Protesters gather outside the Ballina Shire Council chambers ahead of a meeting to decide the future of the Lake Ainsworth precinct.
Protesters gather outside the Ballina Shire Council chambers ahead of a meeting to decide the future of the Lake Ainsworth precinct. Rebecca Lollback

'Toxic' debate over closure of lake road

THE "toxic" debate over the future of the eastern road at Lake Ainsworth finally came to an end at an extraordinary meeting of Ballina Shire Council held on Saturday.

All 10 councillors were in attendance, along with a packed public gallery that spilled out into the foyer.

Many of the people in the crowd held signs that read "stop the road closure" and "keep eastern road open".

But their efforts were in vain - councillors resolved 6-4 to close the road and start a $1.7 million rejuvenation of the Lake Ainsworth precinct.

Work on some sections is expected to start as soon as October, but the eastern road will not be closed until after the school holidays in February next year.

Protesters gather outside the Ballina Shire Council chambers ahead of a meeting to decide the future of the Lake Ainsworth precinct.
Protesters gather outside the Ballina Shire Council chambers ahead of a meeting to decide the future of the Lake Ainsworth precinct. Rebecca Lollback

It was a heated debate, with four passionate deputations from people who both supported and opposed the road closure.

Denis Magnay, who represented a number of community groups during his deputation, said closing the eastern road would create a "death trap" on the southern road and result in the loss of 120 car parks.

Shaun Eastment from Lennox Head Landcare and the Ballina Environment Society said it was time to stop writing expensive reports and fix the "severely degraded nature" of the Lake Ainsworth foreshore.

Mayor David Wright fought to keep the raucous gallery under control.

He repeatedly warned spectators to be respectful and stay quiet, and threatened to throw out anyone who continued to interrupt. At one point he warned one man to stop filming the meeting.

Rally on today to save the eastern foreshore road at Lake Ainsworth.
Rally on today to save the eastern foreshore road at Lake Ainsworth. Samantha Poate

Cr Phillip Meehan said the plan for the Lake Ainsworth precinct would make the area "better for people and also the environment".

He said he did not support the view that the majority of the Lennox Head community wanted the road to stay open.

But Deputy Mayor Keith Williams said he had never seen "this level of community response".

He also said he believed closing the eastern road would put environmental pressure on the most sensitive parts of the lake on the northern and western sides.

A number of the councillors acknowledged the ongoing debate had taken its toll on the residents of Lennox Head.

Cr Sharon Cadwallader said it had "divided our community... it's a very sad day", while Cr Sharon Parry said the road closure issue had created a "toxic environment" and Cr Eoin Johnston said it was "polarising".

During her deputation, Lennox Head Residents' Association president Monica Wilcox told councillors people "feared" showing their support for the eastern road closure and others had copped "mistruths and bullying".

"People have been incited to be outright mean," she said.

"We want a beautiful, safe place to take our grandchildren."

Pip Carter from the Preserving Lake Ainsworth group, which wanted to keep the road open, said the council plans for the precinct were a "monumental failure".

"It's about respect for agreed community values and outcomes," he said.

"Ballina Shire Council has totally disregarded the wishes of the majority of the community... there is no mandate."

"It's not just Lennox Head (that this will affect), it's Alstonville, Lismore Ballina, it's everywhere."

Voting in favour of the Lake Ainsworth precinct plans, including the eastern road closure, were Mayor David Wright, Crs Phillip Meehan, Jeff Johnson, Sharon Cadwallader, Sharon Parry and Nathan Willis.

Crs Ben Smith, Keith Williams, Steve McCarthy and Eoin Johnston voted against the plans.

All but Cr Willis spoke to the meeting to explain their reasons for their decision.



Man collapsed over steering wheel

premium_icon Man collapsed over steering wheel

Man allegedly found intoxicated in parked car with engine running

Air crews on standby as firefighters expect worse weather

Air crews on standby as firefighters expect worse weather

Fire-fighters ready to battle flames from the air

'We've had our houses burn down twice'

premium_icon 'We've had our houses burn down twice'

Residents forced to flee with little more than a single bag each