Umpire's Porter Park ruling
BALLINA Shire Council should press ahead with controversial plans to turn part of a West Ballina sports field into a new Aboriginal child and family centre, a consultant hired by the council has said.
In a report quietly posted on the Ballina Shire Council website within the past few days, town planning consultant Darryl Anderson says about 70% of the submissions lodged on the park backed the plan to build the centre.
Mr Anderson oversaw an epic public meeting on the plan, where nearly 50 people stood up to speak for or against the plan.
Advocates of the plan have said the centre is sorely needed and that there were no other suitable sites within easy reach of Aboriginal families at West Ballina.
Opponents generally accept the need for the centre, but say the plan to build it at Porter Park will rob West Ballina of already rare open space and prevent senior cricket teams from playing there. Plans for the centre included car parking right up to the edge of the playing oval.
Mr Anderson noted the departments of Family and Community Services and human services both backed the Porter Park plan.
He said of 47 speakers to address the May 31 public meeting, only 14, about 30% spoke out against it while 33, 70%, spoke in favour of it.
An opponent of the plan, Jim Cross, said he was not surprised at the conclusion Mr Anderson reached and that it matched the objective the council appeared to have been working towards.
Holding public hearings, putting documents on display and calling for comments were all part of a process aimed at justifying a decision that had already been made, he said.
Mr Cross said there were other places the centre could be built without eating into West Ballina’s limited open space, but Mr Anderson’s terms of reference prevented him from considering other options.
In his report, Mr Anderson notes calls for the centre to be built at Treelands Reserve instead of Porter Park and says the council relied on incorrect population figures for West Ballina. However, in both cases, Mr Anderson says the claims were beyond the scope of his report and could not be considered.
Mr Cross agreed with the report that the overwhelming weight ofpublic submissions on the issue had backed Porter Park as the location for the new centre.
However, he said many of the submissions advocating Porter Park as a location repeated each other.
Councillors and planners needed to consider the weight of individual arguments, not just their number, he said.
Mr Cross said he would continue urging councillors to vote against the plan .