Ballina Shire Council plans for affordable workers’ housing in Wollongbar are on pause pending consultation with state agencies on projects elsewhere.
Councillors at last month’s ordinary meeting agreed to discuss the Wollongbar Urban Expansion Area separately from other matters already voted on in a Commercial Services Committee meeting in mid-November.
The earlier meeting had resulted in councillors voting in support of selling half the land in question at Wollongbar and investigating options for affordable workers’ housing on the other half.
But councillors at the later meeting heard stage agencies had since announced plans to kick-start affordable housing in the region.
The suggestion evoked the usual calls from some councillors to leave the matter of housing provision to state and federal governments.
Ballina council in discussions with Landcom about housing
Independent Cr Eva Ramsey moved for the matter to be deferred until the council had ‘feedback in respect to ongoing discussions with the State Government and Landcom in respect to the provision of housing on other locations’.
Cr Ramsey referred to unfavourable risks in the current housing market such as interest rates and building costs and sad the council shouldn’t be taking on a residential project in the present economic climate.
‘We shouldn’t be using ratepayers’ money for this sort of thing,’ Cr Ramsey said.
Independent Cr Phillip Meehan seconded the motion, which also won the support of Deputy Mayor Eoin Johnston and Independent Cr Stephen McCarthy.
The two Greens councillors, Kiri Dicker and Simon Chate, voted against.
Feasibility study ignored
Cr Dicker said the council had already hired consultants to carry out an economic analysis of the project and found in favour of it.
‘The feasibility study initially demonstrated that Councel developing and leasing at least part of this estate made good financial sense,’ Cr Dicker said, ‘and indicated that we would likely pay off the assets within a decade, which I think is really positive’.
‘By selling lots one to eighteen, we would make enough money to pay back our loan debt and also fund the cost of construction,’ Cr Dicker said.
The Greens councillor said she’d been happy with the decision made in favour of the project at the Commercial Services Committee meeting, where all councillors had been present except Cr Meehan.
Councillors at the time had agreed to a three-part motion from Cr Dicker as follows:
- That Council sell at public auction Lots 1-18 (Site 1) of the Wollongbar
Urban Expansion Area.
- That Council further explore the feasibility of developing and retaining for leasing all or part of Site 2 (Lots 19 to 30) of the WUEA for the purposes of providing affordable housing for essential workers in accordance with State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing) 2021.
- That Council write to or arrange a meeting with the Minister for Families and Communities and Minister for Disability Services, Hon Natasha McLaren-Jones to discuss social housing projects for Ballina Shire.
Mayor a ‘passionate supporter’ of Wollongbar housing project, says Dicker
Mayor Sharon Cadwallader and Cr Jeff Johnson were absent from the later, ordinary meeting while Crs Nigel Buchanan and Rodney Bruem were absent from the meeting during the vote on the Wollongbar Urban Expansion Area.
Crs Cadwallader and Bruem had voted for the housing project idea at the CSC meeting, while Crs Johnson and Buchanan had voted against.
Cr Dicker said she was disappointed the council would reverse the vote when the mayor wasn’t present.