When Byron’s community comes out to object to something, they don’t pull any punches.
Well-known ABC TV host and recent new Byron Shire resident Kerry O’Brien has been called upon to chair a forum over Council’s draft markets policy.
The Walkley Award-winning journalist will facilitate a public meeting on Monday 5 December at the Byron Community Centre, and it comes just after Council’s release of its contentious policy this week.
Public concerns have been raised that it will negatively affect local producers and divert market revenue to Council and the state government.
The policy applies to all markets held on Council-owned land and Crown Reserves managed by Council.
They are the Byron Community Markets, Bangalow Market, Brunswick Community Market, Mullumbimby Community Market, Byron Farmers Market, New Brighton Farmers Market and the Byron Artisan Market.
Result of legal advice
The message from the mayor and Council staff, however, is that the policy is a result of advice from Crown Lands and legal advice.
‘Council had requested if a licence holder could be defined as an incorporated community-based non-profit organisation,’ says Mayor Barham.
‘Unfortunately the Crown Lands Division and Council’s solicitors could not support this request and, on their advice Council have amended the draft market policy and have placed it on public exhibition.’
However, said Mayor Barham, the draft Expression of Interest requires all applicants to demonstrate how their market proposal delivers social benefit and public value to Byron Shire.
In a rare public relations move, Council has released a FAQ that tries to dismiss claims they are ‘just out to make money from the markets’.
It reads, ‘An object of Council’s draft Market Policy is to achieve sufficient funding for maintenance, upgrade of assets and improvements associated with market locations. It is fair that the people or organisations who are utilising public land contribute financially to its maintenance.’
Despite this, the long-standing arrangement between the Byron Community Centre and the markets could still stand, according to the mayor.
‘The state government has a position of Crown Reserve cross-subsidisation to support maintenance and management,’ she says. ‘The funds derived from the markets would not necessarily all be viewed as funds available as there are costs associated with the organisation of the markets, so the figure is unknown in relation to the return of funds for the management of the area and that will be a matter for consideration in the expression-of-interest process.
‘It is starting to look very much like a money grab,’ says Byron market and community centre manager Paul Spooner.
‘Council’s FAQ “propaganda sheet” does not mention the criteria by which tenders will be assessed: 40 per cent weighting given to how much will be paid to the Council as a fee to run the market and five per cent weighting as to amount of support for local organisations.
‘The question should be asked: “Why does Council value making money eight times more than it values supporting the community?”
‘The reality is that any increase in market management fees paid to Council will mean increased stallholder fees and subsequent increased prices for market customers. It appears that nobody wins under this policy except the Council bean counters.
‘We would suggest that the Council’s role in this should be to safeguard the community from the denigration of our markets.
‘The logical place to start in this process is to do a cost/benefit analysis of whether they even need to go down this path.
The mayor told Echonetdaily she is unaware of any independent legal advice, however, and agreed with Mr Spooner that Council has the powers to include provisions into the policy that could protect existing leasing arrangements.
‘In the letter from NSW Department of Primary Industries, Crown Land Division, dated 14 September 2011, it notes “Protection of any specific interests and character can be built into the assessment criteria”.’ The mayor added that this point is an important issue for the consultation process. ‘It provides the community with the opportunity to express the criteria that it values and if that is the support for local producers including farmers, artists and craftpeople, then that can be defined in the assessment accordingly.
‘This is the process whereby Council can determine the “value” it places on certain criteria.
‘The notion that the interests of the state in relation to the “highest return and open and fair competition” are defined in economic terms alone is a point of interpretation.
‘In Byron it is a recognised fact that the markets are a major tourism attraction and the reason for that must be considered.
‘The issue of identity and both resident and visitor support for the character of markets in Byron Shire has value beyond the economic; it has been recognised in Council documents such as the cultural plan, economic development strategy and the tourism management plan that Byron Shire offers a unique cultural experience at its community markets.
‘It is also recognised that the local markets are an opportunity for supporting local economic activity for local traders that generates employment and income that stays within the local community and has flow on effects.’
The draft market policy, along with the draft expression of interest for market licences, is now on public exhibition until Friday December 23.
They are available, along with a FAQ and legal advice, at www.byron.nsw.gov.au.
The public meeting with Mr O’Brien is on Monday 5 December at the Community Centre from 7pm.
Additionally, a website has been launched to garner local support at www.savebyronshiremarkets.com.au.