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May 24, 2024

Police flag concerns over Splendour site expansion plans

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Police say they were 'stretched to breaking point' during last year's Splendour in the Grass festival. Photo Jeff Dawson
Police say they were ‘stretched to breaking point’ during last year’s Splendour in the Grass festival. Photo Jeff Dawson

Local police resources, based in Tweed and Byron Shires, were stretched to breaking point at last year’s Splendour in the Grass (SITG) festival, held in late July at the North Byron Parklands site in Yelgun.

The comments come as part of a scathing assessment by crime manager from Tweed Byron local area command (LAC)  Brendan Cullen, who flagged major issues and the potential of disaster that arose from the ‘largest event held on the site to date’.

His is one of many agency submissions to the NSW planning department regarding North Byron Parkland’s application for permanent residency, expansion and approval for 50,000 patrons per day.

Government department and council comments can be found at the planning department’s website.

Inspector Cullen said he was unsupportive of the application until issues such as policing numbers, emergency plans, a safety audit, improved/additional roads and traffic management were addressed.

A northern entry for the site and transport hub linking to Wooyung Road was also suggested.

Inspector Cullen wrote, ‘The [2016] event was sold out with capacity of 32,500 paying patrons per day, of which we have been informed there were 20,100 campers. The site also houses a significant workforce of approximately 3,500 and an undisclosed number of free ticket holders at any one time.’

Fest pays for policing

Perhaps the most remarkable point that arose from the submission was Splendour management confirming with Echonetdaily that they pay police to manage the event. When asked how much was paid at the last event, Splendour management declined to comment.

Splendour in the Grass co-producer Jessica Ducrou told Echonetdaily, ‘Splendour in the Grass operates on a police user-pay system. This essential service helps us meet the needs of our patrons while still fulfilling our responsibilities to the broader community. We understand that as the event grows, so does the requirement for police presence and user-pay services. Splendour is 100 per cent committed to patron safety and will continue to make adjustments to this service based on the number of patrons in attendance.’

Remarkably, Ms Ducrou claims the ‘user-pay service helps ensure that normal policing services to the community can also be maintained.’

Echonetdaily asked for clarification, given it is complete odds with the police submission which indicates they are understaffed. Ms Ducrou replied, ‘We have always worked closely with the NSW Police. The process to date is to provide NSW Police with the approved patron capacity numbers. The NSW Police Service then advise events of the required policing numbers and charge the events for these officers directly. The events have no role in determining final police numbers, this decision is always made by NSW Police.’

Other concerns raised by Inspector Cullen included the ‘consumption of illicit drugs’, with difficulties in mitigating risk owing to crowd numbers, lighting and site layout.’ Pre-loading with alcohol and drugs were also a concern.

The threat level for terrorism, says the report, was considered ‘probable.’

SITG was also rated in the assessment – for the first time – as extreme for violence on the Escalated Licensing Operational Response Model (ELORM).

But the rating was disputed by Ms Ducrou, who said, ‘We’d like to clarify the ELORM Severe Violence rating that was issued after the Splendour 2016 event. The ELORM is a matrix that is applied to a venue that has a capacity of 100 persons through to large scale events (like Splendour), based on the number of incidents.’

‘There is no proportionate weighting or aggregate that is followed based on the number of incidents versus the number of persons in attendance. This means Splendour is currently measured against venues that are as small scale as a 100-person event. We firmly believe that this current rating system does not accurately reflect an event of 32,500 people that had relatively few incidents.’

Insufficient access

Inspector Cullen also said that access on the spine road for the 2016 festival was insufficient for emergency and service vehicles. He goes as far to suggest an outbreak of diarrhoea could not be adequately be addressed owing to the lack of available ambulances.

He says, ‘There is no possibility of evacuating within eight hours at current capacity levels.’

Echonetdaily asked that given patrons were crushed in an accident at the NYE Falls Festival in Lorne, Victoria, would Splendour management endorse Inspector Cullen’s recommendation for SafeWork NSW to audit the site?

Ms Ducrou replied the Lorne incident had a completely unique set of circumstances, ‘that has no bearing on Parklands or Splendour in the Grass.’

‘Splendour has an Event Safety Committee that meets prior to and after the event. We spend a great deal of time in the planning of the event to ensure the safety of event patrons and staff. NSW Police have attended these meetings, and we have undergone a process of positive consultation with them in relation to crowd flows and general patron safety.’

And while Ms Ducrou did not reply to whether she agreed with Inspector Cullen’s suggestion to create a northern entry for the site and transport hub linking to Wooyung Road, she said, ‘What makes Parklands unique is the number of exits on and off the property.’

‘There are five entry/exits at Parklands, compared to one entry/exit point at Belongil Fields when Splendour operated there with a capacity of 17,000 people. In addition, there are a further minimum of six emergency service access points to Parklands, identified and mapped by the RFS and NSW Police. There is a planning process in place with key stakeholders to identify entry and exit points at Parklands and determine best practices.’

Working closely

General manager of North Byron Parklands, Mat Morris, told Echonetdaily, ‘Parklands has always worked closely with both the events (Splendour and Falls) and local emergency services organisations including the NSW Police, State Emergency Services, Rural Fire Services and Roads and Maritime Services to operate in a safe manner covering patrons and staff while minimising impacts on our local community. To this end, we have undertaken many detailed incident simulation workshops with these agencies that strengthens the ongoing capabilities of each event’s Emergency Management Centre.’

‘With the assistance of these key emergency service organisations all eight events held to date at Parklands have been conducted in a safe and responsible manner. Post-event debriefs with these agencies continue to provide valuable opportunities for improvement and we are grateful for the continuing support of these agencies.’

According to the planning department’s website the North Byron Parklands proposal to allow for 50,000 patrons per day and to become a permanent cultural events site is yet to reach the public exhibition stage.

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  1. Police resources were only stretched last year – if they were stretched at all – because they were poorly utilised. If the police were used to ensure the safety of patrons – instead of harassing party-goers in pursuit of the government’s ill-informed and unwinnable war on drugs – then everyone would be happier and safer. The policewomen and men included.

  2. How strange, North Byron Parklands (wastelands) have never met any of the criteria that was put in place before increased numbers to Splendour could be allowed, yet the NSW Government has given it the green light each year.
    If anything should be investigated, Splendour’s approval process and ongoing expansion should be at the top of it’s list or are we now at the level of third world countries.
    As for Splendour being a cultural event, give us all a break.

  3. What a bunch of sensationalist nonsense! If Splendour 2016 was such a problem for the police, why are we only hearing about it now, some 8 months later? It was all rosy coverage right after the event. What’s changed? Is it possible that the Byron Shire fell apart due to lack of policing when Splendour was on last year and no-one noticed until now? And an Extreme Violence rating? I attended Splendour 2016 (and the one before that) and there was a strong security presence and plenty of police around during the three days of the festival. At no point did I feel unsafe or at risk of being in any danger. I have to say, this sounds like more of a problem with the fun police, not the real police.

  4. I agree, Splendour is not a cultural event and just spin. They haven’t complied with regulations put in place as part of their application process and have increased noise levels. Leading scientists believe they have caused the local Koala population to die a painful death from stress of the events noise or moved on. The event is encroaching on a reserve meant to protect our flora and fauna. What a disgrace this event is. I love concerts and have gone to many festivals. I have never attended Splendour or Bluesfest because I know the damage it was doing to the Koala population there and disagree in putting such invasive events next to protected habitat. Money over environment and everyone who attends should know the damage they have caused and be ashamed if they have a conscience. I feel the event organisers have bullied their way through all the planning processes.


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