NSW premier makes secret visit to housing pods being built on flooded land

Exclusive: On the day he declared attitudes to development must change, Dominic Perrottet visited flood plain where his government is building

Hours after proclaiming building on New South Wales’ flood plains needed to stop, the premier, Dominic Perrottet, was standing in a construction zone for emergency housing that, just months earlier, lay under water.

The premier’s visit to the Mullumbimby temporary housing site – where construction is being overseen by Resilience NSW – was kept secret from the media and locals.

The Mullumbimy Pod development.
The Mullumbimy Pod development. Photograph: Natalie Grono/The Guardian

It came just days after the agency told residents that “a full flood study is not required for this development and will not be undertaken”.

Works on the vacant crown land in the centre of town – a known flood plain that went under in February – began in July, days after residents were first notified that it had been selected to hold 60 temporary modular homes for flood victims.

The site has since been layered with between 80cm and 1.5 metres of fill, according to the document circulated to residents, who were concerned it would impact water flows for surrounding properties.

For Marlene Crompton, the February flood was the worst she had seen in her 80 years in Mullumbimby. She lives down the road from the site and fears the development would make the next flood worse.

She is part of a group that believes the government needs to “stop it and move that fill out”.

Marlene Crompton in her home in Mullumbimby.
Marlene Crompton in her home in Mullumbimby. Photograph: Natalie Grono/The Guardian

Crompton wants to see other flood victims rehoused but said: “It’s not much point putting 180 people in temporary homes, if you’re going to put 500 of us at risk for the next thing.

“[The government needs to] admit they’ve made a massive error of judgment and get it out,” she said.

“I’m hideously disappointed and shocked.”

Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning

Rosie Bookallil, who lives across the road, said she was astounded by the amount of fill at the site.

“Watching it go up and up and up every day has been really anxiety-producing when we’ve all still got effects from the February flood,” Bookallil said.

What is not in question is the dire need for medium-term housing, with the government estimating 1,064 people in the northern rivers are currently in emergency accommodation.

And while the housing pressures in Mullumbimby might be more exacerbated than in other parts of the state, they do provide a microcosm of the debate that’s sure to ensue when the government seeks to implement its new plan to halt development in high-risk flood areas.

“The first thing is to stop; stop developing in areas that are subject to substantial flooding because then we’re not making any progress at all – we’re going backwards,” Perrottet said in Lismore on Wednesday.

Rosie Bookallil in her home in Mullumbimby.
Rosie Bookallil in her home in Mullumbimby. Photograph: Natalie Grono/The Guardian

The premier’s comments were music to the ears of Byron shire councillor Duncan Dey, a civil engineer specialising in flood analysis before joining local government, who is against the Mullumbimby temporary housing solution.

Dey has cast doubt on a letter sent by Resilience NSW to residents this week with a list of “frequently asked questions”.

The document stated that a “full flood study” would not be done because of the urgency of the project, yet said the “site was reviewed with consideration to flood risk and flood planning”.

It said the homes would be placed on the fill so they were “raised above the 1% flood mark”.

The agency also claimed fill had been “recommended by qualified civil engineers as the most effective site construction technique to minimise flood risk to both residents of the housing site and surrounding properties”.

Email: sign up for our daily morning and afternoon email newsletters

App: download our free app and never miss the biggest stories

Social: follow us on YouTubeTikTokInstagramFacebook or Twitter

Podcast: listen to our daily episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotify or search "Full Story" in your favourite app

“It’s junk. It can’t happen. It’s a hydrologic impossibility,” Dey said.

Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith said she was grateful Perrottet came so she could show him the “madness of putting flood refugees on flood-prone land with several metres of landfill that will mean worse flooding for surrounding neighbours”.

Generic shot of the Mullumbimy Pod site.
The site of temporary accommodation being built for flood victims in Mullumbimby. Photograph: Natalie Grono/The Guardian

“I am so mindful that flood refugees in the Mullumbimby community are just desperate to be placed in suitable temporary accommodation,” she said.

A government spokesperson said the site was chosen “through a comprehensive review of all suitable land in the area”.

“Flood safety for the community and residents is a priority, with detailed design work, including flood mitigation and stormwater management, currently being undertaken to ensure temporary housing units … are installed above flood levels,” the spokesperson said.


Tamsin Rose

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Flood-prone northern NSW homes to be targeted under $800m buyback scheme
About 2,000 homes could be purchased or retrofitted under plan being announced by Anthony Albanese and Dominic Perrottet

Tamsin Rose

27, Oct, 2022 @11:30 AM

Article image
Queensland shrugs off threats from NSW premier to withhold land tax data
Despite Dominic Perrottet’s strong criticism of Queensland’s land tax changes, the state says it has all the information it needs

Ben Smee

26, Sep, 2022 @2:44 AM

Article image
Land for 10,000 northern rivers homes flagged in NSW plan to ease housing crisis
Exclusive: Houses for 7,800 residents in areas worst hit by 2022 floods proposed in near term, with more development later

Tamsin Rose

01, Jun, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
New SES bases to be built in Lismore as part of $133m NSW budget boost
Extra funding comes after state government, SES and Bureau of Meteorology were criticised for response to region’s deadly floods

Tamsin Rose

13, Jun, 2022 @6:16 AM

Article image
NSW flood victims missing out on federal relief because of where they live, premier says
Dominic Perrottet says negotiations with federal counterparts have been ‘frustrating’

Tamsin Rose

06, Apr, 2022 @4:38 AM

Article image
NSW flood inquiry opts not to recommend raising of Warragamba dam wall
Premier says he will push ahead and seek funding to raise wall 14 metres despite concerns for endangered flora and fauna

Peter Hannam

17, Aug, 2022 @6:51 AM

Article image
NSW government to create a new reconstruction authority in response to flood report
New body will lead housing recovery, as recommended in a long-awaited report to be released Wednesday

Tamsin Rose

16, Aug, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
Nowhere to go: NSW caravan park residents in the dark about proposed ban of permanent stays
A call to stop flood-prone parks from allowing long-term rentals will be considered by a new agency

Tamsin Rose

25, Aug, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
NSW stamp duty overhaul ‘vanilla’ but could help first home buyers cut costs
Annual tax could be paid for almost 20 years before it equalled the value of a stamp duty payment in parts of western Sydney, calculator suggests

Michael McGowan

10, Oct, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
NSW state budget 2022: lessons learned from Coalition election losses
Budget addresses issues for women but economic factors will determine whether it can deliver on promises

Peter Hannam and Tamsin Rose

21, Jun, 2022 @2:17 AM