The recent sighting of a rare Pied Oystercatcher and its newborn chick at Belongil Spit has galvanised Sunrise Beach residents in their campaign against a plan to stage up to 40 festivals over the next five years at the nearby Writers Festival site.
Byron Shire Council is currently assessing the development application (DA) for the festivals and cultural events at the 88-hectare old Club Med/Becton site, now known as North Byron Beach Resort and owned by Queensland coal magnate and property developer Brian Flannery.
Residents say the festivals DA is one of what locals call ‘a suite’ of three developments by Mr Flannery’s companies which will have cumulative impacts on their local environment and amenity, so they have banded together to fight them under the banner Save Our Sunrise (SOS).
One is the revival of the old beach-resort development, with a plan for 193 cabins being assessed by the state’s Planning Assessment Commission, and the other is the already approved plan for a licensed bistro/bottleshop on Bayshore Drive.
The Belongil Spit, according to National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), is recognised as an important breeding site for shorebirds including the Pied Oystercatcher. In NSW the oystercatcher is listed as vulnerable and it’s estimated there are only 250 left.
And, with the onset of spring, sightings of the rare shore bird have become more frequent.
SOS spokesperson Miranda Burne said locals were concerned they had ‘not seen any concrete plan for how developers intend to mitigate impacts of their proposed developments on the fragile ecology of the site and adjacent habitat of threatened species including koalas, Pied Oystercatchers and their recently hatched chicks’.
Ms Burne said residents appreciated the opportunity to meet with company representatives last week to discuss their concerns including the scale and frequency of the festivals, ‘which could be one every 6.5 weeks’.
But company spokesman Jeremy Holmes said the company was ‘actively involved in fox control to reduce predation on this species and its chicks’.
Mr Holmes told Echonetdaily the Oystercatcher breeds each year at the estuary.
Mr Holmes said the photo of the bird ‘was taken adjoining our property, at the Belongil estuary, over 500m from the closest part of the cultural events site’, which is ‘not part of their habitat’.
‘I saw the chicks yesterday myself, 650 metres from the closest part of the potential North Byron Cultural Events site. These birds nest and feed at the estuary,’ he said.
Mr Holmes said the company had ‘ongoing discussions with the Belongil Bird Buddies’ over the issue, but the oystercatcher sightings had ‘no relevance to this DA’.
Ms Burne said locals wanted a reduction in the scope of the festivals DA but ‘the developers suggested that they were not negotiable on this point and could offer little clarity on what these events might be’.
A recent brief on the group’s concerns about the festivals proposal, which was sent to council staff and councillors, said SOS was ‘not opposed to festivals, like the Byron Bay Writers Festival, which enhance cultural and environmental values’.
‘However we are strongly opposed to a five-year blanket approval for up to 40 festivals which threaten to change and potentially damage the surrounding social and physical environment, including local wildlife and threatened species,’ the submission says.
Concerns also include impact of music festivals on local koalas, with the site a potentially vital ‘linkage area’ between Tyagarah and West Byron.
‘We also have concerns that regular mass camping events could harm immediately adjacent fragile habitats for migratory birds and threatened species including Little Terns and Pied Oystercatchers.
‘Alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour may spread into Byron’s quiet family suburbs, with cumulative impacts from festivals, the new pub/drive-through bottle-shop and potential new alcohol outlet/s at the foreshadowed new “beach resort”.’
But Mr Holmes said the issue with the bistro licence was ‘very different’ than the controversial Dan Murphys bid for a new one in the Byron Bay CBD recently rejected by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority in that the liquor giant wanted to transfer an existing licence from Sydney, whereas the bistro licence was a ‘modification’ of an existing one for the site.
SOS says the rejection ‘highlighted already existing “unacceptably high rates of crime and disturbance” related to alcohol consumption in Byron Bay, and noted warnings of a rise in alcohol-related violence and under-age drinking.
SOS has called for consent conditions for the festival plan including: a trial one-year period followed by independent review of social and environmental impact; a big cut in
the number of annual events; festivals to end in the early evening and; wardens for threatened species to be employed during mass camping events to protect adjacent birds and bird habitats.