Closure to hit campers and businesses
TWEED Shire councillors have backed plans to close Burringbar's Masterson Park to all campers due to the anti-social behaviour of squatters.
They have also supported a move by council officers to investigate creating a new site in the area specifically for short stay RV campers.
While no formal decisions were made at Thursday night's council meeting, the councillors were briefed about the problems in the park and were supportive of council officers' actions this week, Planning and Regulation director Vince Connell said.
The park is popular with "free-camping" pensioners, grey nomads and backpackers, who were told this week by council compliance officer Nick Tzannes that they had until yesterday to move on, after which the park would be closed.
Such visitors are welcome in the town, where they boost the bottom line of many local businesses.
However, the goodwill has been damaged by an upsurge in the number of "undesirables", who residents say stay for weeks, drinking, lighting fires and dumping rubbish.
Some of them have been seen urinating and defecating in bushes near residential homes. Logs with plaques attached placed in the park by schoolchildren to honour their grandparents have been dug up and used as firewood.
One parent, Kirsty Porter, said children could no longer use the park to play in or to walk through because of the health and safety issues - including one incident when a child was bitten by a dog.
One corner of the park was a "no-go zone", one resident said - but the council says it cannot move people on because the park is sited on State Rail land.
Some free campers, such as Ian and Lyn Derrick, who often stay in the park as a holiday break from their home in Cabarita, are dismayed by the "out-of-the-blue" closure.
"We've been coming here for many years," Ms Derrick said.
"This is what Freedom Camping is all about. Most of us pensioners can't afford the $25 or more that most other camps charge.
"But like other campers we regularly spend our money in the local shops and sports club, where we feed the pokies and buy raffle tickets."
Chinderah-based Ross and Lyndell Winn stay the odd night here on their way to join the Caravan Club in Mullumbimby and Marie Bradbury was using it until her new rental home became available.
Dutch travellers Erik and Lies Noorlandt said the park was a "perfect spot" for a couple of nights as they tour the east coast, with every facility they could wish for, including hot meat pies.
The man who makes them, butcher Brett O'Keefe, said the park was "great for business", a sentiment echoed by the general store's Kate Coronel and pharmacist Trong Tran.
"It's just a couple of idiots who are ruining it for everybody," Mr Tran said.
Ms Coronel said it would be "a great shame" if the park was closed. "We all do good out of it," she said.
The laundromat, mechanic, hairdresser and even remedial masseur were better off as a result of having the park open to campers, said the unofficial mayor of Burringbar, real estate agent Stuart Cahill.
He, like the other residents and business owners, would like to see the park stay open - but only if it is policed.
"Land beside the railway station has been a camping ground for 125 years and it's being swept away by the stroke of a pen in less than a week," Mr Cahill said