At least 60 flood victims in temporary housing in the New South Wales northern rivers will be relocated across the border to make way for tourists travelling to Byron Bay for the Easter holidays.
Widespread flooding in the northern rivers region has resulted in 28,000 people being relocated across the region.
In a statement, the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, which is currently housing 1,500 people in the region, confirmed the relocations were due to advanced bookings by tourists.
“Regrettably some of these accommodation options are not available during the Easter and school holiday period due to other bookings made well before the devastating floods.
“Hotels and other accommodation in Northern NSW have had advanced bookings for many months, and in some cases for two years, for this period.”
The department’s deputy secretary, Paul Vevers, acknowledged the difficulty faced by locals.
“We do not want to leave people without accommodation and our focus will always be on trying to accommodate people as close to their communities as possible,” Vevers said.
“However, because of the shortage of available rooms at this time, we are having to relocate some people to alternative accommodation in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.”
Tony Davies, chief executive of Social Futures, an organisation that works with people experiencing homelessness and unstable housing in the northern rivers region, has seen the scale of the flood-induced housing crisis.
“Obviously, the government is doing everything it can to maintain people in accommodation and that’s great,” he said.
“But this does highlight the incredible vulnerability in the housing and homelessness space in this region, that was here before the flood crisis. And also the lack of pre-planning for what are now increasingly frequent and probable natural disasters across the eastern seaboard.”
Davies said prior to the flood, the housing and homelessness situation in the northern rivers was at “crisis point, with an extremely low rate of vacancies below 1%”.
“In the rental market, there has been escalating rentals for services like ours who specialise in homelessness services, very little transitional accommodation, and no crisis accommodation,” he said.
“So really, when you get any pressure on the system, whether it’s the fires we had two years ago, or floods two years before that, or the current crisis, then there’s nowhere to go.”
Despite this, Byron Shire mayor, Michael Lyon, said the town was ready to welcome back tourists.
“I’m confident that the businesses affected [by the floods] will be able to clean up relatively quickly and open for business.”
Paul Schultz, who manages the Bayview Beachfront Apartments in Bryon Bay, said the Easter period was vital for businesses.
“I think that the businesses in town are looking forward to welcoming people here,” he said.
“You know, a lot of employees need to work and business owners need that business.
“We’ve been booked out for Easter and haven’t had any cancellations as yet.”
Schultz was concerned images broadcast around the country in the last week had unnecessarily scared holidaymakers.
“They’re trying to make out that we’ve been wiped out and that is far from the case. Byron is more or less back to normal.
“I’ve been around town this morning and I think just about all the restaurants are operating as normal.
“The banks got flooded and a couple of chemists got water in their shops along with a couple of cafe’s and the bakery but all the pubs are operating again.
“Even The Great Northern, which was is in the middle of Johnson street where a lot of water was, is opening up.”
Mike McIntyre, who manages the Byron Bay Beachfront Apartments, shared a similar view.
“I mean, we haven’t changed anything. Byron had some water in low lying areas for one day. And that was it.” He said.
“There’s no real issue, we haven’t done anything different, it’s just business as usual.
Bluesfest, which is held annually over the Easter long weekend, is also set to go ahead.
Lyon said the damage to infrastructure would cost up to $100m.
“Our priority right now is to restore access to assist with cleanup and removal of rubbish.” the mayor said.
“There is still a need for emergency accommodation and we are working through that so that by Easter, we do have the provision of emergency accommodation organised for all those people that need it.”