A packed Byron community centre on Saturday night saw the business community, along with council and state MPs, discuss the impacts of tourism on the town and its future.
And in a first for community radio station BayFM, the entire Q&A-style event was broadcast live from the theatre.
Comedian Mandy Nolan, also a panelist, warmed up the crowd and displayed an overhead chart dem- onstrating Byron’s enormous visitor numbers compared to other NSW regional towns.
‘The graph clearly shows other tourist towns are dwarfed by Byron.
‘Outside of Sydney, we have the highest level of visitor numbers,’ she said, ‘and when you consider the rate- paying base of Sydney as opposed to
ours, we are carrying a heavy burden.’ And so it was game on. Debate was at times heated but generally constrained
from both panelists and audience. MC Mick O’Regan set the tone for the evening by saying, ‘There are many who are telling me that what is hap- pening in Byron Bay is a privatisation
of benefit and a socialisation of cost.’ All panelists agreed that this year’s NYE caught organisers (Council, the business community and police) by surprise. Publican and businessman Tom Mooney said he understood that sales for the night were down for most of the liquor outlets. Part of the problem, he said, is NYE crowds needed direction and that venues of- fer greater safety than celebrating on the beach. ‘All it would take is a big night with big seas and people could
have drowned.’ Byron United (chamber of com-
merce) president Paul Waters again came under pressure to explain his comments over new years eve. MC Mick O’Regan asked what he meant by ‘if you don’t like tourism, then move to Lismore,’ to which Mr Wa- ters said it was taken out context by the journalist. Predictably he rejected police recommendations to close drinking venues earlier, claiming it would create more problems if hun- dreds of people were ejected from, say the Beach Hotel, all at once.
While a very worthy debate, and hopefully just the start of a wider con- versation, there was unfortunately very little said that was ‘actionable’.
Reduced-interest loan grants to assist Council from the state government was at one time mentioned by Don Page, who is Ballina MP and minister for the north coast and local government. He added that Council had yet to make an
application for them. He played down what other assistance his government could provide, despite being in office and a local resident.
He was at odds over the legalities of holiday letting with Greens MP Jan Barham. Mr Page said he considered it legal, to which she argued that the government’s LEP (Local Environ- ment Plan) clearly says it isn’t.
MP Barham then claimed there were over 600 houses being holiday let, and received applause by saying it has led to an erosion of community.
Mr Page also told the audience that he was assured by Tweed-Byron police commander, Inspector Stuart Wilkins, that there are sufficient officers in the region. That claim was challenged by youth worker Nicqui Yazdi who said from the floor that local police offic- ers she talked to say there are ‘just not enough’ police.
Mayor Simon Richardson said that suggestions by police to improve the CBD’s lighting and moving the taxi rank had been worked on by Council staff and would be tabled in coming months.
He added that his priority would be to address that before considering CCTV, despite it being given support by Council. State or federal govern- ment funding on CCTV is yet to be sought. At the forum’s conclusion, it was announced that on Thursday Feb- ruary 7, another forum would be held at the community centre, with the aim to establish a united association called ‘Our Community’.
The Echo asked federal Richmond MP Justine Elliot what funding assis- tance the town could be given by the feds – or indeed currently provides – but her office did not reply by Friday prior to Monday’s public holiday.