COMMUNITY PLAN: The old Byron Bay hospital site may stay in community hands.
COMMUNITY PLAN: The old Byron Bay hospital site may stay in community hands. Christian Morrow

Minister meets on hospital plan

IDEAS, innovation and commitment are what is needed to keep the old Byron Bay hospital site in community hands.

That was the message delivered loud and clear to a group of community stakeholders who met with New South Wales Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard in the emergency department of the old hospital on Monday.

The group met with the minister to begin the process of thrashing out a submission to be put to the State Government by the end of April that is hoped will get the site re-purposed to serve the community.

The hour-long meeting was convened by local real estate agent Chris Hanley and Parliamentary Secretary for Northern NSW Ben Franklin, who brought Mr Hazzard to Byron Bay to see the building and hear the community's aspirations for the site.

Apart from Mr Hanley and Mr Franklin, the minister heard from Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson, president of the Suffolk Park Progress Association Donald Maughan, emergency doctor Blake Eddington, ex-Ballina MP Don Page and architect Harley Graham.

Mr Hazzard was sympathetic to the group's ideas but stressed the site was an extremely valuable asset, with some estimates putting the price tag at $10million.

He said any community plan would need to make sense financially and any management plan would need to be rigorous.

"In formulating this submission, I encourage this working group to be as innovative and as inventive as you can because this is definitely not a 'lay down misere'," Mr Hazzard said.

A range of ideas were put on the table by Mr Hanley, who together with MrFranklin had already set up and conducted a series of public meetings looking for ideas.

"What has emerged from previous meetings so far is the need for crisis accommodation, affordable accommodation on limited tenure and a facility that could deliver services similar to the now defunct Fletcher Street Cottage," MrHanley said.

"We believe that with the people in the room here we could run this at no cost to the government in what I would call a commercial community partnership, so that there would be enough of a return to keep the building in good order and maintain services here to help the general community."

Mr Hanley said the plan could come together several ways.

"The community could have some form of long lease or we could get together a philanthropic bid to buy the site from the government, or we can explore having a joint development proposal with the income from the commercial enterprise funding the community component of the endeavour," he said.

Mayor Simon Richardson said the council was willing to play its part in the process and was not averse to looking at private-public partnerships.

"Some may be surprised to hear council has developed a public-private partnership policy," CrRichardson said.

"With the opportunities coming our way on many issues, like this one and renewable energy, we are increasingly finding it's often private citizens and capital who want to work with the community and we now have a policy to be able to work with them.

"The time for action is here and it was encouraging to hear the minister's parting words, which were try to create magic but be aware of the constraints on government."

Mr Hanley said the working group wanted to hear ideas from the community regarding further innovative uses for the site, ways of financing the project and what skills people may be able to contribute to the submission ahead of a further meeting of the group.

Ideas can be forwarded until March 14 to: chrishanley@byronbayfn.com