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Clarence Valley News

Winning writers announced



Winning writers announced

One of the hardest but most pleasurable jobs in the Clarence Valley is judging The Long Way Home writing competition – that’s according to the judges. But the verdict is in.

The Long Way Home’s Claire Aman said the theme this year was ‘let go,’ prompting writers of all ages to come up with a fabulous bunch of stories – poignant, hopeful, quirky.

‘In the end, the stories that stood out were the ones that made us pause while they gestured quietly to something deep and indefinable.’

Maggie McDade won the open section for her story ‘Neighbour.’ Maggie says the past few years she’s walked her neighbourhood a lot with her two girls and has become quietly fascinated with the comings and goings of people exercising, familiar faces, action, extraordinary and ordinary events. The idea for ‘Neighbour’ came from this place.

‘The Long Way Home provides such an important platform for storytelling in our Valley,’ she says. ‘This journal gives us the chance for us to share what we know, what we see, and what we imagine. Thank you to Claire and the team for giving us this opportunity.’

Grafton High School showed its writing excellence, with Nadia Smith winning the high school section and Aidan Menzies highly commended. Jacquiline Diaz, who is home schooled, was also highly commended.

The winner of the primary school section was Evie Rae from Gulmarrad Public School. Highly commended for their stories were Oscar Woods from Grafton Public, Alyssa Dixon from Tucabia Public, and Locklen Baker from Harwood Public.

Maggie wins $100 cash, while the students receive book vouchers provided by Grafton Book Warehouse.

Clarence Regional Library’s Roweena Shakespeare, who helped judge primary school entries, said it was wonderful to read so many stories. ‘I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this feel-good competition,’ she said. ‘Evie Rae’s ‘Tale of a Dandelion’ is magical and delightful. Congratulations to everyone who transported us to other places, spaces, and realms. Credit to all who entered their joyful and heartfelt stories.’

The stories will be published in November, along with all of the shortlisted stories, in The Long Way Home’s new collection: Stories from the Clarence Valley 2022 – Let Go.

Started in 2018, The Long Way Home competition grows more popular each year. Most of the valley’s schools now enter regularly, and many local writers set their sights on being published. The book is illustrated and designed in the Clarence and printed in Grafton by local printer Yoohoo McPhee.

‘The Long Way Home is a community project, open to anyone with a connection to the Clarence Valley. We don’t get paid or make a profit, so we’re grateful for the generous support of South Grafton Community Bank and First National Real Estate Yamba,’ said Claire.

To find out more, head to The Long Way Home can also be found on Facebook.

Clarence Valley News

Community group fears attack




Yamba CAN secretary Lynne Cairns and president Col Shephard.

Community group fears attack


By Tim Howard

A Clarence Valley community group, already the target of Clarence Valley Council legal action, has concerns another attack is coming.

The Yamba Community Action Network said a notice of motion from Cr Karen Toms in the business paper of this month’s meeting, claiming the group flooded council staff with emails, could be seen as a further attempt to muzzle them.

The group’s secretary, Lynne Cairns, said the Notice of Motion (NOM), following the threat of defamation action the council launched last year, was a concern.

“Is it appropriate to request council to use needless time and resources, targeting a local community group, by requesting council provide a report about the allocation of resources to respond to Yamba CAN Inc’s GIPAs and RFI requests,” Ms Cairns said.

Ms Cairns said it was ironic Cr Toms was concerned about council staff spending time on these requests, when her NOM would require significant time and effort.

“Cr Toms, please explain the purpose of expending needless time and resources to obtain such a report,” she said.

Cr Toms’ NOM, a question with notice was: “councillors receive a large volume of email from Yamba CAN executive members in excess of any other individual correspondent, much of which has related to the Yamba Community Centre Precinct project. Noting that staff introduced the Yamba Community Precinct to the current council on January 5, 2022.

“To better understand the volume, my question with notice relates to a report about the council resources applied to managing the expectations of Yamba CAN members.”

Cr Toms’ NOM read:

That the general manager advise, by way of a report the:

  1. allocation of resources required to respond to GIPAs submitted by YambaCan since January 2022.
  2. allocation of resources required to respond to RFI (Request for Information) submitted by YambaCan since January 2022.
  3. any cost implications of delays to delivering the Yamba Community Precinct project since January 2022.

Ms Cairns also pointed out Yamba CAN was only formed in October 2022, well after the January 2022 date Cr Toms stipulated in her NOM.

In the report the council’s general manager, Laura Black, in a supplementary comment said a member of the executive support team would collate the information sought.

She said both GIPAs and RFIs have resource allocations documented, and therefore this information would need to be collated.

She said cost implications for delays to the Yamba Community Precinct could be included in the assessment including items such as: “designs costs, materials and contract increase, time allocation to meetings, report writing etc. Some matters will be estimate only.”

Yamba CAN secretary Lynne Cairns and president Col Shephard.

Yamba CAN secretary Lynne Cairns and president Col Shephard.

“I anticipate it will take a couple of months to gather the information and present it in a way that is meaningful, and therefore the report would likely not be before council until May 2024, if resolved,” Ms Black’s comment read.

However, Yamba CAN, which is questioning the council in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal this week, suspects the council might be attempting to muzzle it.

Ms Cairns said the information Yamba CAN sought should be publicly available and the community had a democratic right to have access to it.

She also said having a single group requesting access rather than a number of ratepayers would actually ease staff workloads.

“When Yamba CAN Inc formed on October 2, 2022 it became a voice for its members and the community,“ Ms Cairns said.

“More time and resources would be expended if each resident submitted their requests for documents individually.”

Ms Cairns said Yamba CAN was proud of its record of getting the council to reveal information it was initially reluctant to provide.

She said, if Cr Toms NOM is successful the report should include:

  • the number of times the Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) has supported Yamba CAN Inc when council refused or only partially provided documents.
  • the number of times council has incorrectly redacted documents.
  • the number of searches council undertook and the time it took Council to locate documents.
  • how many times council could not locate documents at all.
    • how much council has charged Yamba CAN Inc for the documents in GIPA requests ($30 each) and when council overcharged for processing, as IPC previously informed Council and Yamba CAN Inc.

Ms Cairns provided a couple of examples about Council’s processing of GIPAs and RFIs, one where Council undertook three searches and couldn’t locate an email and then after eight months the email was provided accidentally in another GIPA request.

Another is when lodging an RFI, Council informed due to the large volume of RFIs it will take some time to process Yamba CAN’s RFI, as there were 290 RFI’s in front of Yamba CANs.

The Northern Rivers Times print deadline does not allow a report from Tuesday’s ordinary council meeting to be printed. It will appear in next week’s paper.


For more Yamba news, click here.

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2022 Floods

Northern Rivers to bear brunt of future disaster costs




Northern Rivers Disaster Costs

Northern Rivers to bear brunt of future disaster costs


By Tim Howard

The Northern Rivers area will bear the brunt of the costs of dealing with worsening natural disasters in coming decades warns the NSW Reconstruction Authority.

The authority predicted disaster recovery costs would nearly treble by 2060 in the first State Disaster Mitigation Plan, which was released on Friday.

In 2023 the estimated average annual cost of disaster recovery was $3.1 billion and by 2060 this would jump to $9.1 billion.

And flooding in the Clarence Valley was the costliest item in league tables of disaster costings comparing estimates from last year to predictions for 2060.

In the total average annual loss in built environment 2023 the Clarence Valley disaster recovery bill came in at $133 million, of which flooding contributed $112 million.

Coastal areas of the Northern Rivers figured in the top four places on the table in 2023, with Tweed topping the locals with a bill of $146 million. The Clarence was next and Ballina’s bill came in at $109 million.

Lismore was near the bottom of the table with a disaster bill in 2023 of $57 million.

The NSW Central Coast topped the table with a disaster recovery bill estimated at 178 million.

The NSW Reconstruction Authority was established following the 2022 NSW Independent Flood Inquiry, led by Professor Mary O’Kane and Mick Fuller.

The State Disaster Mitigation Plan was a requirement of the NSW Reconstruction Authority Act 2022, which required the NSW Reconstruction Authority to prepare and implement a state disaster mitigation plan.

It was developed to provide guidance for mitigation of disasters across NSW.

The plan outlined how the rising costs of disasters can be addressed by refocusing government policy towards risk-reducing actions, and details how government agencies can work together to help communities prepare for worsening bushfires, heatwaves, floods, storms and coastal erosion.

The NSW Reconstruction Authority will help coordinate delivery of the actions to improve community resilience and mitigate disasters.

Since 2019, NSW residents have endured more than 65 declared disasters, costing taxpayers more than $6 billion, with more than 20,000 homes damaged in 2022 alone.

The authority said climate change was expected to increase the severity and frequency of natural disasters.

The plan includes a toolkit of measures to reduce communities’ exposure and vulnerability to disasters through awareness and preparedness campaigns, evacuation infrastructure and warning systems.

Total Average annual loss in built environment 2060 Northern Rivers Disaster Costs

Total Average annual loss in built environment 2060

The actions include:

  • Boosting the State’s “Get Ready” preparedness campaigns to ensure communities are better equipped.
  • Building a new local government toolkit to guide councils in preparing for disasters and the impacts of climate change.
  • Developing local Disaster Adaptation Plans that will help communities become more aware and prepared and will inform future planning processes and rebuilding and reconstruction efforts after a disaster occurs.
  • Developing early warning systems so communities are better prepared when disaster strikes.
  • Identifying mitigation infrastructure strategies and approaches to funding.
  • Working with industry to review building codes to factor in greater building resilience through materials and design.
  • Reviewing insurance levy arrangements and working with the insurance sector to factor in affordability in adaption planning.
Total average annual loss in built environment 2023 - Northern Rivers Disaster Costs

Total average annual loss in built environment 2023

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Paul Scully said historically, the state’s ability to prevent and prepare for disasters hadn’t worked as there has been only 3% of funding spent on prevention and 97% spent after an event.

“This is our opportunity to build better so that we can better deal with disasters that come and equip communities with what they need.”

Minister Emergency Services Jihad Dib said the government was shifting the dial in how it addressed disasters as well as making sure it did not inadvertently put people in harm’s way through bad planning decisions.

“For the first time, NSW finally has a plan to begin turning that around with information on how we can invest in reducing risks before disasters occur to better protect communities,” he said.

“Successive years of unprecedented natural disasters have highlighted the need for NSW to meet the challenges of the future by working to reduce both the actual and social costs of natural hazards to our communities.”

He said it had not been easy.

“There is no easy or simple solution to these challenges,” he said. “The focus of the State Disaster Mitigation Plan is to provide a framework and clear actions for reducing risk where we can, and adapting where we can’t, through improved warning systems and a focus on resilient infrastructure.

“The increasing risk of natural disasters also increases pressure on our emergency services staff and volunteers, who put themselves on the line keeping communities safe. This plan will help to manage that risk by reducing the impact of disasters before they occur.”

Deputy CEO of the NSW Reconstruction Authority Simone Walker was proud of the document.

“The NSW Reconstruction Authority is the first entity of its kind in NSW with the dual responsibility of proactively reducing the impact of future disasters before they happen, as well as responding after,” she said.

“This milestone plan gives NSW communities the first ever roadmap to reduce the risk of future disasters.

“This is critical because every dollar we invest in reducing risks will help people recover faster and reduce the cost of future disasters.”

Clarence Valley mayor Peter Johnstone was not ready to comment on the plan. He said he would discuss it with council staff and release a response during the week.


For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

$17.9mil figure not a ‘cost blowout’ says mayor




Clarence Valley Mayor Peter Johnstone explains why the almost $18 million figure released in an update on the progress of the Treelands Drive Community Centre project was not a cost blow out.

$17.9mil figure not a ‘cost blowout’ says mayor


By Tim Howard

The costs for a contentious development in West Yamba have not blown out, but include amounts from related developments says Clarence Valley Mayor Peter Johnstone.

Earlier this month The Northern Rivers Times ran a story, based on figures in a Clarence Valley Council press release, which said the costs for the project to demolish and replace the Treelands Drive Community Centre had apparently increased from the tender acceptance figure of $16.25 million (GST inclusive) to $17.97 million.

The paper requested a comment from the council, through its media team, about the apparent difference in the figures, but in its reply, failed to account for the different amounts.

In response to questions to explain the change in amounts and also to explain information that  appeared to shed new light on the council processes which led to the decision to go ahead with the demolition and rebuild option, the council made a short response.

“Throughout the project councillors have been kept well-informed through reports to council and a number of workshops,” a spokesperson said.

“Option B, discussed in late 2022 was not progressed as it was a 100% council funded project without a funding strategy and an approved budget to progress.”

This explanation was printed in full in the original story in the paper.

Cr Johnstone said he was at a loss to account for the failure of council staff to adequately answer the question, but said it the difference was an amount of $3.195 million which included expenditure on other projects in the West Yamba precinct.

The press release also recorded the tender figure at $14,778,230, which was the ex-GST amount of the successful tender.

Mayor Johnstone said it had been necessary to include the figure with GST when the tender came to council for acceptance, but the council did not have to pay the tax.

Clarence Valley Mayor Peter Johnstone Treelands Drive Community Centre Cost

Clarence Valley Mayor Peter Johnstone

There was no inference there was a failure to understand the GST figures.

The breakdown of figures showed the construction phase of $3.195 mil, which included expenditure on a carpark, project management/site surveillance and design coordination.

This, combined with the tender figure of $14,778,230, brought the bottom line cost of the project to $17,973.230.

The council has funded the project with $11,107,882 from a Bushfire Local Economic Recovery grant, $342,000 from 2021/2022 Buildings Optimal Renewals Program and contributed $1.55million of its own funds.

It will fund the remaining $4,973,348 with loan borrowing.

The process to get to a successful tender was fraught with council doing two major backflips and attracting criticism from a vocal section of the Yamba community.

The first about turn came in late 2022 when the council resolved to change course from a plan to demolish and rebuild the 25-year-old centre to refurbish the existing centre.

At the same time the council was forced to close the Grafton Pool and the council announced building a new pool for the region at Grafton was its No.1 priority.

Responding to community pressure the council began talks with the BLER funding body to switch the $11.1 million grant it had received for the Treelands Drive centre to the pool project.

The council even announced the talks had been successful, but in early 2023 the news came that NSW Government had ruled the BLER funds could not be switched and must be spent on the community centre.

This outcome and the potential difficulties in finishing the TDCC project within the BLER grant deadline, created fears the council might lose the BLER funding, causing council to make another U-turn.

As planning for the demolition and build project was more advanced the council staff put forward a controversial rescission motion to overturn the resolution to refurbish the existing building at its February 28, 2023 meeting.

Council passed the rescission motion, but not without a challenge to its legality from then deputy mayor Cr Greg Clancy.

It has since been revealed the legal advice the council received from the Office of Local Government about the legality of a staff-driven rescission motion was not legally based.

Clarence Valley Mayor Peter Johnstone explains why the almost $18 million figure released in an update on the progress of the Treelands Drive Community Centre project was not a cost blow out.

Clarence Valley Mayor Peter Johnstone explains why the almost $18 million figure released in an update on the progress of the Treelands Drive Community Centre project was not a cost blow out.

But councillors were not told this was not merely an opinion of OLG staff.

During the February 28 meeting councillors were told:

“OLG’s view is that section 372 (of the Local Government Act 1993) only applies to situations where a councillor is seeking to alter, amend or rescind a previous decision of the Council. It does not apply to a situation where because of changed circumstances, a staff report is put up recommending the alteration, amendment or rescission of an earlier decision.”

But councillors were not informed of a qualifying paragraph underneath the advice, which was only made public late last year. It read: “that the position is not entirely clear and this is very much a “vibe”-based view and does not have a solid legal basis.”

Also other emails obtained from the council and the NSW Department for Regional NSW under GIPA, revealed the BLER funding co-ordinators were prepared to accept a proposal to refurbish the existing centre.

Mayor Johnston said there had been some confusion about what the so-called Option B really was.

He said there had been an earlier proposal, labelled D3, which had become confused with the proposal to refurbish the centre that came out of community meetings in Yamba in 2022.

He said this confusion and lack of sufficient planning for the refurbishment option made Option A the only viable prospect.


For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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