Old Mullumbimby Hospital site which is not being used at present.
Old Mullumbimby Hospital site which is not being used at present. Marc Stapelberg

Mayor won't rule out selling hospital to developers

BYRON Shire Council won't rule out selling off the Mullumbimby Hospital site entirely to private developers, but that would be a "worse case” scenario, according to mayor Simon Richardson.

A report tabled at the council's Tuesday meeting revealed the asbestos riddled building posed a "very high” risk to surrounding residents if left in its current state and must be demolished as soon as possible.

The demolition bill, originally loosely estimated at $1.8 million, is now expected to cost significantly more.

Healthy Buildings International (HBI), who were engaged to conduct the independent review of the building, described the presence of unstable, degraded, and friable asbestos containing materials in the ceiling of the building which present "a very high risk to users and occupiers of the facility as well as the surrounding community”.

BUYER'S REGRET? Mullumbimby residents and Greens members celebrating in May when it was agreed that Byron Shire Council could purchase the hospital for $1.
VICTORY: Mullumbimby residents and Greens members celebrating in May when it was agreed that Byron Shire Council could purchase the hospital for $1. Facebook

But Cr Richardson said the findings were not unexpected.

He said the council was always expecting the asbestos removal - a difficult, high risk job - would cost millions.

He said the council never wanted to profit from the purchase, but "we at least want to have a break even (financial) result”.

"That's just going to have to be factored in.”

He said in the "absolute worst case” of turning the substantial land into a residential subdivision "we'd more than make our money back”.

"It's pretty prime real estate with a lot of elevation.

"Don't forget the (Ocean Shores) roundhouse site, we made about $3 million on that. This is so much more valuable.”

The mayor speculated that the most likely result was a mix of development on the land which would include both community and private use, which he likened to a "fruit salad”.

The HBI report also found that every month the council delays demolition after it takes ownership of the site it will also incur significant holding costs, which "have been very high” for NSW Health.

The level of degradation of the friable asbestos materials on the roof and in roof spaces is "extremely advanced and any failure of the enclosure system could result in wide spread contamination for the facility and the surrounding areas”.

An asbestos control strategy could "not be feasibly instigated and maintained to permit future use of the facility, with associated risk acceptable to all stakeholders”.

The holding costs which must be borne by the council until it organises the demolition include providing security fencing, security guards building integrity inspections, air quality monitoring, rectification of any security breaches, ground maintenance and professional services for asbestos management and incident management.

"Purchase of the Mullumbimby Hospital site will result in significant operational costs that are unlikely to be offset by income for an as yet unknown period of time,” the staff report concluded.

A follow up report is expected in February, after which the council will start canvassing ideas for the site.