The year that was 2017
THERE'S no doubt the record floods brought on by the destructive force of ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie and its aftermath, was the story of the year for the Tweed.
But, several other stories also dominated the headlines of the Tweed Daily News during the year.
1. Tweed Hospital
After several years of campaigning alongside the Tweed Daily News in the Heal our Hospital campaign, medical staff at the Tweed Hospital were in June finally granted the news they'd been waiting for, with the announcement of a new $534 million hospital to be built on a greenfield site in the shire. The new hospital - the location of which is expected to be announced in early January - will be more than double the size of the current site and built within the next five years. Tweed MP Geoff Provest announced in November temporary surgery theatres and inpatient modules would be built in the car park of the existing hospital to cope with the burgeoning number of patients in the interim.
2. Same sex marriage
The same sex marriage survey conducted by the Federal Government - and the vocal support of the 'Yes' vote by Tweed Mayor Katie Milne and her supporters in council - generated huge interest in the shire. The voluntary survey, which drew more Letters to the Editor than any other issue this year, was hotly debated, with many readers objecting to council's decision to support the survey, with the flying of the rainbow flag above council offices, saying it was out of their jurisdiction. Despite their objection, Richmond voters delivered resounding support for same sex marriage, with 67.9% of the population voting Yes.
3. Pottsville Shed
The saga over the Pottsville Men's Shed dominated headlines at the start of the year, with conservationists vehemently objecting to the men's organisation building their shed on a site within the sports grounds at Black Rocks estate in Pottsville. Despite this site originally being suggested by Tweed Shire Council, conservationists objected, saying it would put further stress on the nearby endangered koalas and called for alternative Crown Land to be found. The debate was hard fought, with both sides staging protest meetings in Pottsville. Council eventually granted a five-year licence to the Shedders in March, who immediately set about building their new home.
4. Property boom
Property prices in the Tweed boomed during the year, with anecdotal evidence showing residential property selling with days. This was backed by a report from the Housing Institute Association which showed the Richmond-Tweed area to be the most expensive place to buy land outside of Sydney in the June quarter. At an average of $320,000 per lot, that represents almost $100,000 more than the cost of land on the Gold Coast per lot. "Demand is clearly outstripping supply,” an HIA spokesman said. New developments are popping up in the Tweed, particularly at Seaside and Casuarina as well as at Gales Holdings' site at Cudgen and at Newland's Altitude Aspire estate at Terranora. And just last week, Leda Holdings announced it had been granted approval to develop 464 new lots at Cobaki - in addition to the 500 lots already approved there.
The flip-side of the high property prices is rising home prices, rising rent and rising numbers of residents unable to afford accommodation. Council's crackdown on homeless people setting up camp along the Tweed Coast also impacted, while the Tweed's already serious homeless problem deepened significantly after the March floods saw hundreds of people displaced. Community groups and providers staged a protest rally through the streets of Murwillumbah in May, calling for more funding for affordable housing. While the NSW Government did commit some $10 million in additional funds, much more is needed. The Family Centre also called for more beds to help young homeless in the Tweed, claiming the shire has the worst youth homeless problem in NSW. World boxing champion Jeff Horn even popped down to the Tweed to become the face of the new Sleep Safe Sleep Sweet foundation to help local homeless people.
6. State of Origin
The news wasn't all bad though, with footy fans well rewarded when the NSW Blues team set up training camp at Kingscliff in July ahead of their State of Origin clash in Brisbane. Young fans queued up for hours to meet the stars and get their signatures. Even older stars came out to visit, with surfing world champion Mick Fanning paying a surprise visit to his beloved Blues during training at Cudgen, much to the delight of fans. The footy stars also did their bit in the post-flood period, paying a visit to Murwillumbah to help lift spirits. Unfortunately, their high spirits did not carry onto the field with the Blues going down 2:1 against Queensland in the series.
A big rise in international and domestic visitors to the Tweed had tourism operators jumping for joy at the end of the year. The latest figures from Destination Tweed show the number of international visitors for the year to June jumped 50 per cent on the previous 12 months. Domestically, 663,000 visitors stayed at least one night, up nearly 15 per cent on 2015-16. The 1.3 million day-trippers represented a 12 per cent increase on the previous year.
8. Water mining
Several development applications to extract water for large-scale bottling purposes had residents up in arms for much of the year. Residents at Dulguigan and Uki are objecting to new water extraction licences being granted, voicing concerns for their impact on the water table and surrounding farms and on local roads, where the impact of big water tankers is not welcome. Tweed Shire Council has agreed to send a letter to the State Government seeking permission to amend its Local Environment Plan to place a halt on any new water mining concerns. Any existing businesses would be exempt from the plan.