Community convoy stages peaceful rally at Black Rocks

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AN ESTIMATED 180 Tweed residents gathered at the Black Rocks Sports Field today (February 26) to stage a peaceful rally and to call on Tweed Shire Council to approve the licence for the Pottsville & District Men’s Shed at the site.

Despite early indications of opposition protests, there was little to no sign of those opposing the licence including Dave Norris, president of the Threatened Species Conservation Society.

Mr Norris and several other Pottsville residents had attempted to have the rally at the Sports Field denied at the gate by Tweed Shire Council.

However, Council’s General Manager Troy Green highlighted that the park is “community land” and provided the rally remained peaceful he said would not intervene. Local police were also present at the sports field throughout the rally.

Among those in attendance was current Tweed Shire Councillors Warren Polglase, Cr James Owen, Cr Reece Byrnes, P&DMS President Michael Ryan, Convoy organiser Penny Hocking as well as former Councillors Barry Longland and Carolyn Byrne.

Several residents spoke to The Weekly during the event and said they felt there was now a “glimmer of hope” for the licence to be approved to construct the shed.

The hope has come from Cr Reece Byrnes who recently changed his view on the long-standing community issue who said he would vote to approve the three year term for the Men’s Shed to be constructed at Black Rocks Sports Field.

“I think now is the time to approve this site,” he said.

“But I also feel that there’s a need to monitor koalas in the region and even get Men’s Shed members involved in this important conservation work.”

Pottsville Men’s Shed supporter and local Matthew France thanked the organiser of the rally (Penny Hocking) and the community for showing it’s support.

“Seriously, this has been going on for almost three years and people are fed up,” he said.

“We need to approve this site to give the Men’s Shed members the best chance possible and to prove they can have their shed on this site without harming the koalas.”

Mr France said that claims the Men’s Shed members were in some way trying to hinder the Black Rocks koala population were “completely false”.

“Many of the members care a great deal about koalas, as do a lot of people across the Tweed, we all want to help the local koalas,” he said.

“But by having a Men’s Shed on a site that’s already cleared makes sense and we need this approved.”

Pottsville Community News Facebook page moderator Renae Davis Bevan told The Weekly she was amazed to see so many people in support of the Men’s Shed site.

“Look at the number of people who, despite the heat, have come out in support of the Men’s Shed site at Black Rocks, it really shows people care and they’re fed up.”

P&DMS President Michael Ryan thanked the rally participants for their ongoing support.

P&DMS President Michael Ryan

Although the majority of the rally participants were in support of the Black Rocks site, there were a few that had come in quiet opposition to the proposal.

Marion Riordan said she visited the community gathering today in support of a Men’s Shed.

“I am a strong supporter of a Men’s Shed in the district but not at this (Black Rocks) location,” she said.

“I am also very aware of how critical the Black Rocks koala population is to the long term survival of Tweed Coast koalas.

“I noted that the speeches to this gathering focussed entirely on the benefits to their community facilities and not on the future viability of this well documented environmentally sensitive site.”

Ms Riordan said she was “shocked” when Mr Ryan, president of the PDMS, described the site as an “awesome asset”.

“He hoped that the Mens Shed can ‘now prove that it’s an important asset to the community (and he) welcomed other organisations to come down and use this fantastic resource,'” she said.

“It must be understood that the Black Rocks sports field has always been deemed a “low impact facility” from its inception due to its location well within an environmental protection zone and koala habitat area.

“Any group – the PDMS or otherwise – who wish to use this site would have to accept responsibility for protection of the integrity of this environment – it would have been a condition of approval.

“Rather than encouraging and inviting other organisations to “use it” as a “fantastic resource” this group should surely be acknowledging and promising to fulfill their role as caretakers of this environmentally important location.”

Rally organiser Penny Hocking previously told The Weekly that there had been too many “false accusations” that the Men’s Shed members don’t care about koalas.

“The false insinuation and accusation has been made that the Pottsville community or Men’s Shed members do not care about their Koalas. This is completely baseless and untrue,” she said.

“The large majority of the community are angry and frustrated at the continual misrepresentation of the facts and the history of the field.

“They are also fed up with not being allowed to utilise their local Sports Field for community activities.

“The Sports Field wasn’t even koala habitat prior to development of the estate as is evident in early aerial photographs.

“Many trees have been planted in the field precinct and the community are supportive of planting more – just not at the expense of their Sports Field and the significant investment by the developer and ratepayers.”

Several residents said they were pro-koala and spoke highly of the work being done by Friends of the Koala.

Cr Byrnes’ motion to grant a temporary licence to the P&DMS at Black Rocks will be put forward at the March 16 council meeting.

The motion is as follows:

1 – Council rescind its motion dated 17 November 2016 deferring the determination of a licence for the Pottsville & District Men’s Shed.

2 – Council immediately grant a temporary licence to the Pottsville & District Men’s Shed at the Black Rocks Sports Field for the period of 5 years; noting:

a) the community support of a Men’s shed at the Black Rocks site.
b) the division and uncertainty this issue has caused in the Pottsville Community over a long period of time.
c) the now evident lack of available or cost-effective alternative sites.

3 – Council ensure that the vital Koala corridor at the Black Rocks site is monitored by Council environment officers to ensure the protection of this endangered species.