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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Byron Bay now a ramshackle mess

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As one of the attendees at the Byron Bay town centre masterplan sessions earlier this month, I came away very impressed at the efforts of the consultants McGregor Coxall and Byron Shire Council so far.

There appears to be a genuine attempt to listen and take on board the feedback and ideas from the community on how fix up the most popular but grossly dysfunctional town on Australia’s east coast.

It’s over 30 years since council last attempted such an exercise when they brought in planning workshop to work with council on the 1983 Local Environmental Study.

I was part of council back then for a brief period but from 1985 to 1989 and I know it was a worthwhile exercise as the Byron Shire LEP produced from that study lasted 25 years from 1988 until 2013.

It was the feedback from the community which shaped the height, densities, locations and styles of development for the next two decades.

The 1983 study also established the necessary protections for the rural environment which has seen Byron shire remain one of the most environmentally-safeguarded areas on the eastern seaboard.

The Byron Bay CBD Masterplan was next in line to be done but like the town centre/Jonson Street bypass, it languished in the too-hard tray for subsequent councils.

Byron Bay is cherished by so many but on closer inspection, the town is a ramshackle mess which no longer functions for its long-suffering residents.

Loving something to death is no recipe for going on from this point.

We have handed over the town to a multitude of low-rent backpackers and vanpackers who park and sleep everywhere, do their washing in the gutter, defecate on the rec ground and the sand dunes and park out all our most scenic spots to the detriment of locals and tourists happy to pay to be here.

Wategos Beach and Clarkes sometimes resembles a waiting room outside a car-wreckers yard with dozens of barely registrable vans parked cheek to jowl. The public shower at Wategos hasn’t been steamed cleaned in six months and is a moving mass of footrot and worse.

The best tourism models around the world are those based on the social, cultural and sporting lives of the local residents – residents first and tourists are guests invited in on a temporary basis to enjoy the local lifestyle, not abuse it and take it over.

But here in Byron Bay, it’s as if our town motto was: ‘All Stay and No Pay’. This is not a sustainable model of tourism and it must change or Byron Bay will disappear under a tsunami of ancient car wrecks and human waste.

And before anyone writes back to bag me as anti-youth, I’m not. I have always been a great supporter of the Blues Festival, Splendour, Writers Festival, Triathlons, surf carnivals and the many other great sporting and cultural festivals this wonderful community has generated over the past 30 years.

The Byron shire community is a truly wonderful generous energetic and spirited community and I’m totally proud to be a member of it.

I just object to handing over the family jewellery for nothing and allowing people to behave on our streets in a manner that they would not dare to at home in Madrid, Dusseldorf, Bordeaux or Dublin.

As a community, we have to find our way back to mediating and negotiating our differences over the future of the town.

The limits of marching and litigating have been exposed in very rundown state of the town. More marches, banners and legal battles are not going to provide the answer – just look around you.

We stopped Club Med and got Club Bed. We stopped Woolworths and got Woolworths.  We stopped Gerry Harvey and got Gerry Harvey (and nice place it is too, Byron @ Bryon). We have traffic backed up to West Byron and Suffolk Park and in town we have 2000 cars chasing 1200 car spaces. The list is endless.

After 20 years of adversarial and confrontational politics in Byron shire, it would be fair to say that this approach has effectively run its course.

What we are left with is a financially rundown council, Third World infrastructure and no game plan for the future.

Trying going to a public toilet in Byron Bay – well don’t as most would rather be constipated a bit longer.

Try leaving your house and going to town if you have a full or partial disability. For example, the lack of footpaths and street lighting has a devastating social impact on many residents who are physically or sight impaired friends and they are virtually under house curfew after dark unless a family member or friend is available as an escort.

Where else do you see young mothers (and grannies) pushing prams on the road reserve because there is no adequate footpath?

In the very middle of town, the Sandhills off Lawson Street to the rec ground has become a no-go area by reason of public safety and sanitation issues.

In the past decade, we have seen the emergence of a significant potential bushfire hazard on the Sandhills area and indeed, the vegetation/bushfire threat is such that it already threatens the future viability and expansion of the Feros Village Frail-aged Hostel in Marvel Street.

That hostel was built and funded by donations of the Byron Bay local community and its future in the centre of town should be assured not threatened. It’s not a question of whether the area becomes a park or housing or a drainage lake. Its a question of what type of community would tolerate the present outcome in the very middle of its town. We shouldn’t and it should be addressed as quickly as possible

There has to be a better way and I tip my hat to Mayor Simon Richardson and his colleagues on Council for eventually facing up to the unpalatable truth that continuous oppositional politics delivers little or nothing when it comes to better parks, more toilets bypass routes and public safety. Worldwide, the best urban planning is achieved by negotiation and discussion and the best Masterplans are written in pencil, not in stone. This Masterplan is an attempt to do just that. It seeks to plan Byron Bay for the next 30 years and whilst I won’t be around for its lasting impacts, I like to think that our town will offer my grandchildren something better than  I could offer my daughter during the past 20 years.

I would urge everyone should get on board, take up your pencil and at least try and be part of the solution. The more people in on the dialogue, the better the outcomes. Go to the Council website and start now at www.byronbayourplan.com.au

Oliver Dunne, former shire president 1987-1989

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