Mullumbimby residents are growing increasingly angry and are still waiting for answers over the construction of temporary pod accommodation works on Prince Street, next to the disused railway on flood-prone land.
The government body in charge, Resilience NSW, has yet to assure them that their properties will not be at risk over the coming years, as 60 pods are built to house other flood-affected Shire residents.
Like much of the eastern side of Mullumbimby, the area where Johns Lyng Group contractors are now importing large amounts of fill, went underwater in the February/March floods.
With no relevant flood, hydrology, soil testing, engineering, and traffic management studies available, The Echo asked Resilience NSW, ‘How can residents, and those who will soon live there, be confident that this site won’t flood in the future?’
While a reply was provided by a spokesperson, it did not address that question.
Resilience NSW has avoided transparency and accountability owing to the emergency powers provided to it by the Liberal-Nationals government.
Affected resident, Louise Gordon, told The Echo she was ‘extremely lucky’ that her home on Poinciana Street was the only one that did not flood in late February.
‘If this site were filled then, my advice is that my house would have flooded. I am trying to protect my home and those of my neighbours’.
She says Resilience NSW is wilfully misleading residents and they ‘are making things up as they go along’.
‘In their initial letter to us, they said the pods will be operating for a maximum of two years. Their website now says three years. They will not commit to it being temporary.
‘A Resilience NSW person stated clearly to me on the phone that they think the site is wrong, and that it is not a good idea to put flood-affected people on flood-prone land, but they are “just doing their job”, so they won’t speak up.
‘I have made a GIPA [Government Information Public Access request] application to Resilience NSW for all the documents relating to this site: flood, hydrology, soil testing, engineering, and traffic management. Most of these reports have not yet been done – everything is being done on the fly.
Not safe nor temporary
‘This is neither safe nor temporary’, she said.
After contacting Cr Mark Swivel with her concerns and photos of flooding on Prince Street, he replied to Ms Gordon, ‘I’ve asked Resilience NSW to respond directly to you.’
And in reply to her concerns, Mayor Michael Lyon said, ‘While we put forward the site as a potential one for temporary housing, responsibility for proper construction, flood planning etc is entirely with Resilience NSW. I see from other emails that these questions regarding the impact on neighbouring properties are being asked. If no answers are received by next week I will follow up then’.
NC Community Housing CEO replies
Outgoing/retiring North Coast Community Housing CEO, John McKenna, told The Echo that his company will step in once the pods have been built.
He said, ‘We have not seen the plans yet, nor the size or allocations to expect’.
‘These are severely traumatised people,’ he said, and that when operational, there will be specialist staff such as case workers on hand.
Mr McKenna said, ‘This is about trying to make people feel secure, and to try and reconnect and connect them back to their communities.’
When asked where the flood-affected people were coming from, he replied they are locals who he believes come from Ocean Shores, New Brighton, Mullum and the surrounding hinterland.
Mr McKenna also added he did not know whether the 60 pods would accommodate all the flood-affected locals.
And when asked if he shared concerns by residents that the area was unsuitable for building, owing to it being flood prone, he declined to comment, but said he expects the pods to meet building codes similar to holiday parks.
Meanwhile, NSW MP, Tamara Smith (Greens) told The Echo, ‘Whenever emergency exemptions are used to bypass planning legislation, we should be concerned’.
Residents need to be taken seriously: MP
‘What is unfolding around the Prince Street development is evidence of why strengthening processes and community consultation, rather than bypassing them, is prudent.
‘Residents are raising legitimate concerns about providing temporary housing for already traumatised people on sites that are flood prone. Residents are also concerned about the degree of landfill going on to the site, and whether in a third La Niña this year, or indeed any flood event over the next three years, the development will affect their properties.
‘This is not a case of NIMBYISM. My office has been advocating on behalf of six nearby residents, who were flooded themselves and are in a state of recovery, and who are terrified that they will be negatively affected.
‘These people deserve to get assurances from Resilience NSW that their legitimate concerns about future flooding are being taken seriously, and that engineering modelling is being undertaken to minimise that risk.
‘We can create temporary housing for flood victims that is resilient to future flood events, and will not adversely impact nearby residents. I continue to raise these issues directly with the Premier and on the floor of parliament, and I look forward to reading the recommendations of the Flood Inquiry this week’.
Detailed questions were put to Resilience NSW by The Echo that were asked by resident Jane Schneider.
Ms Schneider requested ‘legal documentation that proves without a doubt that my home, as well as all homes on Station Street, Prince Street and surrounds, will not be impacted by the “temporary housing” in the event of flooding?’
‘Can you provide documentation showing that all other sites in Byron, Ballina and Tweed Shire were considered and the reasons that these were not used for the ’Temporary housing’?
A Resilience NSW spokesperson told The Echo, ‘The Mullumbimby temporary housing site was identified by the Department of Planning and Environment through a comprehensive review of all suitable land in the area, in consultation with Byron Shire Council.
‘Temporary housing sites are intended to provide a medium-term housing solution, within close proximity to people’s home communities. The owner of the Mullumbimby temporary housing site has granted a two-year licence for its use. Keeping communities together is an important part of flood recovery to allow people to continue to access their homes, schools and places of work.
‘Detailed design work is currently in progress to ensure temporary housing units at the Mullumbimby temporary house site are installed above flood levels’.
The Echo asked Cr Duncan Dey whether he was part of the approval process and agreed to the location.
Cr Dey replied, ‘Councillors did vote (me included) to send Resilience NSW a list of 14 government-owned potential sites for pods in Byron Shire. I should have spoken up then. My questions go to the issues as I see them – we shouldn’t put flood victims back in a flood zone, we shouldn’t be filling on a floodplain, and we should consult’.