5 big ideas that should be funded in our region right now
1. Ballina Byron Gateway Airport airport upgraded to take international flights:
This airport has a proven track record and is going gangbusters.
It has over 500,000 passenger movements a year, is routinely in the top 10 to 15 busiest airports in the country and was recently bumped up as second busiest airport in NSW.
Significant funds have been invested in upgrading the airport terminal and lengthening and widening the runway.
Opening up Ballina to international flights would add another string to the region's bow.
Even if we could just get direct flights between Ballina and New Zealand it would be a positive step as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
2: Build Dunoon Dam:
People forget this time last year the Northern Rivers was in the grip of a severe drought and experiencing damaging fires.
Water is, and remains, a very hot topic and is key to unlocking this region's economic future.
The population is expected to grow by 50 per cent over the next 40 years and one of the proposals to deal with that is to build a new 50-gigalitre dam at Dunoon at an estimated cost of $220 million.
Recent consultation on future water options by Rous County Council drew 700 responses, showing the level of interest in this issue.
While $220 million sounds like a lot, other options such as grey water and water reticulation, could be even more costly to implement.
3: Fully funding and fast tracking the Casino to Murwillumbah rail trail:
While there has been some progress on passing legislation that will establish the rail trail corridor, this is a case of a 'shovel ready' project that could get this region moving post COVID-19.
This is the perfect project to attract domestic tourists to the area in the mean time.
It's been 16 long years since the last train rolled on this line and it's time to move on.
Some money has flowed into this project at the Tweed and Casino ends, but wouldn't it be good to have it going ahead over its full length.
4: Flood levee, further flood mitigation, Lismore CBD project:
As the region's largest city and government, higher education and health hub, Lismore could do with some serious love.
What's needed is more certainty that its beating heart won't flood and that means a higher levee wall and further mitigation works to protect it from future events.
With greater certainty should come a beautification project linking the river to the city centre, playing fields, hospital and Southern Cross University.
There have been plenty of plans on the drawing board but no serious skin in the game.
5: A second or third entrance from the Pacific Highway into Byron Bay:
Anyone who has experienced gridlock in Byron Bay knows something needs to be done about the traffic flow into and out of town.
If 2.1 million visitors return here post COVID-19 they have to be able to come and go with a bit more ease.
Sure we have a mini-bypass of the CBD about to open in Byron, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
How about we think about opening up access to and from the town via a full interchange at Bangalow, or take people coming from the north off the highway at Tyagarah and into town via a new route through the industrial estate and (gasp) West Byron?