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.’