Byron Bay’s pubs, bars and nightclubs have defended their refusal of a police request to close an hour earlier during the Splendour in the Grass festival later this month when thousands of revellers hit town.
Tweed-Byron police fear a big increase in alcohol-fuelled violence when up to 17,000 people descend on the town after the event at Belongil Fields ends at midnight.
Police want a 1am lockout enforced for licensed venues during the 27–29 July event, but Byron Bay’s Liquor Accord won’t budge from their current 2am lockout.
Sergeant Saul Wiseman told media he recently wrote to the accord, which represents more than 50 licensed premises in the town, asking for the earlier lockout to help control the flow of people after the festival and ‘get them off the streets’.
But the accord refused, a move which ‘extremely disappointed’ police, according to Sgt Wiseman.
Liquor Accord treasurer Paul Waters yesterday said businesses already had a self-imposed 2am lockout and that a 1am lockout ‘really doesn’t suit Byron’.
‘With a 1am lockout you’ll have 1,000 people leave then wander downtown and have no other place to go; they end up frustrated and fighting with doormen at venues,’ Mr Waters said.
He admitted that earlier lockouts had ‘worked elsewhere’, for example in Newcastle, ‘but all that did was push people down to Kings Cross in Sydney late at night, it didn’t help Newcastle’.
Reports say a sharp decrease in alcohol-fuelled violence was recorded when the earlier lockout was enforced in Newcastle.
‘But for us, we have a completely different scenario; it’s a holiday town and thousands of visitors flock here on weekends and you just can’t do that, you want them in licensed venues where they can be monitored and supervised,’ Mr Waters said.
‘Accord members have self-imposed restrictions, and responsible service of alcohol is applied, so service is restricted in those late hours with low-alcohol drinks, no shots or doubles.’
Mr Waters, who operates the Balcony bar and restaurant, said he suspected an earlier shutdown for the Splendour festival was the thin edge of the wedge to further restrictions for licensed premises.
‘The Splendour weekend amplifies all the problems we have; people roam the streets and there’s just not enough resources to police that many people,’ he said.
Meanwhile, police have called for a freeze on new licences for the northern rivers area in a bid to curb the growing problem of alcohol-related violence in the town.
NSW Police Association president Scott Weber said ‘emergency service workers are sick and tired of getting used as punching bags by boozed-up thugs. We know the Newcastle model works to reduce alcohol-related assaults – it’s time the NSW government stepped in and introduced the measures across the board.’
(See this week’s Byron Shire Echo.)