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.