Caravan park residents get reprieve

Residents at the Lismore Tourist Caravan Park won’t be turned out on the street after a debate about what to do in flood time turned into a heated discussion about social justice.

A report in Council’s May business paper about the options for the Dawson Street caravan park during floods brought up issues of governance and regulation.

The facility is leased to a private operator by Council and is used by tourists. It also has onsite vans and cabins that are rented out, including to people referred by the Department of Community Services and Department of Housing.

The park is not approved to house people permanently, but general manager of North Coast Community Housing John McKenna said there would be between 80 and 100 people displaced if Council were to close it.

“In the most recent census for Lismore there were 283 people housed in caravan parks. They are the place of last refuge,” Mr McKenna said. “The electorate of Page is the fourth poorest in NSW and there are currently 300 people on the waiting list for community housing.

“There is insufficient housing in Lismore to house the people who would be displaced.”

Cr Vanessa Ekins said she was very concerned to see the report and moved a motion for Council to evaluate structural works to extend evacuation time at the park and also to do a Social Impact Assessment about the closure and to work with appropriate agencies to rehouse residents.

“The caravan park fulfils a crucial role in this community so I’m completely opposed to us closing the facility,” Cr Ekins said.

Cr Neil Marks said it was a tourism park, where people were supposed to stay a maximum of 28 days at a time, and asked Council manager asset services Scott Turner how Council had ended up with a situation with people living there.

Mr Turner said it had evolved over time and there were people in Lismore who had difficulty finding accommodation. Mr Turner also said the current lessee had told him that when his lease runs out in December 2011, he would not be applying to renew it and moving his caravans and cabins elsewhere.

Cr Peter Graham moved an amendment that Council strictly enforce the 28-day maximum stay.

Cr Ray Houston said he was completely against the amendment.

“Who amongst us would be prepared to enforce 28 days, when it would mean putting people out in the street?” Cr Houston asked.

But Cr Graham said it was not about putting people on the street, but about finding other appropriate accommodation. He also said if remediation costs were too high once all the caravans had been moved, it could be turned into a car park.

Cr John Chant said Lismore needed a caravan park convenient to facilities for tourists and that there was no other site available.

Cr David Yarnall said there were several problems. “If we do get rid of this it’s going to cost us half a mill (estimated clean up cost to Council), in the end, for me, the critical thing in all this is the people in these vans with nowhere to go,” he said. “Government agencies are actually referring people and I’m concerned about liability in terms of injury in evacuating in a flood, but the only thing we can do is business as usual, it seems to be the only clear direction.”

Cr Graham said he did not want to see the park closed to tourists.

“It has all the access, everything in its favour except every so often the lord above gives us a little bit too much in terms of weather and sometimes people make mistakes,” he said. “Put a bit of teeth on our tiger and enforce the rules that we have. We need to say to permanent residents that you need to look somewhere else if you want to live in a caravan in a permanent place.”

Cr Simon Clough said it was important to have the facility there for people who had nowhere else to go.

“This is something that Council has found itself providing and it’s an important social need, not something we can turn our backs on, we don’t want Council officers hassling people and telling them to move on because they’ve stayed for 28 days,” Cr Clough said. Cr Ekins said it seemed everyone wanted the caravan park but it was whether to make it more upmarket for tourists or to provide a facility for people who had nowhere else to go.

“I’m horrified with Cr Graham’s amendment, this is a very serious issue, and I think it will be a very useful process to do a Social Impact Assessment and we might all learn something,” she said. “This town floods, what’s the big deal? We just deal with it. To enforce 28-day tenancies is just outrageous and horrifying; there is nowhere for people to go, that’s why they’re there.”

Cr Graham’s amendment went down 6/4 (Crs Graham, Chant, Meineke, Marks for; Cr Smith absent) then Cr Ekins’ motion was unanimous.

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