Six key priorities we should fast track in 2021
BY any stretch of the imagination 2020 was, to borrow a phrase from the Queen, an "annus horribilis".
There's no other way to describe it.
At the beginning of 2021, like the start of any new year, there's a glimmer of hope and the promise of better times ahead.
How will the Northern Rivers emerge from COVID-19?
Will the strong-willed population of our region even take the vaccine against the coronavirus when it becomes available this year?
What impact will the government's rollback of JobSeeker and JobKeeper have on this region's fragile economy?
Here's six things we would like to see happen as a matter of priority on the Northern Rivers this year:
1: A dam or some other damn thing to improve our long-term water supply:
When it rains in this region we always forget how dry it can be during drought and how the demand for water for our growing population is soon going to outstrip supply. At Rous County Council's meeting on December 16, councillors resolved not to continue with the proposed Dunoon Dam and instead focus on a combination of groundwater and recycled water for the region's long term water security. This should secure the region's water supply for approximately 10 years while the council continues to investigate other viable solutions. But pro-dam councillors are not giving up that easily and it could be back on the agenda as early as February. I think the community would like to some clarity on this issue sooner rather than later and a concrete plan going forward. The time for talk and more reports is over.
2: If we can have crowds at cricket and the footy, why not festivals?
The arts, music and entertainment business is a huge part of our region and we need some of our biggers festivals to make a comeback in 2021. If we can make exemptions and rules around crowds watching State of Origin or Test match cricket, surely we can pack a socially distanced crowd into tents at Bluesfest, Splendour, Falls and the Byron Writer's Festival? These festivals pour in massive amounts of money into the local economy, they employ a lot of people and the flow on effect in the region is simply too important for these festivals to be sidelined again this year. Let the music play, I say.
3: Let's ignore the conspiracy theorists and roll out 5G:
If the Year of Living Contagiously has taught us anything, it's that digital communication has become more important than anything. Trust in our scientists and science itself has also soared during COVID. The Chief Medical Officer of Australia made a statement in May of last year which said: "There is no link between 5G and COVID-19. 5G does not cause COVID-19. It does not spread COVID-19. Nor does it increase the severity of COVID-19 or make people more susceptible to COVID-19." In Mullumbimby and other parts of our region a small group of protesters has held up the upgrade of infrastructure to enhance 5G coverage. If we trust in our medical authorities and the way they have handled the pandemic in Australia, surely it is time to listen to them on 5G.
4: Post Pacific Highway bypass is it boom or bust?
The completion of the project duplicating the Pacific Highway north of Newcaslte got swept under the carpet a little late last year due to COVID-19 and a major weather event which hit our region just as our Prime Minister and Premier flew north to cut the ribbon. But it's a great bit of kit and means towns like Woodburn, Broadwater and Wardell have an opportunity to reinvent themselves now that cars no longer snake their way through their main street on an almost continuous basis. It's going to be great for property prices in the area and makes these towns move liveable and visitor friendly in a way. These towns could take a leaf out of Ballina's notebook. The seaside township appears to have the settings right and thriving with its busy airport and booming housing market.
5: We may need a bigger flood pump.
The Northern Rivers had another huge weather event last month which again saw parts of Lismore flooding. Instead of water from rivers spilling over the flood levee, enough water fell in the CBD basin to almost flood from the inside out. At one point the Browns Creek pumps were completely overwhelmed by the deluge. Three years after the major flood of Lismore, we still seem to have a few weak spots in our flood management. Do we need a bigger pump, better drainage in the CBD, jack the houses up a little more, temporary booms, further fast tracking of flood mitigation works?
6: The Year of the Rail Trail:
We've talked about it for years, but 2021 could see real progress towards the creation of a rail trail on the disused Casino to Murwillumbah rail line. It's a race between Tweed and Richmond Valley Councils to see which end of the trail starts first. This is an example of a 'shovel ready' project we could put in play as we come out of COVID-19. Not hard to socially distance on a bike either.