Victory! Boggabri resident wins 9 year battle for repairs
Boggabri Caravan Park is a residential land lease community consisting of 15 sites and some powered camping sites, located on Laidlaw Street in Boggabri. Boggabri is a small town in the Narrabri Shire, about 40km north of Gunnedah and 450km northwest of Sydney. The community is nestled in a quiet location away from the B51 main road, known as the Kamilaroi Highway.
The local council, the Narrabri Shire Council, are the Crown Land managers of the community, which has just two elderly permanent home owners living there: Jeff Clark and Brian Fuller. Jeff lives in his home on site 12 and Brian lives in his home on site 10. Boggabri Caravan Park is a mixed-use community with cabins, en suites, powered sites and communal laundry facilities, but not much else! However the local swimming pool is close by, and the shopping centre is within walking distance.
Brian is 71 years of age. He has lived in his home at Boggabri since 2005. Brian says: “I first moved into Boggabri before my marriage ended in 2005. I had cancer operations later on and after rehab I moved back – before 2007.” Brain was happy to move into the Boggabri Caravan Park because he says “I had a lot of friends there and a lot of support in the park. I like the location and it’s just about a block away from the main street. However, with uneven ground and pathways in poor condition it has its difficulties. Since I’m very community spirited, being so close to the centre of town is great for me for access to town meetings, fundraisers and other functions.”
Brian does not have a written site agreement and neither does Jeff, the oldest resident at Boggabri at over 90 years of age. Jeff has lived at Boggabri Caravan Park since the early 1990s. They pay site fees on a weekly basis to the Narrabri Shire Council who manage the community. However, as we shall see the Council does not manage it very well.
During much of the mining boom in this area of NSW in the last decade (the Pilliga, Maules Creek) rental or short stay properties have been in high demand and the park managers permitted mine workers to stay in the Boggabri Caravan Park. The community was neglected, repairs and maintenance were not carried out. During this time a donation of $1.6 million was given to Council by some mining companies towards the cost of repairs and upgrades to the Boggabri Caravan Park.
Jeff and Brian first contacted their local Tenants Advice & Advocacy Service, the New England & Western Tenants Advice & Advocacy Service (NEWTAAS), for advice in 2014 particularly about the water drainage and sewerage problems in their community and the need for urgent repairs to be carried out.
There were many neglected aspects of the community but the most significant and immediate problems were the broken sewer pipes that resulted in raw sewerage leaking into areas of the community ensuites and onto the shower floors on an ongoing basis. This even occurred whilst residents were showering! There were asbestos contamination issues too, asbestos was found in the old wash house. There was no recycling service and though there were 15 sites, there were only 5 rubbish bins provided for use at Boggabri Caravan Park.
Brian says: “We were having trouble with the sewerage coming up into the showers and this was reported to the Council but they just put things off saying it was not a problem. It took a number of years for something to be done but things started to happen when we contacted NEWTAAS.”
Pictured: Extract from correspondence from Narrabri Shire Council (NSC) from December 2014 to NEWTAAS, replying to concerns raised on behalf of residents, highlighting some of the issues.
In addition to the checklist reproduced above, the Narrabri Shire Council as Crown Land Managers indicated that the communal building would also be assessed as part of the redevelopment of the park. There were detailed Council minutes 604/2014 taken about the redevelopment. Significant expenditure was made on consultancy fees. Meetings were held with the Progress Association and some state and federal politicians attended the meetings.
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Finally there was a development application lodged in 2016. However, Paul Wearne, Director of Corporate Affairs at Narrabri Council in correspondence said “the upgrade is supposed to be happening but not moving forward. There are dramas with the upgrade.”
Frustrated by ongoing delay and seeming inaction at Narrabri Council, Brian Fuller again sought advice and assistance from NEWTAAS who contacted the Tenants’ Union land lease communities legal team for advice. Brian was assisted by NEWTAAS when he applied to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) in 2015 and following some good advocacy work by February 2016 orders were made by the Tribunal for Narrabri Council to carry out works. It still took many months for the urgent repairs to the sewer pipe system to be carried out.
What happened next?
It took a very, very long time for all the upgrade works to be completed. There were many plans submitted. The upgrade was completed but not quite to the plan specifications that were on display for the community to view. Boggabri Caravan Park upgrade did not end up looking quite like the plans envisaged.
However, the infrastructure upgrades to the sewerage system were completed which was a huge win for the residents. As part of the program of works road repairs were also carried out.
Temporary relocation of residents took place within the Boggabri Caravan Park: Jeff Clark and Brian Fuller were both relocated to cabins within the park whilst the road resurfacing took place.
A new concrete slab was poured on site 12 for Jeff and he returned to his residence where he is now happily residing. However Brian, who also returned to his van after the resurfacing took place, was not offered a new concrete slab, leaving his site situated much lower than the newly resurfaced internal roads.
Linda Grady says this was “a disaster waiting to happen.”
During heavy rain and flood events that were to follow, Brian’s home was impacted with flood water ingress damaging his timber flooring and the walls of his annexe, and ruining the carpets. Personal possessions in his home were also ruined.
NEWTAAS sent photos to Narrabri Shire Council highlighting the issue, showing the park with all the water pooling. Brian’s site was flooded in 2020 – the ten year drought had broken and the heavy rainfall resulted in Boggabri Caravan Park being flooded.
Brian says: “They left me without a cement slab under my home which allowed water to pool under the van and annexe. I got sick and I spent two weeks in hospital in the intensive care unit with terrible breathing problems. When I was discharged I then spent a further three months in Tamworth hospital recovering.”
NEWTAAS continued to advocate for Brian and requested Narrabri Shire Council pour a concrete slab on Brian’s residential site as soon as possible. The Council reluctantly admitted that Brian “was not offered a new concrete slab to be laid on his site” to address flooding and water inundation. Council later reversed this statement by saying Brian “was offered a new concrete slab, but he declined the slab.”
When Brian was released from hospital he contacted NEWTAAS again and their advocacy regarding the cement slab resumed. However Narrabri Shire Council did not waiver from their former stance. They still refused to do any form work or pour a concrete slab for Brian. Some Council staff even asserted incorrectly that under the provisions of the Crown Land Management Act 2016 (NSW) the home owners could not lawfully be living there at Boggabri.
Back to the Tribunal
By March 2023 Brian applied to the Tribunal seeking orders for compensation to temporarily move his van and annexe and for Narrabri Council to arrange to lay a cement slab on his site 10. The Tenants’ Union assisted with drafting of the Tribunal Residential Communities application for orders and the reasons for seeking those orders. Narrabri Shire Council did not try to resolve the matter once Tribunal proceedings had been initiated. Instead Council engaged the services of a Local Government solicitor, who sought and was granted leave to legally represent. Evidence and written submissions were filed with the Tribunal. At the final hearing an agreement was reached between the parties. At the Tribunal there were no jurisdictional questions raised by Council or their lawyer to challenge coverage under Residential Land Lease Communities Act. Linda had negotiated well and the evidence and written submissions were strongly against Council.
Brian finally had some success in his case in the Tribunal. The Council agreed to construct a concrete slab on Brian’s site and cover his relocation costs up to the sum of $7,000. The Council agreed to provide him with an alternative site in the community while the works were completed and to waive any site fees that would accrue during that time. These orders were made by consent in April 2023.
Brian had his caravan and rigid annexe moved onto a temporary site in Boggabri over the long weekend in June 2023. Brian arranged that relocation himself, not Council. Work finally commenced on Brian’s permanent site 10 to lay the concrete slab on 20 September 2023. The Tribunal Notice of Order provides that the work be done by 30 September 2023. Better late than never!
At this time, Brian is yet to return to site 10, as he awaits for the slab to cure and arrangements to be made for him to relocate back to his original site.
Brian says, “I had NEWTAAS dealing with the Narrabri Shire Council for a number of years and they have been unrelenting in my case, in particular Linda Grady and staff. They have been dealing with a Council that has little respect for the elderly and someone like me with a disability. I wish to thank all who assisted me for a great outcome”
Brian thanks Linda Grady, tenant advocate, very much for all of the support and work she has done for him and in fact all of NEWTAAS staff who helped out even just by talking with him and taking his messages. He says, “I felt very supported throughout the whole process and NEWTAAS showed that they care and that I mattered. It has been a real pleasure to have had the support, assistance and reassurance from Linda Grady with back up from the Tenants’ Union of NSW”.
Finally, advocate Linda Grady says “Something that should be noted is that since 2014 when Brian first contacted
NEWTAAS, there has been significant staff turnover at the Narrabri Shire Council and we have had to deal with 9 or 10 different employees there who have managed the park over this time. This has caused confusion and delay in addressing matters which in turn has had a significant impact on the health and well-being of Brian and Jeff, two of our elderly and most vulnerable senior citizens. This really should not be happening in 2023.”