The promoter of an unapproved campsite temporarily housing more than 150 people during Splendour could face up to $110,000 in fines when they face court later this month, according to Byron Shire Council compliance officers.
Officers and police searching the property said they saw people sleeping in shipping containers, and rubbish, faeces and toilet paper on the ground when they finally raided the property on the Sunday night.
They claim that the promoter of the campsite took active steps to prevent police and council compliance officers from entering the property.
A Byron Council spokesperson said the campsite was set up next door to the (approved) Belongil Fields festival site and that access was denied to council officers on Friday despite their serving the owner with a notice of inspection.
When staff suspicions were raised ahead of the festival they commissioned aerial photographs of the property, which showed some 65 vehicles, 73 tents and annexes, and four portable toilets on the site, according to a council spokesperson.
The council and police obtained a warrant and searched the property on Sunday 29 July.
Police had to use bolt-cutters to enter the site through a chain-locked gate at about 11am on the Sunday morning. Council says it was ‘one of several measures taken to prevent access to the site’.
‘Upon accessing the property, Council discovered people sleeping in shipping containers, identified 114 vehicle registration numbers (from NSW, Queensland, Victoria and ACT), and estimated about 150–200 people were on the property. Throughout the property there were also significant amounts of litter and rubbish on the ground, toilet paper and deposits of faeces,’ the spokesperson said.
Council alleges the site ‘was being used as a caravan park (as defined in State Environmental Planning Policy) without development consent, in breach of planning laws’.
Council’s governance manager, Ralph James, said illegal land use in the Byron Shire would not be tolerated.
‘Council supports sustainable tourism and development in the Byron shire. What happened at this particular property negatively impacts on the shire in a number of ways,’ he said.
‘First, it harms Byron Bay’s reputation as a world-class tourist destination if people end up staying in the kind of conditions our officers observed during the search of the property.
‘Second, this kind of event undermines those community members that have set up a tourism business legitimately. Those business owners who have done the right thing, and offer a safe and secure location for visitors to come and enjoy the Byron shire, should not have their livelihood undermined by people on the quest for a quick buck.
‘Third, these kinds of actions can damage our unique natural environment, which is a key attraction for residents and visitors alike.
‘Finally, where property owners ignore planning laws for their own benefit, and such behaviour is left unchecked, it can erode confidence in the law. Planning laws are in place for a reason: to ensure land is used in a way that benefits the property owner and the wider Byron shire.’
Mr James said unauthorised development on the scale seen in this instance was rare, and encouraged property owners wishing to develop their land to continue to follow the proper process.
‘The majority of property owners in the Byron shire do the right thing, and Council will continue to work with the community to ensure what we saw in this case remains the exception rather than the rule,’ he said.
The property owner has been issued with a court attendance notice to appear in Byron Bay Local Court on 22 August. The maximum penalty for development without consent in the Local Court is a fine of $110,000.