Opponents of the Yelgun festival site are calling for an investigation into the process which led to the approval of the development, while Byron mayor Jan Barham has slammed the five-year length of the trial as a sham.
Cr Barham says the decision could change the nature and character of Byron Shire, but Byron Bay’s business lobby has welcomed it, saying it will strengthen the local economy.
The Yelgun and Middle Pocket Community Association, one of the many resident groups which opposed the events site, wants a ‘thorough investigation’ of the planning-approval process, which ‘appears to be a model being followed that rewards those with funds to lobby and position key parties in influential positions to get what they want’ in NSW.
President of the group, Paul Arrowsmith, said it was ‘a sad day for the majority of residents of North Byron and southern Tweed shires’ who will be ‘massively impacted on by the approval’.
Mr Arrowsmith said the coalition government had ‘ridden roughshod over residents’ wishes yet again’.
‘It would appear that the commissioners of the PAC have not listened to residents or have been dictated to for financial imperatives of the state. The consultation with the proponents after the commission meetings, without a further right of reply by related parties, shows how one-sided the decision-making at government level has been.
‘The delay in handing down this decision, after being advised a month is all we would have to wait, is an indication that negotiations to secure said approval were held at the highest level of government, which we were assured would be at arms length. ‘
Cr Barham said the announcement would disappoint many local residents.
‘Our region already has significant impacts from large visitor numbers, both positive and negative. Council’s preferred approached was to have a one-year trial, review the event and progress slowly with the support of residents.
‘Five years can not be considered a “trial” and has the potential to create immediate negative impacts for local residents and place stress on infrastructure and the environment without the ability to make changes or rectify.’
Mayor Barham said Council was not opposed to music festivals, but has tried to balance the social, environmental and economic outcomes for the benefit of the whole community, not just some.
‘The attraction of coming to a festival is the fact that it is in Byron Shire. The word Byron is a very powerful marketing tool and more visitors mean greater visitor needs.
Struggle to cope
‘Residents and visitors alike appreciate the Shire’s low development and nature-oriented character. The impact of large numbers of visitors has the potential to add significant extra pressures that our Shire will struggle to cope with,’ she said.
Council’s executive manager of planning, Ray Darney, said the state’s takeover of the approval process from council was one of the most disappointing aspects of the whole process, only made worse by the PAC not levying developer contributions.
Other groups or individual developers have to pay the fees but now the shire misses out on up to $1.27 million which could have otherwise been levied.
Mr Darney said the PAC only assessed large developments but ‘these are the very ones that have the most potential to impact on the Byron Shire community’.
He said the approval had caused an ‘anomaly’ with the shire’s proposed events policy limiting the number of major festivals to two a year.
He said the planning department had allowed Council to proceed with a gateway amendment on the Local Environmental Plan (LEP) ‘knowing full well that it had the Yelgun Festival development application before it, which would exceed the proposed LEP amendment events clause’.
‘We now potentially have more than two major music events each year as outlined under Council’s events policy and the proposed LEP amendment.
He said that any new large music events would now ‘need to make their event a state-significant event’ in order to take it to the PAC for approval and Council could not approve it under current policy and planning guidelines.
‘The state has effectively encouraged large events to take up residence in Byron Shire,’ he said.
The Coalition for Festival Sanity said it was surprised that the PAC supported the planning department’s decision to ignore the Land and Environment Court’s ruling of 2009 which declared Byron Council’s approval of a trial festival (at the Yelgun site) invalid.
A spokesperson said the proposed building of a road for festival use in an environmental habitat zone was not then allowed, but under the controversial Part 3A process, the department did not have to consider it and ‘chose to ignore it in recommending that the project be approved and the PAC agreed’.
‘This undermining of the court’s decision is disturbing, regardless of what one thinks of the Yelgun proposal. Part 3A has been declared defunct by the current government, and such an ignoring of a court decision could not happen now.
‘We do not believe that the much-touted employment and “tourism benefits” will compensate the community for the impact on their lives that this will in any way compensate the wildlife of the nearby nature reserve and corridor,’ the spokesperson said.
By the time the trial ends in five years, ‘we expect that considerable damage to the local residential amenity and the environment will have been done’.
Byron United head Paul Waters said the approval ‘flies in the face’ of the shire’s events policy and would make it ‘almost impossible to get that amended because of the state approval as well as the current backlash and petition’.
‘We’re absolutely thrilled it’s finally through. The north Byron site is going to be different; it will take pressure off the Byron Bay community in terms of traffic congestion.
‘We absolutely need things like this to keep our businesses vibrant,’ he said.