By LEE McDOUGALL
ALEX Townsend has a simple question she wants asked of the owners of the Arrawarra Beach Caravan Park.
The Arrawarra Beach resident was among the 36 residents of the small village who met yesterday to discuss the decision made nine months ago by the park's new owners ? Astoria Group ? to prohibit public access through the park to the beach.
"What did we actually do to Astoria to make them lock us out of the beach?" Ms Townsend asked. "The community has in no way provoked this action from Astoria."
Public access through the caravan park to Arrawarra Beach has been provided for some 80 years, with residents now angry over the move by the new park owners to lock them out.
"Before we bought our property 18 months ago, I rang the (Coffs Harbour City) council and asked them about the beach access through the park," resident Jim Smith said.
"I was assured by the staff that access through the park was guaranteed."
The issue of public access through the caravan park is a complicated one. While it can be argued that as private property, the owners are entitled to do as they please, the residents believe that the existing 80-year precedent needs to be taken in to account.
As the issue of public liability has been addressed by the council, who has offered to cover the cost of public liability for public access, residents are perplexed as to why they have been locked out.
One possible explanation explored at yesterday's meeting was the issue of the caravan park owners wanting to remove trees on the property.
Last year the park owners removed 13 trees on the property, with the council issuing the park with a remediation order that required that each removed tree be replaced with five new trees.
While the park owners were required by the council to complete this task by January this year, to date the trees have not been replaced. Second to this was an application by the park owners to remove an additional 45 trees on site, labelled as 'dangerous'.
Residents now believe they have been locked out of the park so that the park owners have leverage over the council in relation to the issue of removing the 45 trees.
"We have been told that the councillors are not aware of this issue and the question needs to be asked: Why aren't the councillors aware of what is going on up here?" resident Pat Johnson said.
"The community has come together on this issue. "We have been told that the council is negotiating with Crown Lands, the Marine Park Authority, Department of Land and Water Conservation, Fisheries and National Parks and Wildlife Service to construct a new access and bridge, but we have also been told that it could be two to three years before a new access is completed.
"Yes, there is alternate access, but it is not suitable for the elderly, wheelchairs or prams. What do these people do in the meantime?"
An independent consultant's report on the issue is reportedly due to go before the council in the next two weeks.