I recently visited the community owned Old Station Master’s Cottage that now houses the Byron Visitor Centre. The six paid staff and large number of volunteers appeared to be doing an effective job in marketing the range of tours and accommodation available in the Shire, among other things.
Byron Visitor Centre currently receives subsidised rent from the Council from a Section 356 donation. The lease has expired and has to be renewed.
At the 10 April council meeting Cr Dey proposed a motion to increase the peppercorn rental to $10,323 per annum. During the last few years the rent has been $400 and then $345. Council currently values the commercial rent of the building at $70,323.
The motion was lost 5-4 and a foreshadowed motion was moved by Cr Cubis for council to subsidise the rent by $70,325 effectively making the peppercorn rental $0. The motion was won 5-4 but is subject to public exhibition for comment for a period of 28 days.
In the About Us section on the Byron Visitor Centre’s website, they state that they receive no institutional funding and they are a self-funded organisation. There appears to be a major memory lapse in not acknowledging the council’s role in subsidising the rent from ratepayers’ funds.
An analogy can be made between Venice, Italy and Byron Bay (minus the canals, gondolas, Renaissance buildings and pedestrian-only traffic).
The population of Venice old city is at the lowest number for centuries and will continue to decline. An army of workers comes into the city from outside to service it. High property prices and rental costs have forced ordinary people out of the city and drained it of normal life. There are fears that the city’s days as a sustainable community are numbered.
There is the issue of mass tourism in Venice due to the influx of hordes of daily visitors making life extremely difficult for the permanent residents. They can no longer tolerate the discomfort of mass tourism and have proposed that visitors must have hotel reservations to secure entry.
Many Byron Bay residents have said ‘shut the gate’ or suggested putting up signs on the highway saying ‘town is full’.
In the Byron Shire Information Services Strategy Report, April 2012, it states ‘the increase in visitor numbers has generated concerns within Council over the ability of the Shire to effectively handle ongoing increases in visitation. This concern relates to the impact on Council infrastructure and related maintenance and visual impacts associated with increased traffic congestion, etc.’
At the Byron Visitor Centre I saw advertised a large number of short term holiday homes available to let. Byron Council has said that holiday letting in 2(a) Residential Zones is illegal. Many permanent residents say that their needs and those of the occupants of short term holiday lets will never co-exist.
I have heard it said many times that we don’t need to promote Byron Bay and spend ratepayers’ funds on subsidising a visitor centre. I won’t be the judge of that statement. I only know that there is trouble in Byron Bay paradise.
Harold Ryan, Byron Bay