There’s no denying the yabber yabber emanating from all forms of media after Byron’s new year’s celebrations.
While largely unhampered by vio- lent behaviour, the night saw a marked increase in visitor numbers and resi- dents were clearly unhappy with the subsequent rubbish left behind and the pressures it placed on the town’s already stretched amenities.
Council staff said it was a ‘signifi- cant increase in tourist numbers,’ with around 15.5 tonnes of rubbish being removed from beaches and streets.
And without a doubt, many busi- nesses benefited in the town, in par- ticular liquor outlets, accommodation and supermarkets.
As the dust settles and the humbug ebbs away, the questions as to how to manage the town’s irresistible mag- netism is needed now more than ever.
One of the key issues to emerge is the problem of illegal street camping.
Fine is cheaper than finding accommodation
Byron Shire acting general manager Phil Warner said in a press release that the clean-up was ‘challenging’, with rangers working 21 hours each day from December 26 through until January 1. He says they issued almost 650 fines with over half of them relat- ing to street camping.
He said feedback from the rangers included that people had admitted that they saw the ‘no camping’ signs but still chose to camp in the areas.
‘The no-camping street signage is only a deterrent,’ Mr Warner said.
‘With a penalty fine of $110 it was considered by some to be cheaper than finding accommodation.
‘Rangers also woke up occupants of an additional 100 cars on new year’s day; however, the occupants were too intoxicated and could not be moved on.’
The issue, while exacerbated for NYE, appears to reflect the larger pic- ture of tourism in a small town.
Mayor Simon Richardson told Echo- netdaily’s Sharon Shostak, ‘We have a situation where, in a town of around 10,000 people, it gets visited by 1.5 mil- lion every year, predominantly coming down one road. The real question is how do we manage these people and how can the residents get a real benefit?
‘We’ve traditionally chosen not to have highrises. When you have huge highrises you have an increase in rate-
able property, therefore you can use that money to offset infrastructure. So by deciding to be lowrise, we’re also low income.’
As for addressing the issue, Cr Rich- ardson said that while the state gov- ernment – through Destination NSW – spends ‘huge amounts of money marketing areas for visitors’, he would ‘like to see the state government match every marketing dollar with an infra- structure offset dollar.’
And he’s also calling for a Byron Bay progress association, which has been
met with cautious optimism by the town’s chamber of commerce, Byron United (BU).
Cr Richardson told The Echo that if such a group were established, as it is in many other town centres, ‘it could in- clude a wide range of community views and establish a vision for the Shire.’
BU president Paul Waters, however, told The Echo that he would prefer to see any committee specifically ad- dress tourism management, ‘Such as through the VIA Byron [a new tour- ism committee for the region].
‘It would hopefully incorporate senior police, councillors, council staff and council rangers. The focus needs to be on what is actually achiev- able,’ he said. ‘Open forums can easily fall into talk fests.’
Mr Waters is also the lone voice in calling public outcries of tourist hordes as ‘exaggerated and too precious.’
‘There is no evidence of the place being trashed,’ he said, referring to the rubbish being collected by Council and some residents the following day.
‘It’s a fair call to some extent, but the town hasn’t lost its innocence.’
And he unsurprisingly rejects the mayor’s suggetion that NYE could in future be wrapped by 9.30pm.
‘...I think finishing up at 9.30pm should be considered,’ Cr Richardson blogged on Council’s website. ‘Word will quickly get out that the Byron NYE theme park is no longer open for business and the extra visitors unable to be absorbed this year will diminish.
‘We need to ensure Council’s com- mitment to NYE is for a low-key, family-friendly, resident-focused cel- ebration. The residents of Sunrise, Be- longil, Suffolk and Byron deserve it, the responsible visitors deserve it and our town deserves it.’
With around 15,000 attendees, By- ron Bay’s new year’s eve festivities saw 14 people arrested for mainly alcohol- induced public-order offences.
Police said there were ‘a number’ of assaults overnight and into the early morning. One man was arrested over an attack with a glass bottle and an- other over an attempted theft but no major injuries were reported.
Tweed-Byron Local Area Com- mand superintendent Stuart Wilkins continued on page 2View PDF from issue