Byron shire’s popular monthly Sunday market, which provides a vital funding source for the Byron Community Centre, is under the gun from a group of right-wing councillors who want to see it privatised.
Years of developing a market policy was ‘trashed’ unexpectedly last week by National Party aligned councillors Di Woods, Chris Cubis and Alan Hunter together with Greens defector Rose Wanchap.
With mayor Simon Richardson at the Paris climate talks, they had the numbers at last Thursday’s meeting to pass a successful motion that will require the managers of Byron’s monthly market on Butler Street to submit a tender application – presumably along with other tender applicants – to ‘establish a long-term community market license in Byron Bay.’
Initially presented by staff as a report recommending the extension of the existing market licence, it became an opportunity for Cr Woods and Cubis to push for a tender process and canvas allegations about market operations.
Cr Paul Spooner left the chamber owing to his declared pecuniary interest; his employer, the Byron Bay Community Association, holds the licence to operate the Community Market on Butler Street Reserve.
Councillors against were Basil Cameron, Duncan Dey and Sol Ibrahim, and staff were also opposed it.
Policy on the fly
Despite the lack of detail surrounding the motion, a six-month licence was granted to the Byron Community Association to operate the markets at the Butler Street reserve.
And it comes at a time when the future of the markets is still unclear owing to ongoing negotiations with the Butler Street paid parking plans and Butler Street bypass works.
Secretary of the Byron Bay Community Association, David Sweet, told Echonetdaily the council resolution, ‘does not make much sense to the Byron Community Markets management.’
‘It has come out of right field, so we will have to seek further clarification from council about their intention over the coming months.
‘It appears to be a decision that was made on-the-run without any forethought as to the stability, security and ongoing viability of the iconic Byron Community Market, and the many small businesses operated by stallholders.
‘This is of real concern to the market management. Council has now trashed the trust built up over three years through consultation and market policy development undertaken in good faith by market managers and stallholders.
‘From what we can determine from the decision it tends to confirm what many people already think about certain Byron Shire councillors. In particular, Crs Cubis, Woods, Wanchap and Hunter.
‘They seem unaware of the impacts on stallholders’ livelihoods if you keep moving the market, especially out of town; and they seem unconcerned to jeopardise the vital work and community services of the Byron Community Centre. Especially those provided to the most needy in our community.’
No funding for Community Centre
The Echo understands that while many other councils fund their community centres, Byron Shire Council does not. Some of the Byron Bay Community Centre’s income is derived from stallholder fees, which is managed on behalf of the centre by the Byron Community Association. That money from stallholders pays for community centre wages and programs, as well as assisting with community outreach programs such as the soup kitchen, low interest loans and the Liberation Larder.
During debate, senior staffer Mark Arnold told chamber that with the disruption of Butler Street with the bypass during the 12 month period it, ‘wouldn’t be an optimum time to call an expression of interest (EOI) to take on the market while that occurred.’
General manager Ken Gainger went further, and told Councillors that, ‘The feeling was that if we went to a open market at this time, we’re likely to get a distorted or poor result, because it’s not going to be the most attractive venue to operate markets over the next 12 to 18 months.’
He said while council can’t guarantee the outcome, he said he told market managers, ‘we would put it to councillors to extend your license – which expires in March next year – for 12 months.’
‘This would give us the breathing space to see what the uptake of parking would be like, and secondly to give us time to conclude negotiations with an alternative location.’
Staff report unread
But that wasn’t enough for Crs Woods and Cubis, who both spoke at length on why they wanted a tender process now. Cr Woods said her rationale for the tender is that it will take ‘quite some time to get those tenders in’.
‘Don’t tell me that there aren’t people out there willing to apply because they know – they might not have a site identified – but they know we will have a site and we will have a market in Byron Bay.
‘I’ve done some calculations on what that’s bringing in. If there’s 250 stalls paying an average of $50 a time – times 14 for a year that’s $175,000 of income. That’s pretty substantial amount for people who want to apply who want to have a licence for a market.’
She said that in previous motions, resolutions were made because, ‘we didn’t want to lock in the very cheap rates that they were allocated to run that market, and how much we are going to pay council.’
But Ms Woods also admitted that she didn’t even read the staff report, ‘as there were so many papers’ for that meeting.
‘I want to see us go out to tender. I’ve talked about this since I’ve been here and it’s time to bite the bullet and do it. And how we go from here now, staff will have to advise us.’
Cr Cubis then accused unnamed people, presumably staff and councillors, of holding private discussions about the future of the market.
As for revenue, he said he ‘received emails during the week’ which showed what the market management claims on its website.
‘It shows very different revenue,’ he said of the disclosures supplied by council.
‘This warrants more investigations than just saying the community centre should get the tender no matter what. And have it wherever they want. Because that seems to be some of the intent that isn’t been spoken about.
‘We’ll be watching with great interest, as are a lot in the community, on whether or not we are getting enough revenue back.’
The GM again reminded Cr Cubis that alternative sites had been discussed but not agreed upon, and said a tender process would not be ideal as there is no site secured.
Cubis then asks that given, ‘Council leads other organisations with changes they might have’, why is it council are ‘governed so much’ by what the market wants.
‘Surely council can have a strategy and councillors can decide some of these matters,’ he asked.
Cr Spooner later told The Echo, ‘It’s now clear to me from listening to the tape of the debate that these councillors are confused and under the assumption that somehow council owns the community market and can do with it whatever they like, ie decide who manages it, decide where it should operate from and decide how much they should pay.’
‘The reality is the council only leases the land that the market is operating on. Byron Community Market is owned and operated by the Byron Bay Community Association.
‘In effect, this group of councillors are operating like a bad landlord who thinks they can control the business operations of their tenant.’
Byron Bay Community Association’s David Sweet concluded, ‘The management of the Byron Community Centre is still hopeful we can work with council to get a good outcome for our stallholders and to continue the valuable work of the community centre for our community. For now, we would like to reassure the community that the Byron Community Market is open for business on the first and third Sundays in December and January.’