With the arrival of the holiday season, Byron Shire Council is again attempting to prevent people camping in their cars, including sleeping overnight.
Byron residents are divided on the policy: some are irritated by the presence of visitors using the sides of roads and local car parks instead of caravan parks to sleep at night. Others who sometimes sleep in their cars are incensed.
In a media release issued yesterday, Council governance manager Ralph James said, ‘Overnight parking as a de facto form of camping in residential streets in the Byron Shire, particularly in parts of Byron Bay and Suffolk Park, is an issue of concern for many residents because of the impacts of noise, disturbance, rubbish and loss of amenity,’ he said.
One Byron Echo reader, Pagan Morgan, has had a running battle with Council’s general manager Graeme Faulkner over signage prohibiting ‘camping or sleeping in vehicles at any time’.
The signs threaten penalties of up to $1,100 for breaches.
Ms Morgan complained to Mr Faulkner that council was exceeding its powers and the signs themselves were illegal.
Ms Morgan says Mr Faulkner emailed her in response saying: ‘it is open to council to prohibit sleeping generally (that is, outside the vehicle) pursuant to section 632 [of the Local Government Act 1993] by erecting appropriate signage’.
In the latest round between council and campers it would seem the council has ceased to rely on its own asserted right to forbid people from sleeping and is instead turning is attention to banning overnight parking.
‘Council receives numerous and regular complaints from the community about this issue. For instance, there were 163 resident requests to Council regarding illegal parking in the last financial year,’ said Mr James.
‘As members of the community, Council’s staff appreciates the impact illegal parking can have on residents. It also has a negative impact on the tourist operators within our community that provide sustainable accommodation options for the Shire’s visitors.’
Mr James has at least admitted that any power to prohibit visitors from using their vehicles as overnight accommodation ultimately rests with the state government, saying council was ‘working hard within the powers granted to it by parliament regarding illegal vehicle parking’.
Other, more benign methods that council is investigating include
• better and more frequent liaison with campervan hire and rental companies;
• liaison with local caravan park and backpacker accommodation operators to provide a system of after-hours or 24-hour access to these places; rangers frequently hear from illegal campers that they arrived in town late at night and were unable to obtain legal accommodation or a site for their vehicle after hours;
• encourage greater use of highway rest areas at Bangalow, Tyagarah, North Ocean Shores and Yelgun by placing details in local tourism brochures, backpacker books and providing information to campervan rental and hire companies.