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Byron Shire
December 6, 2023

Not-so-easy living in Cumbalum: ‘not even a corner store’

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Proposed Cumbalum Shopping Centre site, next to playing fields at corner of Power Drive and Ballina Heights Drive. Photo David Lowe.

A general store serving everything from bread, boots and booze to petrol and plants has become quintessential for many villagers on the Northern Rivers but imagine life without one.

Travelling more than twenty minutes to buy basic items would become the norm, navigating damaged roads and pumping out more unwanted carbon emissions along the way, with a dearth of public transport options.

It’s hard to believe anyone could pay around a million dollars for a brand-new family home in an equally brand-new sprawling estate near the beach along with thousands of others only to discover there are no local shops – not even a post office.

The bite might cut even more for renters charged up to a thousand dollars or more per week.

Yet that’s the reality for people living in the lofty heights of Cumbalum in the Ballina Shire, home to estates promoted for cool ocean breezes and easy living yet devoid of retail, childcare and education services and featuring underwhelming playground facilities for hundreds of children to share.

Cumbalum is positioned near the Pacific Motorway but a bypass interchange hasn’t been finished, making for a clumsy commute to services elsewhere.

Independent Ballina Shire Councillor Jeff Johnson says Cumbalum residents have been neglected.

Doubt over promised school for Cumbalum

‘I’m a councillor that lives in the Cumbalum area, I get to see firsthand the lack of services and facilities,’ independent Ballina Shire Councillor Jeff Johnson told The Echo on Thursday, ‘there’s not even a corner store, which breaks every planning rule in the book’.

Cr Johnson said housing estates in Cumbalum were approved years ago with promises of a shopping centre and a school but had since been neglected in terms of community services.

‘My recent inquiries to council say that it’s unlikely that school will eventuate and certainly not in the foreseeable future,’ Cr Johnson said.

‘There’s no childcare centres or preschools, just urban sprawl,’ Cr Johnson said, ‘and there will be millions of dollars of developer contributions collected from this area’.

‘Hardly any of it is used to provide facilities and services,’ Cr Johnson said.

Where do the children play? Cumbalum kids could wait five years for a decent playground

The independent councillor said the amount of development and an increasing population meant shared spaces in Cumbalum were strained.

‘When the Saturday morning junior sport is on, the car park at Cumbalum’s only sports field is overflowing,’ he said, ‘there is a small playground next to the sports field which consists of a two- swing set and a rope climbing structure, it’s totally inadequate given the location’.

Cr Johnson recently tried but failed to win council support for fast-tracking Cumbalum playground upgrades via a large government grant.

The lack of priority given to Cumbalum meant it could be another five years before council plans allowed for a better playground, a time frame Cr Johnson said ‘could blow out even further’ given the council was ‘behind in its existing work program’.

‘It’s really disappointing,’ Cr Johnson said.

Advertised designs for the Banyan Hill estate showed a community green space with potential for community gardens but nothing had progressed besides housing construction and sales.

Ballina Shire Council accused of neglecting Cumbalum

Cr Johnson laid much of the blame for Cumbalum’s lack of services on the council.

‘They’re the ones collecting all the developer contributions,’ he said, ‘and they’re part of the rezoning process’.

Cr Johnson said part of Cumbalum was zoned for commercial purposes but was on a slope.

‘It’s not a commercially viable site,’ Cr Johnson said, ‘and there was no requirement to have a shopping centre constructed after a certain amount of houses were installed, which is generally the case in other areas’.

Cr Johnson said he was pushing for some residential land near Cumbalum’s sports field to be converted to commercial space.

He said the Catholic Church owned the land and had approached the council about two years ago, saying they would be happy to convert it into a commercial zone.

‘I’ve put that to the council and won unanimous support and it feels like two years later, we’re still not progressing it,’ Cr Johnson said.

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