then what ?
    As Councillor Guise points out, the flooding of Lismore is beyond engineering capability.
    What does Mayor Krieg propose ?

  3. I don’t get this. The Council won’t even ask Federal and State Governments for help on this.
    Sure they might both have said no but without first asking seems a crazy, they might just say, yes, we can and will help.

  4. “The Lismore City Council has voted against asking the federal government and NSW Northern Rivers Reconstruction Commission [NRRC] for prioritised land buybacks and swaps”

    So the Lismore council voted against prioritising options and alternatives for the flood affected people of Lismore.

    A complete slap in the face.

    Lismore Council continues to demonstrate a lack of competence.

  5. Could be an ‘own goal’ for the six-pack.
    Seems a bit premature to make a stand against buybacks when the research by the CSIRO et al has not come in. LCC’s own discussion paper seemed to make a fairly strong case for it.

  6. Mia Armitage, you are acting 100% as a propaganda stick for the Lismore Greens, so much false information and misrepresentation of the facts. How about we put politics aside in this current time for flood recovery, the democratic loss of votes by the greens at the last election cannot be changed, I like many greens have fled them in Lismore because of the downright negative politics that they play.

    Firstly an article calling Lismore council koala killers for considering a DA of a residential subdivision in a residential area; the developer is proposing the subdivision, not the council.

    Secondly, an article saying that the lismore council is against land swaps, this would require additional residential land from somewhere to do this (contradict the above position much?) and secondly it couldn’t be further from the truth of reality.

    Why should lismore council allocate more resources for this landswap motion, when the reconstruction commission is already doing this investigation? The motion outcome does not convey current council being against land swaps, its just they don’t see the point of the motion, when this action of a landswap is already being considered by the state government and is also already being assessed in Lismore Council’s strategic planning division.

    I am wondering, do you even read council reports and media statements or do you just read the headline and then get told what to write?


  7. Good decision by Lismore Council to reject the half baked thought bubble to partially depopulate North and South Lismore. The proposed plan was to offer land swaps (whereabouts not specified) to just those houses in the ‘High Risk’ category. That’s about half of the houses in North and South, leaving the rest to continue on as before. Also not included in this ‘run for the hills’ notion are all of the flood prone houses in the CBD Basin. If the plan is to retreat from the flood plain then that retreat has to be total. That means every house, every commercial premise, every industrial building has to be relocated. The real estate value of all of the flood prone properties in Lismore would be about 4 billion dollars. Where is the funding for this coming from? What about all of properties in Coraki, Woodburn, Broardwater, Wardell, etc?
    Lismore has had for many years both a subsidised house raising scheme, and a voluntary purchase scheme for low lying houses. In most years there have been fewer people applying than what funding had been allocated.
    There are mitigation options that would be of great benefit to all of the Richmond – Wilsons Floodplain properties at less than an eighth of the cost of relocating Lismore City. In terms of the various mitigation option’s benefit cost ratios, large scale relocation is near the bottom of the list.
    Brisbane City floods. Is anyone proposing to relocate it?
    I live in South Lismore. I wouldn’t move to Goonellabah for quids.

  8. Does that mean the marvoulous public servants we pay will fast track rebuilding in Lismore or maintain their very dificult statatus in town planning and development aplications.
    Ie is every applicant for a rebuild to pay and supply a hydroligists report,or is council going to acknowledge they already have that information.???

  9. There is still too much ‘muddling’ going on & it must be
    solved. Money makes the world go around is true. So
    who are the large land holders [of businesses] in the
    the flood plain? The answer sits there.

  10. PS… if Brisbane got anywhere near Lismore’s flood size it would
    have no choice but to move & be rebuilt.

  11. Everyone I know in lismore who own all want the option to be brought out at pre flood prices. So this more proof lismore council aren’t safe don’t represent the people and are just trying to keep their tax base. It’s mortifying and unconscionable misconduct they bully the public don’t support safe and public cry’s for but backs to feather their own nest.


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