The state government has jettisoned Byron Shire Council’s events policy, effectively ending a protracted stoush between event promoters and festival supporters on the one hand and council and resident groups on the other.
The policy intended to limit major music events with more than 6,000 attendees in the shire to two per year: Splendour and Bluesfest.
The council attempted to amend its Local Environment Plan to include the policy, a move that required state government approval.
The letter that sealed the policy’s fate came from the NSW planning and infrastructure department, dated 1 July, and says that under the Environmental and Assessment Act 1979 (s59(2)(b) the proposed ‘major events clause’ should not proceed.
‘I have formed the opinion that the proposal is not in the public interest,’ said director-general Sam Haddad.
‘I believe matters of concern to the council can adequately be assessed through the normal development application process.’
Earlier this year the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), appointed by the state government, approved a trial for three annual events at North Parklands festival site in Yelgun including Splendour In The Grass.
That decision essentially gave the shire two different policies for the two major festivals to operate under.
Bluesfest director Peter Noble, while celebrating the overruling of the policy, was critical of what he called council’s lack of due process. He said his solicitors ‘continuously questioned Byron Council as to why they have not obtained their own legal advice regarding the illegality of this policy over the past four years, and why the majority of elected councillors have not voted for this to be done’.
Other points of contention for Mr Noble included numerous submissions opposing the policy, which he says were ignored.
‘Over four years, and the three times the policy was placed on public display asking for submissions, the vast majority objected to the policy, including more than 13,500 petitions/signed objections to the policy all up!’
He said in a media release, ‘The Byron Events Policy, as it existed, which had no equal in Australia in terms of its restrictions, will now soon be history and the arts- and music-loving community of Byron is rejoicing’.
Byron Council defended what it saw as a need to ensure sustained protection of the environment, resident amenity and the continued success of the tourism industry.
Council’s acting executive manager of environment and planning, Sharyn French, said the ‘overall importance of these issues remains despite the planning department’s decision’.
‘Byron Shire is a small, regional community that hosts 50 visitors for every resident, annually. With about 1.5 million visitors a year, Council thinks it is appropriate that there is a framework in place for helping it, on behalf of the community, to decide what is sustainable in terms of environmental protection, resident and visitor wellbeing, as well as what the quality and quantity of tourism should be.
‘Without a proper process in place for managing these different interests, we risk undermining the very features of our community that make Byron Shire so special to begin with.’
When Echonetdaily asked Mr Noble what other mechanisms could be applied to provide an equitable solution to the pressures of large-scale events, he replied ‘[it’s] not an appropriate question for me as I fully believe in presenting events for the cultural enrichment, as well as the financial benefit, of our community.
‘And my track record proves, over more than 20 years of presentation in Byron Shire, that it does not require legislation to curb me in presenting award-winning events here done responsibly. However, a number of councillors believe there has been a major cost to our community regarding the events policy and they do not agree our community’s purse has not been affected.’
When Echonetdaily asked Council’s media spokesperson about the costs associated with the policy, they said that since no court action had taken place, the cost to Council was in preparing the policy. Mr Noble says he has spent around $100,000 on legal costs and a legal challenge was imminent.
Echonetdaily asked one of the proponents of the failed policy, Cr Basil Cameron, to comment but he did not respond by deadline.