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Flooded caravan park owner facing ruin after resident's death

Samantha Turnbull and Joanne Shoebridge, Tuesday September 26, 2017 - 14:02 EST
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The Greenhills Caravan Park which was damaged by floodwaters in March 2017 will no longer be able to house permanent residents. - ABC

The owner of a caravan park where a man died in floodwaters six months ago says he is facing financial ruin because of a council ruling that he can no longer house permanent residents.

Graeme Bolton, who owns the Greenhills Caravan Park in the northern New South Wales town of Murwillumbah, said the Tweed Shire Council had ordered him to stop allowing permanent residents on-site.

The order followed the death of resident Mark Austen, 45, who was found in his van after it had been swallowed by floodwaters in the early hours of March 31, 2017.

"We still had a year to run on our contract with the council to operate and they told us they would suspend us from operating completely if we didn't agree to become a tourist park and under those guidelines we're not allowed to have any permanents in the park," Mr Bolton said.

"I'm not allowed to own any caravans in my own park. I've had to sell everything I had [to] give them away, virtually.

"They're putting the boot into me. It's too extreme.

"What's the difference if I own a caravan? Every other park in Australia has their own vans and cabins."

Mr Bolton said there were 35 permanent residents living at the park before the flood.

"I've been averaging about six [visitors] a day now, compared to about 50 per day," he said.

"When the school holidays are over I'll probably drop back to two or three a day."

He said the problem was exacerbated by camping being allowed at the local showground where many people had set up semi-permanent camps after losing their homes in the floods.

Tweed Shire Council general manager Troy Green said the park's operating conditions had to be reviewed after the death of Mr Austen.

"Given the significance of that flood, and obviously that the evacuation plan didn't work as we would have liked, given that we lost a life, it was imperative for us to review the section 68 approval that they had for permanence," he said.

"Their previous approval was for 19 permanents and around 60 holiday makers.

"Those holiday makers are still able to go there short-term for three months, they can stay up to 180 days. It's just that they can't be permanent."

Debate over road collapse

Mr Bolton, who has owned the caravan park for 10 years, said the site had not flooded in 40 years.

He blamed the collapse of the Tweed Valley Way for unexpectedly diverting flood waters into the park.

At the time, he described a wall of water taking park residents by surprise and resulting in several rescues from rooftops.

"How can we be blamed for a flood when the road washed out and a river came in here?" he said.

"It washed the road out and the whole river came in here, it wasn't a normal flood."

However, Mr Green denied the road collapse caused the flooding.

"There's absolutely no basis to that claim," he said.

"That park is well and truly below the flood level and that park peaked and flooded well before that road had broken."


© ABC 2017

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