Diggers: minister may intervene


THE controversial issue of whether primitive camping should be allowed in Diggers Camp Reserve looks likely to be resolved by State Government intervention.

The Department of Lands has sent a letter to the Clarence Valley Council, strongly suggesting that the decision to ban camping be overturned.

The letter, sent by Manager of Crown Lands on the Far North Coast Karen Hembrow, said some of the complaints by residents against camping may be unfounded.

"This decision disagrees with the adopted plan of management to operate primitive camping at Diggers Camp for the next twelve months," she writes.

"In the circumstances, the decision to stop camping at Diggers Camp should be rescinded or at least postponed until the existing plan of management has been properly reviewed."

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Camping has caused widespread division between long-term campers and some permanent residents and holidaymakers at Diggers Camp, and last month culminated in council voting to ban camping at the site.

Councillor Terry Flanagan, who at last month's council meeting voted for the motion, has submitted a notice of rescission for council to reverse the camping ban.

"I reluctantly supported Doug's (Cr Mackenzie) motion because I felt that the wording of it would provide a temporary cessation of camping and clear the air while we had the plan of management reviewed, but I was wrong," he said.

"Since I've received advice on this it's become obvious to me that the council has made the wrong decision and as a councillor I have to do something about it, so this is what I've done."

The rescission motion, which was also supported by Mayor Ian Tiley and Cr Kerry Lloyd, will be debated at next week's council meeting.

"Look, I can see both sides of the argument ... but I don't think that Cr Mackenzie's motion holds water legally so something had to be done," Cr Flanagan said.

But Cr Mackenzie said last month's motion banning camping was formulated acting on legal advice.

"I feel like I've been hung out to dry a bit on this one. We were just acting on legal advice (that) ... camping there was non-compliant with legal statutes because of the density of camping sites," he said.

Cr Mackenzie, who was elected partly on a platform of protecting residential amenity, said camping at the Diggers Camp reserve was affecting residents and draining resources from other camping reserves in the Valley.

"I think there has been an inordinate amount of money spent on this at the expense of other camping areas like Yamba, Angourie and Iluka. I do understand that the campers want their tradition of camping upheld, but they can move a few hundred metres down the road to Boorkoom to the primitive camping site there (national park) and not worry residents," he said.

"The real question is whether council is going to make these tough decisions for the good of all ratepayers or be swayed by a vocal interest group who have been engaged in an orchestrated campaign. If that's the way we're going to do it then we might as well let the amount of emails decide what goes on in council."

Council general manager Stuart McPherson said he thought the letter from the department could have a bearing on the outcome of next week's debate.

"The Department of Lands have an obligation to have Crown lands available for use by the public ... and are in a strong position in terms of requiring councils to take a particular action (and) councils would be well-advised to follow the department's suggestion. In fact, I'm not sure that they ultimately couldn't say 'you must do it' (re-open camping)," he said.

"But this is a very tight issue and there is a lot of emotion involved."

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