As buybacks remove houses, the town shrinks and there’s nowhere else to go

Woodburn’s businesses went underwater during the 2022 floods. Photo: Contributed

Susanna Freymark

Woodburn needs better solutions for its flood recovery, councillor Robert Hayes said.

At Richmond Valley Council’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, October 17, Mr Hayes asked the council to write to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces and the NSW Reconstruction Authority to express concern about the potential impacts of large-scale housing buybacks on the future of Woodburn.

“Woodburn prior to the flood was just beginning to recover from the Pacific Highway bypass,” Mr Hayes said.

“It was a town sought after by young families.”

The approach to Woodburn’s flood recovery needs to be as unique as the riverside village itself, he said.

The problem with the buybacks is that the property becomes extinct, resulting in a stagnant family population.

The NSW Reconstruction Authority is only offering buybacks and with no available flood-free land in Woodburn this is a problem.

It is 18 months since the flood disaster.

“Since then, we have been waiting for clear leadership from the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation to provide a long-term solution for flood-affected families in this community.

“The NRRC has now transitioned to the NSW Reconstruction Authority and still there are no answers for local residents except to offer wholesale housing buybacks that will decimate this community.

“The people of Woodburn are tired of asking for help and not being heard. They want the government to understand that their community is not just made of bricks and mortar that can be knocked down and moved away, it is made of generations of family connections to the village and its people.”

IndyNR.com asked the NSW Reconstruction Authority about the situation at Woodburn. Our questions were :

If someone is offered a buyback but wants to stay in Woodburn can they get a house raise instead or do they have to reapply?

As there is no available flood-free land in Woodburn, can there be grants for flood proofing houses rather than buybacks for those that want to stay. Apparently this was done in Brisbane – the rules were changed.

Unfortunately, our questions were not answered and a general, insignificant reply was sent from a Reconstruction Authority spokesperson: “The NSW Reconstruction Authority is working closely with community leaders, councils and communities about the application of the Resilient Homes Program and as part of adaptation planning to prepare for future natural disasters in the region.

“Homes are prioritised for buybacks in areas where there is the highest risk of severe future flooding and where there is the highest risk to life for homeowners, tenants and the people who rescue them in the event of a flood.

“We are currently undertaking outreach with homeowners in these highest-risk areas.”

The questions about transferring buybacks to house raising or to flood-proofing of homes in Woodburn was not answered.

IndyNR.com has had two years of insignificant answers, firstly with the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation. When the NSW Reconstruction Authority was created, we were promised communication would be better.

This answer is disappointing for readers as it does not address the questions Woodburn would like answers to.

Mr Hayes said in his council meeting note that “we all understand that there are challenges with a lack of flood-free residential land in Woodburn – and increasing planning restrictions on further rezoning of lands that may be flood affected”.

“The government needs to start focussing on what can be done to support this community, to help it to stay connected. Some families in Woodburn have been able to find opportunities to raise their homes and restart their lives, but not everyone has been that fortunate.

“For many, the only option available is to take a buyback and move away, while those who are left watch their community slowly decline.

“Woodburn has already lost one school and the supermarket and service station remain unopened.”

The full notes from council on this can be read here.

Woodburn needs its flood recovery to fit its needs. Photo: Paul Stanley-Jones

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