Councillor's shock decision causes a stir over Black Rocks
THE Men's Shed stalemate at Pottsville looks set to be resolved after Tweed Shire Councillor Reece Byrnes announced he would change his vote and support their licence to build a temporary home at Black Rocks oval.
The Labor councillor made the announcement on Thursday, confirming he had lodged a formal motion calling for a rescission of council's November 17 decision to defer the granting of a licence to the Pottsville and District Men's Shed at Black Rocks sportsfield.
Cr Byrnes' surprise call followed an intense community backlash against the council deferment, with a protest sticker campaign and petition by the Men's Shed gaining strong support, with almost 100 community members gathering on Wednesday at the oval for an impromptu show of support.
Cr Byrnes said his decision would "resolve the long standing community issue and deliver the Men's Shed for the Pottsville community".
"The Men's Shed needs a better location and at this current time Black Rocks is the only and best option," Cr Byrnes said.
"It is also vitally important that our precious koalas are protected and we have to work together to ensure that our local koala habitat is preserved."
Shed president Michael Ryan said he was "over the moon" to hear the decision.
"This will be a great relief to the Pottsville community to know this much-needed and supported community facility will go ahead," Mr Ryan said.
But Black Rocks resident David Norris, founder of the Threatened Species Conservation Society which has fought hard to stop development on the oval fearing its impact on the surrounding koala population, said he was devastated by the news and vowed to fight on.
"This is devastating news and a very sad day for our endangered koalas," Mr Norris said.
"It is unbelievable that Cr Byrnes' decision is based on all the misinformation that has been presented to and divided the community, and that (koala specialist) Dr Steve Phillips' advice to the Environmental Defenders Office that there is a strong likelihood of a significant impact on koalas if the Men's Shed at Black Rocks is to proceed, has been ignored.
"Environmentalists will not stop campaigning against inappropriate, koala-impactive developments and it is likely that Cr Byrnes and the other pro-development councillors will suffer the same demise as (former) Cr (Barry) Longland at the next council election."
Cr Byrnes was one of four councillors to support a motion at their first council meeting on November 17 to defer a decision on granting a temporary five-year licence to the Shed to build their shed at the Black Rocks sportsfield.
Councillors instead called on Tweed MP Geoff Provest to produce a list of available Crown Land in the Pottsville area, which is still underway.
Cr Milne said council had worked hard to find a solution and was certain a more suitable permanent site was still possible, with two privately owned sites identified.
"We provided (Mr Provest) two options that were strongly supported by council staff for State Government consideration," Cr Milne said.
"Whilst we all would have liked the resolution of this matter by now, the timing has been somewhat delayed due to ministerial changes in the State Government.
"Sometimes good politics takes patience."
Mr Provest welcomed Cr Byrnes' decision to support the Black Rocks site.
"It is great to see Cr Byrnes finally listening to the community on this issue," Mr Provest said.
Cr Byrnes cited overwhelming community support for the Shed and the division and uncertainty the issue was causing in the community as reasons for his change of mind.
Councillors are expected to vote on the issue on March 16.*
Black Rocks resident Matthew France, who is spearheading a campaign to support the Men's Shed, said a planned protest on February 26 would still go ahead but would now be more celebratory in nature.
*CORRECTION: Please note, the date of this meeting has been updated.