Byron Shire Council Mayor Michael Lyon has defended Council’s handling of the ongoing Mullum pod accommodation debacle, telling The Echo that councillors requested, through a Council resolution, that Resilience NSW conduct consultation with neighbouring residents regarding the rail corridor works on Prince Street.
It comes as around 40 to 50 locals gathered outside the Byron Shire Council chambers last Thursday to highlight the risks of, and lack of due process around, the selection of the flood accommodation pod site in Mullum.
The reply from the mayor was sought after Mullum resident, Louise Gordon, expressed frustration to councillors at their Thursday meeting. Ms Gordon said her questions remain unanswered by Council.
She told councillors, ‘If passing the buck was an Olympic sport, it would be Gold, Gold, Gold for Byron Shire Council’.
‘People in Mullumbimby are still flood-traumatised and weary from the huge effort it’s taken to put their lives back together. This thoughtless development has added a whole new level of anxiety.
‘Why isn’t Council advocating for our concerns to Resilience NSW or NRRC? And where is the famous “engaged community consultation”’ that Byron Shire Council touts as part of their culture and masterplan?
‘You have literally sold this community down the river. Who exactly is it that you represent? Not me, nor the hundreds of people that will bear the serious consequences of this extremely ill-considered decision.
‘Be adults: admit you have made a grave mistake, apologise, and start finding ways of rectifying the dangerous situation that you have negligently dumped this community in. You really owe this to the community who elected you, and pays your wages’.
When Ms Gordon had finished her speech, all councillors sat in silence and did not ask any questions.
Very forthright mayor
Cr Lyon later told The Echo, ‘What Louise is saying is simply not true, and we have been very forthright about our role, what we are looking to achieve, the sites that have been preferred and where we are in the process with them’.
‘We have been advocating directly on behalf of concerned residents to Resilience NSW and requested through Council resolution that they conduct consultation regarding the rail corridor site in Prince St with neighbouring residents. We also facilitated a meeting between the head of the NRRC and the MRA.
‘The hospital site was put forward but ruled out due to it not being ready. There is still remediation work to complete relating to asbestos contamination and an audit required before it can be used, thus it is not suitable as a site for immediate emergency use. Many of the proposed sites have issues, and finding suitable land is a massive challenge across the region. This is not a challenge that can be shirked because there are hundreds of displaced Byron Shire households relying on us to provide temporary accommodation while the huge job of rebuilding continues.
Cr Lyon continued, ‘The Prince Street site, because it is owned by the State government (specifically, TAHE), was already flagged as a potential site by the State’s Housing Recovery Taskforce. We included it in our list because we would like it to be used long-term for affordable accommodation, and want to ensure this conversation continues as part of the process.
‘As stated above, Council is advocating on behalf of residents, specifically in relation to the question around the potential impacts of flood levels to neighbouring properties. We are yet to receive an answer regarding this issue. It is certainly likely, in my view, that there would be some impact from the works should we again be faced with the sort of extreme, never before seen flooding of earlier this year. And while it is a real risk, this must be balanced with the needs of those displaced and the necessity for them to remain connected to their community’.
Call for transparency
Louise Gordon subsequently wrote to Cr Lyon, and said in part, ‘I am writing on behalf of the people who turned up [to Thursday’s protest], those who couldn’t due to other commitments and those that couldn’t as they are still too traumatised from the floods’.
‘We expect you to be transparent and to provide us with all the information and documentation of your negotiations with Resilience (what a misnomer), and for you to provide true and comprehensive answers to the questions I have posed’.
Meanwhile, Mullum residents Association (MRA) have released Resilience NSW correspondence from August 15, where the government corporation claims the site was assessed for flood risk.
Under their FAQ sheet, Resilience NSW say, ‘The site was reviewed with consideration to flood risk and flood planning, including under the North Byron Floodplain Risk Management Plan’.
‘Design amendments to mitigate the flood risk and other construction restrictions at the site include: A reduction in the number of modular homes proposed for the site, including no residential building on areas of the site worst affected in a one per cent flood; Raising of modular home bearing level to one per cent flood levels, with an overall cap at 1m. This will ensure all pods are raised above the one per cent flood mark; Stormwater and overland flow construction planning’.
Those and other documents are yet to be made public.