NIMBY. For those unfamiliar with this acronym it stands for Not In My Back Yard. It is a condition to arise when the community realises some outcome is close to becoming a reality but then they find it has some adverse impact on them. They will support the idea of say huge electricity towers provided they do not put them close by. This is what is happening in Coffs Harbour.
On Thursday 11 October a meeting at the PCYC saw 382 people come together to discuss the developments for the so called bypass. A project first mooted before the turn of the century. It did not get off the ground until 2004 when options to improve the way north were put up. There was nothing wrong with that and most people agreed it was important to examine the position. The existing highway was under siege at the holiday periods with long delays to pass through certain places. Such delays were bottlenecks; it frustrated the travellers as well as the local residents.
In short, the proposal was to make the road dual carriage way up to the border. But now the facts emerge. One of the worst bottlenecks was in the small community of Coffs Harbour where the highway ran straight through the middle of town. This was the only way to go within reason but it was to meet with opposition. The inland route (New England Highway) was far to the west but it was beginning to suffer from holiday traffic. One option was to have a second northern road and this would be the western option. In short it was to deviate from the old route somewhere near Macksville and head towards Grafton. In other words it was to bypass Coffs Harbour.
So the worse bottleneck is now going to become one of the last to be fixed. Make no mistake there were some with vested interests and they relied on passing traffic. The far western option was dropped in favour of two options closer to the town centre. A bypass would not be a bypass but a ring road with problems to solve.
In short circumstances are building so that although they will solve a problem in the short term they will, in turn, have long term consequences.
The first is what can be called the myopic vision of the community leaders. In the minds of these people the centre of the universe was a three block stretch along the highway known as the central business area (CBD). It still exists today. The fear of losing business drove the decision making process. Yet in other places such as Goulburn or Taree the CBD vision was adjusted to suit the conditions. Now both have bypasses and their CBD’s thrive with new business opportunities arising along the bypasses.
The second underlying factor was the lack of long term planning. While some were active to promote the western route many choose to ignore what was happening about them. There were a few banana plantations where the proposed bypass would go. Yet, as was to happen in many other places, the character of this coastal strip was to undergo a significant change. It was 60 years on from the end of the Second World War and soon the generation of baby boomers would arrive. This means they were make ready to retire and the appeal of a quiet coastal town, and this not confined to Coffs Harbour, loomed large in their plans.
Coffs Harbour was an ideal retirement destination but a closer examination of the local history will reveal two important facts.
The first comes from the history of the Banana Coast Union. The seaside port was not considered to be the main centre for business – it was to be Coramba. And the second goes back to the days of Federation. The area now called Coffs Harbour was in fact the village of Brelsford; one of the options under consideration to be the nation’s capital. Even back then the “government” saw problems and Coffs Harbour was to fail as an option. There were problems with transport among other things.
Sad but true 100 years before the difficulty of access to area was identified. Then in 2004 people ignored this. The far western option went by the board.
Then at the meeting called to discuss tunnels and not cuttings last night at the PCYC Centre in Bray Street (pictured) the matter was raised again. It is NIMBY and now the realisation the ring road is close to being a reality has kicked in. The selected option is viewed as a disaster and many want to reconsider the options. NIMBY demands people shake off the apathy of the past. But in many cases those to feel the sudden need for action are overtaken by what has gone before. It may well be the case with the proposed ring road. It is hard to imagine with only the last stretch of highway to be done, 14 kilometres around Coffs Harbour, anyone would stop work and start again from scratch. For a start think of the enormous costs involved.
Yes a proper bypass of the whole coastal strip needs to be reconsidered. But to do so will cause chaos if it means work has to stop on the current proposal. There will be grid lock for at least another twenty years.
The two issues have to be dealt with as separate items. The community need to make the best out of a bad situation and they need to shake off the apathy to plan for a better solution in the future. It is interesting but the vision for the future of this area set by our Council does not even acknowledge a need for a better solution. The strategic plan is once more cast with myopic vision.
Yes the people of Coffs Harbour have a right to feel cheated by recent actions but this was never going to be a bypass in the true sense of the word. It was never going to be like every other town from Albury to Tweed Heads. In every other case the new roads shirts the town or city and in every case the town or city has prospered. But it was not so in Coffs Harbour; the time for action was back in 2004. Sure some were vocal in their opposition but the community to a large extent were apathetic. And successive governments were not going to make waves; they gave the community what it wanted – a ring road.
Plan for the future that is the lesson we need to learn. In hindsight it is easy to see the inner city option was never going to work. The same mistakes must not be made in the future. The future is not three blocks along an existing highway. Over 98% of the residents live elsewhere and they deserve to be heard.
Cob moved to Coffs Harbour to retire some time ago after working as an auditor for Federal and State Governments. He is a frequent contributor to Outlook and attended the meeting.