Parking meters cause chaos in Byron council chambers

Cr Rose Wanchap during heated debate at last Thursday's  Byron Shire Council meeting. Photo Eve Jeffery

Cr Rose Wanchap. Photo Eve Jeffery

Chris Dobney

Byron Shire councillors spent an hour and a half yesterday demonstrating their (ultimately) violent agreement on the subject of parking meters in the Byron Bay CBD.

The subject of the debate was a seemingly innocuous mayoral minute asking staff to provide further information and options regarding the resident parking coupons that are to be made available when paid parking takes effect in Byron’s CBD later in the year.

There has been widespread resident concern over the four-fold increase in the cost of the coupons (currently $25), even though the new fee equates to $2 per week to avoid using the meters.

The motion was eventually carried unanimously, but that was not the point of the debate, during which the five majority conservative councillors appeared intent on showing minority mayor Simon Richardson that anything he put his name to would not get past them without extensive scrutiny.

Debate was extremely heated, with Greens defector Cr Rose Wanchap repeatedly shouting at Cr Richardson and at one point accusing him of verbally insulting her.

Cr Wanchap wanted the minute to request a review of the parking meter rate which, at $4 an hour, she said was too high, would see a mass exodus of shoppers from the CBD and force shops and small businesses to close en masse.

The mayor repeated several times that councillors had already agreed the $4 rate was the one and only lever the council had to raise revenue from tourists and a keystone in its Fit For the Future strategy (ultimately a test of whether Byron can remain as a standalone council).

He added the entire focus of his minute was on the resident parking coupons.

But that was not sufficient for Cr Wanchap, who continued to press her point, often aggressively, resulting in the mayor suggesting she ‘get off your behind and create your own report’, to which she retorted, ‘so you’re insulting me now!’

Other highlights of the meeting included pro-business Cr Sol Ibrahim describing Byron United chamber of commerce (BU) as representing ‘a fraction of the total number of businesses’ in the town.

The surprise comment came in relation to discussion about the consultation process, with GM Ken Gainger repeatedly stating there had been extensive consultation with Byron Bay businesses through BU.

On numerous occasions he had to remind the councillors there had already been extensive debate and consultation on the issue but he agreed with the mayor that, ‘we can’t adopt a system like this without making sure there’s a clear understanding of how it applies.’

‘We might have to tweak some of the detail of how we apply the $100 levy. A lot of what I’ve been hearing has been misinformed and I think we have a duty to explain to people how it’s going to work before it starts,’ he said.

The GM also said there was little room to move on the $4 fee as the considerable cost of installing the parking meters was predicated on them paying themselves off in the first year of operation.

He said the parking scheme was expected to bring $2 million annually into council’s coffers, whereupon Cr Wanchap asked how much of this would be through fines.

‘I don’t know about that, I’ll have to take that question on notice,’ he told her.

Cr Wanchap retorted, ‘I believe it’s $900,000′, apparently plucking the figure out of the air.

The GM did tell Cr Ibrahim that if the coupon price was ‘tinkered with’ it was unlikely the money could be recouped through increasing the parking meter rate further.

‘We need to show we have made an effort effort to raise revenue to close gap on our infrastructure need,’ he implored councillors. Paid parking is the only way.

‘Our capacity to tinker with exemptions is limited. We reach a tipping point, going through these processes and the costs of installation, where the return is not at a level that covers that revenue gap.’

Cr Dey supported the motion saying that paid parking was also about traffic control and that it would actually improve traffic flows and parking availability in the Bay.

But it was up to Cr Paul Spooner to call for a little intelligent consideration in the chamber.

‘We do have an infrastructure issue. The community understands we’ve reached our capacity around what council can deliver and understands the tourist economy doesn’t contribute to council,’ Cr Spooner.

‘Business wants this as well, based on our feedback. It’s not just about explaining the system but also what is possible with this revenue. That is the other side of the equation – what is it that we can provide with this revenue.

‘Sometimes in this chamber, it’s not about following community sentiment, it’s about leadership. Let’s face it, if we don’t have this revenue we don’t have any other options about Fit for the Future.’

Nevertheless, debate continued for about 45 minutes following this stirring speech, much to the puzzlement of a swelling gallery of immigrant residents who had come to witness the mayor’s signing of a Refugee Welcome Zone declaration.

Eventually the mayor called a temporary halt to the fiasco for the signing, which appeared to take the wind out of his opponents’ sails and the motion was quickly put and passed after they vacated the chamber.

7 responses to “Parking meters cause chaos in Byron council chambers”

  1. Geoffrey Suthon says:

    Byron Shire residents already pay rates that contribute towards the Shires infrastructure costs. Why should they have to pay an extra $100 on top of this. The issue is about the huge amount of tourists to the Shire, and how that impacts on the infrastructure. Most tourist destinations around the world charge a bed tax that goes towards local Council costs, this needs to happen here.

  2. William Martin says:

    One of the things that has always inspired me about Byron Bay is the emphasis on community-involvement and volunteerism – it is unique and something to be protected and cherished. Sadly, with Byron being such a volunteer oriented town, the real losers in this scenario will be the very community the council proposes to “support”. At Bay FM, we presenters volunteer thousands of hours of time and also help fund the station through our on-air fees, membership, etc – this all is in support of having a radio station that is an essential part of our community. With the proposed fees of $80 per month to park for the day at the Butler St. reserve, at nearly $1000 per year, I know many will not be able to continue with this work. This seems a high cost for locals to bear considering the proposal was initially aimed at getting the tourists to pay their fair share. I am saddened to think of all the non-profits – the community center, Liberation Larder, Youth Services – the costs the individual must now bear to support organizations which are community focused will become untenable. I wish council was more community-minded as the term ‘fit for the future’ seems to overlook those that give of their time and energies each day to support the true fabric of the community – that which gives Byron it’s true heart, and is the only path with any kind of future worth having. This plan is short-sighted at best, and I certainly don’t consider this leadership. Buckminster Fuller once said, “if you send all the politicians to the moon, there would be no loss to civilization, but if you sent the people actually doing the work on the ground, the civilization would come to a stand-still”. Maybe we should consider putting these funds towards building a space ship for our less-than-community minded ‘friends’ on council.

  3. Jon says:

    I’d certainly be avoiding parking in Byron’s main shopping precinct. I’ve been hit there before by over-vigilant parking inspectors who seem to sit behind trees waiting for cars that overstay their limit by a matter of minutes or seconds.

  4. Cr Sol Ibrahim says:

    Had the Echo been present at the previous Council Meeting, readers might have been informed that Rose Wanchap and I opposed the paid parking scheme both because of the $100 locals fee and the $4 per hour for visitors. We both implored the Mayor to at least put it out for public exhibition. The response from Paul Spooner were words to the effect that of course locals will not want to pay, so what’s the point of putting it out on exhibition? Now after a deluge of complaints, the Mayor wants to revisit the figures. The staff report was clear, any major reduction in income from the scheme, whether from locals vouchers or hourly rate will render the scheme nonviable, especially if the underlying usage assumptions prove to be wrong. My concern at this meeting was that the hourly rate might be increased further. The Mayor has on several occasions compared Byron with the Sydney CBD and other tourist areas where hourly fees are much higher.

    The statement claimed above regarding BU is not accurate. In the course of commentary by Cr Wanchap about the grave concerns being raised by local businesses about the negative impact of the paid parking scheme (all of whom say they did not know it would be $4 p/h), the Mayor and the GM said that there had been consultation with BU. I simply pointed out that the membership of BU was only a small fraction of the total number of businesses in Byron Bay, and that in this particular matter it would be better to communicate directly with each one. I was unequivocally defending the interests of each and every local businesses, all of whom employ our locals. The GM nodded in agreement. What we got in the end was an assurance from the Mayor that increasing the $4 fee was not on the agenda Consequently we all voted in favour of the motion to get more costings on lower locals vouchers.To be clear, I did not support the $100 fee for locals at the last Council meeting. I believe most locals (including business owners) will agree the debate was worth the effort.

  5. Rene Urry says:

    Another dissapointing result for anyone living in Byron Shire or planning to visit for the day or more .

    Due to absurd financial decisions made by Byron Council for as many years as any one can remember they end up in financial hardship and wish to take more money from us . Take from the poor and give to the rich appears to be the policy . I wonder hom much the rates will increase this year ?

    After recently visiting Cairns last week I had to pay $1.20 per hour to park next to Marina (centre of City), 200 metres north on beach front esplanade it is free to park all day . Cairns attracts over 2 million visitors a year , far more than byron shire but due to perhaps a sensible council they do not decide to rip everyone off .
    It does not seem to matter how much money byron council recieves as they will surely find a way to waste it on stupendous Purchases .

    If Only Byron Council could learn to manage their finances better and stop making stupid decisions we would all be better off .

    I can guarantee there will not be enough parking no matter how much people are forced to pay . Parking should be free to all locals and more parking places available . Try finding a park with a trailer on the back of your vehicle .

    I am a Byron local for 35 years . Own and operate 2 buisnesses in Byron Shire , employ 4 staff , own and maintain 4 vehicles and a trailer needed for operating my buisness . Byron Council now will requires 4 x $100 per year to park in the town which I and staff need to do daily . Thankyou byron council for this extra cost to pay !

    Due to the dangerous and embarassing state of our roads and Pot holes I have endured damage to my vehicles . In 2014 two near new tyres where damaged and needed replacing not to mention a near fatal accident , at the cost of $ 324.00 .
    In 2015 the rim has been damaged and buckled and another tyre damaged at the cost of $ 480.00 . Will Byron Council Pay for these repairs ?

    When will the roads ever be fixed ? SHOCK NEWS FLASH !!! , throwing some hot mix in a pot hole and driving off is not actually counted as fixing the roads . It only last 2 weeks if your lucky , Loose gravel is extremely dangerous and illegal to leave on the road by any contractor and it is actually a gross waste of time and money .

    Better Town Planning and perhaps using other successful council Parking strategies and sharing ideas that work may help .

    • Jan says:

      While Council insists on spending ratepayers money on an inappropriate rock wall at Belongil Beach, of coure they have no funding left to fill the holes and be sensible about residential parking. So many ways to sort this problem, so many examples in overcrowded Europe, but nobody is bothered. It’s like lemmings off the cliff! Poor Byron Bay! It’s becoming uninhabitable for locals as well as tourists. Anyway, with beach loss, everyone will move elsewhere pretty soon.

  6. Jason John says:

    We have just left town after our overnight stay with a $106 fine for doing the right thing, or so we thought. We eventually found a place to park yesterday morning, in a two hour bay. After a bit of shopping and sitting down for lunch with friends, we ran back to purchase more parking. When we re-entered our license plate, the machine said something about validating or checking, then gave us the go ahead to put more money in, which we did- assuming we’d just bought another two hours parking. Returning from lunch, we find a $106 fine! If we weren’t allowed to buy another two hours parking, why didn’t the very new and very expensive looking bit of hardware we put the money into tell us that?!
    I realise parking is an issue, but for a machine to give people the go ahead to pay for more parking, and then for your inspector to fine us for doing what the machine implied was ok, is not ok!

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