Geoff Helisma |
It was standing-room only in the Maclean council chambers as the crowd anticipated and hoped for their desired decision: no traffic lights at the Yamba Road and Treelands Drive intersection.
Mayor Jim Simmons opened the meeting and observed that it wasn’t the biggest public protest gathering he’d seen in the chamber.
The pressure was on the mayor to reverse his decision from the August 21 council meeting at which he voted for traffic lights.
At the previous week’s committee meeting, Cr Simmons had supported the construction of a single lane concrete pavement roundabout that came with a $3.588million price tag.
The meeting began with Cr Andrew Baker asking: “Is this the motion that has been notified to bring to this meeting?”
Cr Baker called a point of order when the mayor agreed that it had been amended.
The rescission motion had called for the adoption of a mini roundabout, which was one of the options considered at the August 21 council meeting, however, now the motion called for the construction of a non-conforming roundabout.
The mayor disallowed the point of order, ruling that – after taking advice from the general manager – he was “satisfied the intent remains the same”.
Cr Baker then called his “real point of order” and argued technical points, quoting and interpreting the local government act.
He said that the late legal advice provided to councillors “could not be relied upon” because it was “not sufficiently clear or strong enough” and that if the motion proceeded it could be perceived to “compromise” the council’s decision making process and “bring it into disrepute”.
Cr Richie Williamson pointed out that the tabled motion should be broken into two parts: one – to rescind points 2 and 3 of the August 21 meeting; two – then debate the motion for the roundabout.
The motion was subsequently split.
Debate on the rescission motion commenced: Cr Toms said managing traffic at the intersection “deserves to be looked at again” because there was “such high public interest” in the matter.
Cr Baker argued that the mini roundabout had been well and truly discussed and rejected by the Corporate, Governance & Works Committee, of which Cr Toms is a member.
“Any revision now is simply a rescission to have another go – that’s not how council decision making works,” he said.
Cr Peter Ellem said the August 21 decision was “flawed” and “if it stands” it will lead to the “same result” at the Carrs Drive intersection.
He said that the Yamba Chamber of Commerce (representatives were in attendance) was “vehemently against traffic lights”, which drew applause from the public gallery.
The mayor asked the people in the gallery to restrain their behaviour.
He said he had voted for traffic lights previously because there was no suitable “low cost option” and the $3.588million cost of a conforming roundabout.
Cr Greg Clancy said it was a “no-brainer that the people who live in the area need to have a strong say”, which had not occurred because there was no formal public consultation.
Cr Jason Kingsley said it was “not appropriate” to re-explore the issue, which drew groans of disapproval from the gallery.
Again, the mayor called for order, threatening to adjourn the meeting.
The rescission motion was carried 5-4, which was followed by loud applause from the gallery.
Now to the motion proper: questions were asked about how Cr Toms had come up with the estimated $500,000 cost of her proposal.
Director Des Schroder suggested there “might be change” leftover.
Mayor Simmons said it was “an estimate by a councillor, with, perhaps, some guidance from the cost of the $174,000” mini roundabout (option 4).
Cr Baker began asking a question of Cr Toms, quoting her words from a transcript he’d made from the committee meeting.
Cr Ellem said his questioning sounded like “a Perry Mason interrogation”.
The argy bargy continued for several minutes until Cr Toms called a point of order.
The mayor ruled in her favour and said Cr Baker’s argument was “irrelevant”.
Cr Toms argued that traffic lights would cause queues and, as a result, Osprey Drive would become a “rat-run”.
Completing her argument, she said that “speed kills” in accidents at signalised intersections, and noted that “cars slow down for a roundabout”.
Cr Arthur Lysaught, who was against the $3.588million roundabout for fiscal reasons, argued that if traffic lights weren’t installed, then “we should go the whole way” and put in the conforming roundabout.
When apologising that he had to leave early to take his wife to Brisbane to have surgery, he took offence at a comment from the crowd.
“I wouldn’t joke about your family, I don’t expect you to joke about mine,” Cr Lysaught said, visibly upset.
Cr Ellem pointed out that there had not been enough accidents at the intersection to “warrant” state or federal funding.
“People who live in Yamba and traverse these roads [through roundabout intersections] on a regular basis, know that there is a bit of egging up of the safety issues, particularly with pedestrians and cyclists,” he said.
Referring to the non-conforming roundabout proposal, Cr Ellem read from the Options study: “…another possible intersection treatment is a non-conforming roundabout which requires smaller land acquisition than the proposed [$3.588m] roundabout but achieves a higher angle of deflection,” which he said was safer for motorists than the Option 4 mini roundabout.
Cr Baker criticised Cr Ellem’s comment about it being “safer”.
Cr Ellem called a point of order and said he had just added his commentary.
Cr Baker: “What we didn’t hear, it must have been a silent reading from Cr Ellem, council will have to complete a detailed risk…”
Cr Ellem: “Point of order … I actually read that out word for word.” (clapping)
Cr Baker took up where he had left off.
Cr Ellem: “Ah, come on, sort him out,” he said, looking towards the mayor.
Cr Baker: “anyway Mr Mayor, moving on…”
The mayor ruled in Cr Ellem’s favour.
“The decision today is about how to achieve the safest result on this intersection … I’ll be voting on safety aspects,” Cr Baker said.
At this point, the bell rang and Cr Baker’s five minutes was up, however, he continued: “I should get more time; I had to pause to allow Cr Ellem to laugh and tickle himself.”
Cr Greg Clancy pointed out that there was “no great rush to go into traffic lights or a major roundabout… [and] if we have to have that discussion in 15 or 20 year’s time, the non-conforming roundabout is a good compromise”.
He quipped near the end of his argument that he was “happy to hear that Cr Baker is extremely concerned about the safety of the people in this room”.
Cr Baker called a point of order: “it’s not about the safety of everyone this room; it’s about the safety of the road or its users”.
Cr Clancy said: “I trust the residents; I’m sure they wouldn’t support an option that was going to endanger them and their families.”
Mayor Simmons said he had received many emails against traffic lights and “only three in support”.
“I’m satisfied in my mind that Yamba residents want a low cost non-conforming roundabout; I’m comfortable voting that way.” (clapping)
Cr Jason Kingsley argued that the option being considered didn’t measure up on safety grounds.
“In my opinion, one fatality is one too many,” he said.
Cr Debrah Novak read from a prepared speech and compared Yamba traffic counts and population with Byron Bay’s, citing various statistics.
She suggested that construction of pedestrian crossings to replace the current pedestrian refuges could solve some of the safety issues.
She cited Yamba being voted ‘best town in Australia’ by a tourism magazine, which said no traffic lights was one of Yamba’s positive aspects.
“I would hate to see Yamba slip into mediocrity and lose her crown altogether,” she said.
Cr Novak’s speech elicited probably the loudest clapping and cheering of the entire meeting.
Cr Williamson spoke in favour of the resolution, because “it was the only option left”.
He said that the currently under construction TAFE centre in Treelands Drive and other planned work on the adjoining precinct, along with the highway upgrade and an expected rise in tourists means that traffic would increase sooner, rather than later.
“This is not the safest option, but the others are out of reach,” he said.
“This will be a roundabout that will be driven over by semi trailers that use the intersection.”
He said it was time to get started, irrespective of whether or not a service station is constructed on at the intersection.
Cr Toms made her last comment pragmatically, commending councillors Baker and Kingsley (the two councillors who voted against her motion when the vote was taken) and said she was sincere in making the comment.
“We need to look at the whole concept of the intersections [on Yamba Road],”she said, “and, sadly, we haven’t been able to do this, simply because we [councillors] don’t have those traffic studies that we asked for with the Yamba Urban Bypass in a resolution in September 2015.”