Tweed Shire Councillors were presented with the challenge of deciding between worker accommodation or homeless accommodation when they made a decision on the future use of the 78-room Greenhills Lodge at their last council meeting (17 August).
The site (Lots 19 and 20 in DP9871) at 437 Tweed Valley Way, South Murwillumbah had been gifted to the United Protestants Association of NSW (UPA) in 1969 and they had operated it as an aged care facility since early 1970s. Following the 2022 flood UAE determined that the risks of the site, there is restricted access during foods and a landslip on the riverbank will require extensive repairs, meant that they could no longer offer aged care at this site.
A cavet on the gifting of the land to UAE means that TSC can have the land returned to council. With this expectation in place council put in place an Expression of Interest (EOI) seeking ‘an organisation(s) interested in repurposing the site and taking on the bank stabilisation works in return for a lease of up to 21 years’.
There were four bidders with ‘three out of four submissions proposed social housing under a charity management model’. The fourth bidders was the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC) ‘seeking workers’ accommodation to support the flood-related projects under the NSW Government Resilient Homes Program’.
Councillors Warren Polglase (Conservative) and Reece Byrnes (Labor) moved the staff recommendation to have the land returned ot Tweed Shire Council (TSC) and ‘invite Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (ABN 19 438 788 272) to move to tender stage’ to utilise the facility for workers accommodation. Cr Polglase highlighted the cost of remediating the landslip, clean up, getting units ready for living in and the fact that the NRRC have the money to get the work done. He also highlighted the need for worker accommodation the belief that the NRRC will move forward quickly with the project.
Councillor Byrnes also spoke in favour of the staff motion saying that one of the key issues was the lack of builder and construction workers accommodation. He also recognised that there was a ‘homeless and housing crisis’ but placed priority ‘on our flood recovery’ saying that the social housing models would face a ‘very complex’ process to get up and running.
Homeless and social housing
Councillor Meredith Dennis (Independent) spoke against the motion highlighting the fact that Greenhills Lodge had been occupied until November 2022 housing up to 100 people and that there were significant issues with homelessness in the region that this facility could be used to help relieve.
‘I attended a meeting last week [with] organisations that provide homelessness services and [they] indicated that any sort of homeless services are years away,’ said Cr Dennis.
She pointed out that there were people sleeping under trees, and women with children sleeping in cars. To be giving ‘away [this accommodation] to workers who will be earning thousands of dollars a week and are quite capable of finding alternative accommodation somewhere else… is very sad’.
Mayor Chris Cherry (Independent) also spoke against the proposal for workers accommodation stating ‘I strongly, strongly object to this.’ Cr Cherry then moved an amendment, seconded by Cr Nola Firth (Greens) that would see the council take possession of the land, reject all EOIs and then have TSC ‘put 44 units that are self-sufficient with their bathrooms and can be made self-sufficient by putting kitchenettes into them to have a social housing facility within quite a short space of time’.
Councillor Cherry recognised that the NRRC was the body that could afford to fix the landslip and reminded the other councillors that part of the NRRC’s remit ‘is to help provide social housing help provide affordable housing’.
‘So let’s work with them to do those repairs and so that they can facilitate social housing on this site. I strongly believe that the alternate proposal which is being proposed… to use it as workers accommodation instead of social housing is such a short-sighted view because those workers could be using the hotels [and] motels in our area, we’ve got a lot of local motels within Tweed Heads.
‘We have a lot of local businesses that could be actually [be] getting those workers to be paying and staying in those motels. So to me, we have a cohort of people who can have the capacity to pay and would be actually adding to, and supporting, our local businesses by staying in local motels. Or we have a cohort of people who are sleeping in tents in the park and do not have the capacity to pay. I think they are the ones that it’s our job to look after. They’re the ones that it’s our job to protect. I and I really strongly feel that there is a way forward we can we can have it both ways.’
Cr Firth then highlighted the fact that the local MP Janelle Saffin had offered to help with the proposal and that Tweed Shire has ‘one of the highest number of homeless people in the state. These people are residents in our Shire. We have a homeless policy and it says that people who are homeless, we are responsible for them.’
The amendment was lost three to four with Cr Rhiannon Brinsmead (Liberal), Cr Reece Byrnes, Cr James Owen (Liberal), and Cr Warren Polglase voting against it.
The original motion of providing the NRRC the opportunity for the site to be used as worker accommodation was passed four votes to three with Cr Chris Cherry (Mayor), Cr Meredith Dennis (Deputy Mayor), Cr Nola Firth voting against.