Liz Levy, Suffolk Park.
Presently open for submissions is Byron Shire Council’s proposal to give a five-year lease to the Byron Visitors Centre Inc (BVC). What commenters can’t know though, it seems, are the terms of the future lease and how much subsidy council plans or will need to offer. Fairly crucial is judging the value of this proposal to the community.
Council recently voted to end the moratorium and take a firm line on unauthorised short-term holiday rental and anyone who has experienced having their street turn into party central has applauded. People struggling to find permanent accommodation have applauded. Are any of the accommodation options advertised by the BVC among those likely to come under the council’s gaze? I think the Byron community needs to have some answers to this, and how reliant the BVC is on this market, before judging its value to the community.
The BVC also appears to have branched recently into new business operations that compete with local businesses. I am not satisfied that community land, and my rates, may be being used to create an uneven playing field at the same time that the council is planning to slug them a hefty portion of the new rate rise. I, like many locals, also deeply regret that small local businesses are already becoming a disappearing sector of the total commercial precinct. I would be particularly concerned with any council plans for rental subsidies or Section 356 donations. These offer a huge competitive advantage in a CBD paying some of the highest rents in the state. Add to this that the BVC can also draw on volunteer labour.
If commercial enterprises are to be conducted at the Old Stationmaster’s Cottage I believe the lease should be advertised for public tender at full, independently calculated commercial rates.
A lot has changed in the tourist industry generally, and Byron Bay in particular, since the creation of the Plan of Management for the Old Stationmaster’s Cottage of 2002. As more travel arrangements are conducted online, the role of visitors centres is declining. It could also be questioned how much publicity the BVC really generates, given Byron Bay’s international reputation and it’s extremely high profile nationally. It is its own publicity that has outstripped local information centres. I don’t question the importance of tourism to the local economy but the level of benefit the BVC really brings local businesses.
As the original Plan of Management states: As community needs change or emerge, the need may occur for major changes in use of the Old Station Master’s Cottage. Could this community asset be put to better use? Time for a rethink.