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Byron community market under attack by council faction

Byron Bay market is still on at Butler Street Reserve on the first and third Sunday. Photo contributed

Byron Bay market is still on at Butler Street Reserve on the first and third Sunday. Photo contributed

Hans Lovejoy

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.

Bad landlords

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.’


11 responses to “Byron community market under attack by council faction”

  1. Michele Grant says:

    When will Council take a look at the Bruns Markets? Bruns was the first market set up in Byron Shire by the Fish & Chip Committee over 40 years ago and they appear to be sacred cows. The market proceeds remain commercial in confidence and all the money raised by the F&C Ctte is used to run the Xmas festival – The F&C committee don’t provide any public accountability to show how funds are spent and have made it extremely difficult in the past for new members to join.

    Byron Community Centre provides a whole range of fantastic community services using the market funds in an open and transparent manner yet their management is under constant review. There is clearly a double standard here.

    Despite grumbling from the Bruns community, Council has never considered an open tender process to run the Bruns markets and has protected the Committee from public scrutiny.

    How much money is raised at the Bruns market and how is it spent? After 25 years living in Bruns I still don’t know!

  2. Duncan Dey says:

    Over the weekend, I prepared a Rescission Motion on this poor decision. Lodgement will be complete when the Motion has the signatures of two more Councillors – expected today Tuesday. We intend the replacement Motion to grant a 12 month licence, as recommended by staff. That is the longest period available under Crown Land rules.

    • Cate Coorey says:

      Nice work Duncan! More opportunistic, ill-considered nonsense from the overdevelopment councillors who are doing everything they can to put private interests ahead of community.

  3. Mick says:

    Poor planning and ideological zealotry on the run from this unrepresentative bunch of arch conservatives. The sooner we get to September and get a council that actually reflects the wishes of the community the better. We just have to hope we can minimise the damage these extremists inflict on us in the meantime.

  4. Len Heggarty says:

    The attractiveness of a market is because goods and services are marked down compared to commercial shops and shopping.
    To privatise is to mark up goods and services as profit has to be made for the owner.
    That profit margin acts as a tax, and how long have we been arguing over the Goods and Services Tax that needs to rise for the NSW government to take care of our Hospitals and Health and it’s only a rise of 5 percent. The people at the lower end of the income stream and on fixed incomes suffer because they are on Social Welfare. They are worse off as they have little money.
    A market is for the little people, the leprechauns, the elves, the dwarfs and fairies, and where would we all be if markets were privatised in Byron?
    Not in fairyland like we are today. We would be on the rocks as the economic waves ebbed at our feet and pounded us while our lifestyle would begin to erode.
    We maybe could not afford to go to the markets as the people who go to them can’t afford to go to the shopping malls.

  5. I want a more intelligent council says:

    Why didn’t the GM and Council staff point out to councillors that Council does not own the management rights to the community market?

    Expect a lot more stupid, dumb and desperate actions from the conservatives leading up to Council elections next September. They know that they will not have the majority on Council. If they stand again put them last on your voting paper.

  6. Leah says:

    The markets will continue potentially with a new market manager. Look at other successful markets around the Byron Shire. Alternative sites may need to be considered.

    In terms of funding for the community centre, Crown lands have operational funding for wages. Also the community centre has revenue from venue hire and shop rental.

    I volunteer at a council community centre and we don’t get wages. You can do a lot with a little.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Hi Leah, yes there are other possibilities.

      However, just to correct a couple of things. Crown Land funding is only available for capital works not for operational wages. Also, the revenue from shop rentals and room hire at the Byron Community Centre goes to pay off the mortgage that stems from the rebuild of the centre back in 2002.

      And, great that you volunteer at a council community centre. The BCC has over 350 volunteers involved. Our community could not operate without people like you!

  7. Andre Colbert says:

    About 5 years ago, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary was operating a fantastic albeit small Saturday morning market that was extremely popular with the locals. Then they got greedy and put the market out to tender. A Victorian won the tender because on paper it looked like he offered the best deal and had the requisite experience. The “new” market died within 6 months. Dead. Gone. Finished.

  8. Robyn Winter-Blick says:

    We need to galvanize community support prior to the Council elections next year for ongoing protests against these 5 Councillors who keep making hideous decisions against the consensus of our community. We need to voice loudly and clearly, with meetings and with flyers, information of their inane decisions, and private vested interests and encourage people to NOT vote for them.

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