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March 5, 2024

Emotional moments as Lismore Council votes against Hepburn Park rescission

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Lismore councillors affirmed that Hepburn Park at Goonellabah will not have pods for flood-affected residents, last night voting down a motion to rescind their earlier August decision.

In August Council voted to exclude Hepburn Park from the list of possible sites provided to the NSW government for pods.

Councillors Elly Bird, Darlene Cook and Vanessa Ekins were the three councillors who moved that Council rescind its decision on Item 14.12 from the August meeting.

At that August meeting Council voted to note the request received from the NSW government for the use of Hepburn Park as a temporary housing site, but decided to advise the state government that Hepburn Park is not available for housing.

The trio hoped that, if the recession motion succeeded, a new motion would see Resilience NSW lease a portion of Hepburn Park for housing pods and offsets that would compensate and benefit the community.

Jenny Dowell speaks for the rescission

In public access previous mayor Jenny Jenny Dowell said she could understand why, back in August, Council made the original decision. ‘There was not enough information for you that night,’ she said.

‘You didn’t understand the scope of what was being proposed – the footprint, the management system or the timeline. There was not any information on alternative sites. Three months later you have the opportunity to have a different decision to show compassion and to demonstrate leadership.’

Felicity Caroll said she still hears the heart-stopping and chilling sound of all those around her house trapped on their roofs crying out for help. ‘They were frightened for their lives – their babies and loved ones. We were swept through dangerous conditions in the rapidly rising flood water in the dark with my nine-year-old son, my daughter and my dog all the while hearing those haunting cries. 

‘Where are all the people from those empty houses now? I don’t know. Do you know?’, she asked Lismore councillors.

Le Luong held back tears speaking of a partner that struggles with mental health. ‘It’s really important to have your own space no matter how small it is,’ Le Luong told councillors.

Arguably the most difficult matter

During the debate, Cr Elly Bird said the issue is arguably the most difficult matter that has been considered over recent months. ‘I was going to start this debate by just taking an opportunity to reflect on how we stop this meeting, and every meeting, to take a moment of silence to reflect on our shared intention to work together for the wellbeing of our whole community. That’s what we’re doing here tonight. We’re trying to find a middle ground that looks at the viewpoints of people within our community and tries to find a solution that might be acceptable to as many people as possible. 

‘There’s a proposal for around 50 pods. There will still be adequate open space retained. There’s still the ability for sports clubs to use that open space. There’s still space for the community to walk their dogs to exercise and to have that amenity that is so important to them. 

‘We’ve also addressed the timeframe for the proposal and made it very clear that the lease would be for a period of two years,’ she said.

According to the NSW government website regarding temporary housing for flood-affected Northern Rivers region, temporary accommodation on pod sites is rent-free for up to two years, and the ‘temporary housing sites will be available for up to 3 years’. A Resilience NSW spokesperson told a public meeting in Mullumbimby last week that the lease on the Mullumbimby pods could be extended for up to five years.

Still waiting for information

Cr Andrew Bing spoke against the rescission on the basis that Council already had one vote on it. Cr Bing said he was still waiting for information about residents. ‘When does Council intend to supply all the required information to councillors in order to aid our decision-making with respect to Lismore residents who are flood affected?’ he asked.

Mayor Steve Krieg also took the opportunity to speak to the chamber. ‘I’m going to speak for this and I’m going to highlight two examples of my family. I was up at Hepburn Park yesterday – my two youngest daughters play touch football every Monday. I took my dog for a walk and went into the dog park and Hepburn Park and after my daughter’s touch game she said, “are you really going to put a pod village here?”  So 10-year-olds are thinking of this,’ he said.

Listening to the rain and crying

‘The weekend that we had the flood warning I had three daughters sitting on my bed listening to the rain and crying. I’m not telling you this as a bleeding heart story. But I’m telling you this because this is people’s reality. You know, it’s tough. There is no simple solution. I’ve listened to the arguments and I agree with every single one. My daughters, who are still nine months on traumatised by rainfall. There has to be multiple opportunities. I believe that 20 per cent of Hepburn Park is a compromise.’

The Mayor took a vote – those in favour of supporting the rescission were Councillors Ekins, Bird, Cook, Guise and Krieg. Those opposed to rescinding the August decision, and therefore in favour of keeping pods out of Hepburn Park, were Councillors Gordon, Colby, Hall, Jensen, Bing and Rob.

At this point, Cr Elly Bird’s sadness and frustration got the better of her. ‘I have to exit myself from the chamber for the rest of the meeting. I can’t make further decisions. I’m sorry,’ she said.

Cr Cook bitterly disappointed

After the meeting, Cr Cook, who was one of the three who proposed the rescission, said she was bitterly disappointed that six councillors voted to not provide help and assistance for the hundreds of people. ‘This includes families with young children, living in situations that are unstable, in cars, couch surfing, in a single room of a flood-damaged house. They decided instead that they should find one of the “many” private rentals that are currently available.

‘These pods in the reduced footprint in Hepburn Park that was proposed could have accommodated 200 people. Many people who first received help with motel rooms or caravans have let us know that this was a 12-month interim measure and that these accommodations expire in January.

‘Where do they go when they are evicted just after Christmas? Leave the area or now the weather is warmer, camp out around the river?’

Appalled and ashamed

Cr Cook said she was appalled and ashamed by the number of people who believe their sport is more important than the well-being of many of our community, particularly singling out, ‘people who are still campaigning against any use of Hepburn for temporary housing. People who state they don’t want “those people” living in their neighborhood; who have said their children would not be safe if “those people” lived in pods in the park. People who point out that childcare centres are within hundreds of metres of the park and their children could be put at risk; people who point out that the club is only a couple of hundred metres away – as if flood survivors were the lowest class of dysfunctional alcoholic or drug addicted criminals who shouldn’t be allowed to mix with the genteel people of Goonellabah.

‘As a number of speakers at the meeting told us, our flood survivors are our friends, our neighbours, our community; they are people we have worked with, played sport with; served coffee to, or been served coffee by; our kids went to school with their kids; many have jobs; others have sadly lost their jobs due to their employers also losing everything in the floods.

‘They deserve our respect and our best efforts to find them suitable temporary accommodation until more permanent housing solutions can be provided. Sadly some Councillors voted not to help. Instead, they suggest LCC pass the buck to Resilience NSW to go and find land elsewhere and develop that.

‘Last night LCC failed in its duty to provide compassionate leadership for those, who through no fault of their own, found themselves and their world, torn apart nine months ago.

‘It was a very sad moment in our council’s history.’


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11 COMMENTS

  1. Cr Gordon( a Real estate agent) told the meeting that there were 79 residences availbale for rental in Lismore perhaps suggesting to former Mayor Jenny Dowell that there was no need for the ‘pod’. There are 80 listed online ranging in price from $270 (units) to $850+. Many of the ‘affordable’ properties, of course are in flood reach.
    It was a decision that some members of this Council will find hard to live down. They have brought shame on Lismore

  2. Yep says it all. One moment the mayor is crying for people not to move out of Lismore with the buy backs, next couldn’t care about lack of emergency accomodation for probably the same people. Then wants to go on a junket when he could do it by goggle. What a standout council!

  3. Kickbacks or nothing, Real Estate has to turn a profit from rentals in flood zones and resilience NSW should pay landlords so we can role the dice again with floods, anyone going into a pod is a drug addicted child molester, with a gambling problem and we don’t want to pay utilities, that’s the message from council to the flood destroyed families, but council is really wanting to help us…….as long as some developers and Real Estates profit.
    In short, RNSW needs to come up with a way for profit to be made or it doesn’t work for Lismore Council, until then, the slinging match/clown show rolls on while people are homeless, their priorities are very clear now.

  4. I can hardly trust myself to answer an outcome such as this. It’s more than a sad moment – it’s indecent. It’s an ‘I am okay, Jack even if &
    when the water’s rising.’ Go get a life, Council.

  5. Yes we should be ashamed of that Council decision. These people needing housing aren’t “those people”….they are our people, they are us. They and their families have most likely been Lismore residents longer than some of the blow-ins of the Heartless Six. What do the Snobby Six want? That “those people” just quietly disappear out of their hometown? Stop lowering the tone with their fragility and neediness? Stop making the Goonellabah ‘aspirationals’ feel uncomfortable? Lismore, see who you voted for? Do they represent us? They don’t represent me.

  6. Bad decision only lives once, good decision lasts forever, in people’s hearts. For that, I beg Lismore people to continue their support towards our peers.

    Floods can take away everything from us but dignity.

    Lismore always has a heart in it (Lism ❤️ re), and in everyone of us here as a community. It is always up to us to make it spark again and not to sink it like what Feb 22 flood has done to us flood affected people.

    Lismore people, we need YOU and YOUR SUPPORT. Without your help, we are “the 3F people” really (flooded, forgotten and f*).

    Thank you.

    • Thank you for speaking at the meeting, it must have been extremely difficult to say the least.
      Yes, some of us have a heart. ❤️
      This council seems to have eyes for profits before it’s community unfortunately.

  7. Shameful but predictable.
    Even though the damage is done, remember the names of these heartless councillors: Gordon, Colby, Hall, Jensen, Bing and Rob, look at their public statements and political affiliations, who DO they serve? Who do they think they are? What if the disaster relief was not for a flood where the poorest “down there” suffered most, but an earthquake with random widespread impacts equally affecting those “on the hills with the views”…. where would their sympathies lie then? and who would they vote to support? This wasn’t just any old flood, it was a massive disastrous flood. This little temporary solution under discussion didn’t deprive anybody of the recreational use of their precious parkland. Plaudits to the Mayor for showing some cojones on this issue, hopefully it wasn’t just for show.

    Cnr Andrew Bing still voted against it even after admitting he still lacks relevant information, is that how he approaches all votes? and full disclosure, did his businesses recieve flood assistance?
    But Cnr Andrew Gordon would have to be the worst – not only refusing to recognise councils role to assist and support, but an astonishing display of self-interest, advocating first for the needs of landlords and promoting the privately owned and often-profiteering rentals as a solution. Did his businesses receive flood assistance? Any wonder the distrust in which real estate agents are held, and the sooner they are banned from local government office the better.

    The sickening hypocrisy of this mob. Never forget, think harder next election, and treat with suspicion the amount of money spent on glossy brochures and slick advertising during election campaigns. Track record is the best indicator

  8. Let’s not forget the role of the local NIMBYs and sports clubs who use Hepburn Park either. They’re obviously content with the park facilities and status quo which doesn’t include sharing, so apart from standard maintenance activities, they shouldn’t expect anything from LCC.
    Good to know. Move that park and its affiliated clubs to the bottom of the LCC funding list.

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