Dean and Carroll Box, are concerned they could lose their dream retirement home.
Dean and Carroll Box, are concerned they could lose their dream retirement home.

Evans retirees under threat

Dean and Carroll Box are in their mid 60s and were looking forward to spending their retirement together in their permanent caravan at the Silver Sands Caravan Park at Evans Head, but a colony of flying foxes and a redevelopment of the caravan park mean they are likely to lose their home.

Dean, Carroll, and about a dozen of their neighbours discovered their homes are in a proposed 50m buffer zone from the flying foxes at a meeting for permanent residents to discuss the draft masterplan and business development strategy for the Evans Head Recreation Reserve last Saturday.

“We’ve been on this site for 12 years, we planned for our retirement – so where are they going to put us?” Carroll asked, tears welling in her eyes.

“We just want to be left alone. Now that they’ve put up a fence the kids aren’t running through and disturbing the flying foxes. We can exist in harmony with them,” Dean said.

More than 300 people attended a public meeting organised by Richmond Valley Council on Monday night to discuss the issues.

The Silver Sands is on Crown land and managed by Council for the NSW Land and Property Management Authority (LPMA – formerly the Dept of Lands). Silver Sands is a substantial asset of the Evans Head Recreation Reserve Trust and the NSW Government is keen to see a greater profit.

“They told us we were permanent here so we made this our home. Now they’ve changed their minds,” Carroll said.

“We’ve spent our superannuation cheque getting set up,” Dean said. “You think you’ve got things sorted for your declining years; this is where we want to die.

“Whoever made up this plan doesn’t know the area or what’s involved...We’re just a site number to them.”

Tim Gooley, Richmond Valley Council co-ordinator for Silver Sands Holiday Park, said it was important to recognise that the buffer zone was only included in the draft masterplan because it was one of a number of recommendations made in the flying fox plan of management adopted by Richmond Valley Council in July 2009.

He said anyone who had issues with the flying fox plan of management would be better off making a submission direct to Council, rather than to the LPMA.

“If Council revisits the flying fox plan of management, then what is included in the masterplan will reflect that,” Mr Gooley said. “If this gets adopted and there is a 50m buffer, there will need to be discussions about voluntary relocation within the park. If the buffer is needed due to a health risk, then there is scope for the department or trust to need to have sites vacated, then there is a need to have discussions about compensation. There is a lot of information that needs to be referred back to the consultants doing the plan.

“If the buffer’s been identified to be required because of health risk, there is an obligation to the park owner to mitigate that risk and make sure nobody’s affected by it.”

The principal aim of the masterplan is to “establish the opportunity for the Reserve Trust to receive growing commercial returns on capital investments... and to guide decision making in relation to ongoing capital investment in the caravan park and in the adjoining public reserve”.

Items in the draft masterplan include: establishing new cabin accommodation; improving the range and quality of park facilities; capitalising on the riverfront and creating “quality precincts for holiday accommodation capable of generating optimum financial returns”.

Evans Head resident and community activist Richard Gates attended the public meeting on Monday and contacted The Echo with his concerns.

“As I see it, the whole emphasis of the plan is to maximise return on investment for state government coffers without regard to social or environmental consequences or what the local community thinks. The whole planning process is being driven by money,” Dr Gates said. “It is a generic plan which is being rolled out by the same consultants for other areas in NSW. The proposed plan will, without doubt, destroy the family-friendly atmosphere of Silver Sands, and those who have been coming for generations will probably no longer be able to afford to come for the Christmas holidays.”

Dr Gates said he thought the proposal would destroy the village atmosphere of Evans Head.

“This is not what the people want, although I can see how some local businesses might benefit,” he said. “The current exercise is a ‘tick the box’ exercise so that it can be said that the community was consulted. However given the refusal for us to be able to see what the consultant has to say on the public consultation before it goes to the Department of Lands and the restriction on genuine public discussion, I would suggest that the current exercise will have little or no effect on the outcome.”

Merryl and Ray Peart live two doors down from Dean and Carroll and are also potentially affected by the flying foxes.

“We’re in limbo,” Merryl said. “They want to turn this lovely family-oriented backwater into Byron or the Gold Coast and it’s terrible.”

Dean was similarly distraught.

“They’re trying to fit a four-and-a-half star resort into a two-star town,” he said.

Mr Gooley said all the issues raised by members of the public at Monday’s meeting would be summarised and put in a submission by the independent facilitator who ran the meetings.

He also encouraged people to make their own submissions.

“What they’re trying to do is increase the diversity, saying that there should be a percentage to cater for a higher-end market. People have issues with that, but it’s not like they’re saying they don’t want families,” Mr Gooley said. “The proposal includes new high-end cabins, a water recreation area that they’re indicating could be a pool, fountains, a jumping pillow and playground.

“The philosophy behind it from the consultant is that people are saying they want everything there. Even though there’s an ocean, a river, and there will soon be a public pool, once they get there the car doesn’t want to move.” The Draft Masterplan and Business Development Strategy for the Evans Head Recreation Reserve will be on exhibition until Friday, February 12. Copies are available from Richmond Valley Council, the Land and Property Management Authority and the Silver Sands Holiday Park.

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