Mayor sees battles ahead
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL
AS Lismore mayor Merv King scans his city from the Claude Riley Memorial Lookout, he is filled with an overwhelming sense of pride.
The 71-year-old is so content with the job he and his council have done over the past year, he sees no need for sweeping changes in 2005.
On the other hand, he believes the State Government has continuously disappointed the people of the Northern Rivers. When an Upper House inquiry was held into the closure of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line last June, Cr King delivered the most passionate speech of his political career.
"I'm of the view that we have lost any links we had with New South Wales," he said.
"We should be a part of Queensland."
And, although it's a regional issue, one of Cr King's top priorities this year will be continuing the fight to bring back the train.
"People up here have just as much right to a public transport system as people in the city. It is discrimination on the State Government's behalf," he said.
"In 15 years when a quarter of the country's population is between Coffs Harbour and Hervey Bay, the decision won't be about reopening the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line ? it will be whether to extend it to Queensland."
He said the other major battle the council had on its hands was to convince the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNR) to release more land for residential development in Lismore.
Council wants to include land on the North Lismore plateau in its urban development strategy and has repeatedly petitioned DIPNR to allow them to give would-be developers the go-ahead.
Despite a visit to the minister's office last November and a further more detailed submission to support their case, council is still sweating on a positive response from the DIPNR.
"Being able to release more land is important because it will take the demand away from coastal areas," he said.
"Prices are rising and it's making it difficult for everyone ? especially young families ? to find affordable land.
"Real estate agents tell me there are only about 50 blocks currently available for sale and that just doesn't provide enough choice for people wanting to live and build here."
But, 2005 will be about more than hard-fought campaigns against higher powers.
Cr King said the next 12 months would also see a number of council projects, years in the planning, finally come to fruition.
He said the opening of the redeveloped Memorial Baths was what he looked forward to the most.
"It's had a couple of hiccups, but I'm looking forward to that because it will be a state-of-the-art regional facility," he said.
"A lot of people have spoken to me over the past 18 months and most are pleased about the Memorial Baths decision. Noone has said 'you're mad'. Hundreds of people supported it and I think that was shown in the last election.
"We have a lot of support and 2005 is going to be another good year."