Yesterday Luis Feliu canvassed the arguments against Splendour in the Grass’ application to hold multi-day festivals at its North Byron Parklands site. Today Chris Dobney asks why has it taken so long to get a decision.
Plans to build a multipurpose event site at what is now known as North Byron Parklands have been around for more than five years without a sod being turned – except for the community planting of about 4000 native trees during the heady days of 2007.
What is perhaps less known is that it was Byron Shire Council’s own economic development officer who in 2005 was tasked with finding a suitable space in the shire for holding a sustainable festival.
NBP manager Mat Morris told Echonetdaily that in September 2006 Byron councillors including the mayor, senior staff and council’s own ecologist all supported the plans for the cultural event venue.
In December 2006, after meetings with Byron Shire Council (BSC), various state departments (including the Department of Planning) and Conservation of North Ocean Shores (CONOS), the North Byron Parklands (NBP) site was purchased and council resolved to rezone the land.
The land NBP purchased comprises 260 hectares (660 acres) of mostly degraded cane farm between the Pacific Highway and the Billinudgel Nature Reserve. It also contains some pockets of intact lowland rainforest adjacent to the Billinudgel Nature Reserve.
Morris says these are not part of any planning application and festivalgoers would be physically excluded from them.
An excerpt of a report to council’s meeting of 19 December 2006 reads: The proposal, if it proceeds to finality, will result in a number of benefits to the community, environmentally through the enhancement of regional wildlife corridors and land swaps, economically through potential employment prospects and socially/culturally as a centre for festivals and events.
In August 2007 NBP lodged a DA with council to host a trial event on the land with a capacity of 22,500 festivalgoers, including 7,500 campers.
BSC approved the DA in July 2008 with a slightly scaled-back capacity of 20,540 (including 5,540 campers) and the construction of an underpass under Jones Road.
CONOS challenged Council’s approval for the trial event in October and a court date was set down for February 2009.
The DA was knocked back by the Land and Environment Court not, as is often said, for environmental reasons but because the court found fault with council’s statutory assessment of the DA.
Morris says this related to its failure to assess the site’s internal roads. ‘To be honest it puzzled both NBP and the council. Their planners said they had never been required to consider internal roads as part of a DA before.
Unfortunately for all concerned, CONOS’s environmental arguments were never tested in court.
Talks between NBP and BSC throughout the remainder of 2009 failed to resolve the DA issues.
In March 2010, BSC placed its new draft public events policy on public exhibition.
After the Land and Environment Court action NBP says it was left with only one avenue for having the project assessed and approved, which was via the state government under part 3A of the Planning and Assessment Act. The application was lodged in September 2010.
Morris states that this application reflected the longer-term aspirations of the project, which included flexibility for a range of event types, and down the track a cultural centre and a conference centre.
The inclusion of all the project elements was required to fulfill aspects of the part 3A criteria, but he says the application contained nothing NBP had not originally envisaged.
‘After the application for the trial event was invalidated we sought to encompass up to three multi-day events to a maximum of ten festival days per year,’ he told Echonetdaily.
NBP says that during the six-week exhibition period, ‘NSW Department of Planning received 4,821 submissions in support of the proposal and 715 submissions against. It also received a petition with 4,160 signatures in support of the proposal and petitions totaling 25 signatures against.’
In July 2011 BSC proposed an amendment to the Local Environment Plan (LEP) to permanently restrict major music events. Council received 3525 submissions. NBP says that just 43 of these supported the restrictions, while the remainder objected to the amendment.
In December the Department of Planning and Infrastructure finalised their assessment of the North Byron Parklands application, recommending approval. The Department forwarded the application to the Planning and Assessment Commission, which is delegated responsibility by the planning minister to make the final determination on the project.
In January this year the Planning and Assessment Commission announced that public meetings regarding the assessment of the application by the Department of Planning will be held on the 1 and 2 February.
A determination is expected by the end of February 2012.