Council staff, headed by general manager Ken Gainger, have taken it upon themselves to prepare a development application (DA) to use Cavanbah Centre on Ewinsgsdale Road as a primitive camping and a market site.
It comes without informing councillors or the agreement of stallholders who operate on Butler Street.
Consultant Mike Svikis, a former Byron Shire Council planner, was paid an undisclosed sum by staff to prepare the 31-page DA, which is on exhibition until August 23.
While the DA attempts to play down any possible competition with the existing markets, Cr Paul Spooner has told The Echo he has concerns it could impact on current stallholders. Cr Spooner is manager of the Byron Bay Community Centre, which manages the markets.
He said, ‘The main problem is that this appears small gain for income; the argument in the DA is about a need for income to cover the large cost of the facility. This small gain may result in a big hit for stallholders and could send some to the wall. This idea is not coming from demand, it’s from wanting more income.’
As for moving the existing Butler Street markets to the sportsfield, Cr Spooner says he ‘hasn’t heard one stallholder in favour.’
‘Location is very important. Generally markets are held in towns and are within walking distance. It’s more difficult to get to the Cavanbah Centre and it could create more traffic. It’s worked well on Butler Street for nearly three decades.’
The Echo understands the genernal manager has long campaigned to move the existing markets from Butler Street to the Cavanbah Centre on Ewingsdale Road.
The Echo asked mayor Simon Richardson whether he was concerned that staff have interfered on a political decision.
He replied after print deadline that, ‘I understand the DA is about providing the possibility for more uses. For example, by allowing a “glamping” option, we may be able to get sporting teams to use the facility over summer pre season etc. There is no move to move current markets out to the Cavanbah Centre.’
The need for the proposal, according to the DA, is because ‘large facilities are expensive to run and Council has a responsibility to ensure that this facility can generate a reasonable income proportionate to its running costs.’
The DA also says Council has been approached by ‘boutique-style market operators’ to use the Cavanbah Centre and only development consent would allow that use. A fee could be charged for use, says the DA, which could ‘offset the running costs of the facility.’
Council staff have declined to disclose who the ‘boutique-style market operators’ are quoted in the development application, and have not provided an estimated number of market stallholders who are interested in being involved.
Yet they defended their decision to prepare a DA, saying that the centre’s plan of management (POM), adopted by Council on June 22 this year, ‘authorises a wide range of potential uses for the Cavanbah Centre including primitive camping and markets.’
Byron Shire Council’s manager for open space and resource recovery Michael Matthews said that prior to the adopted plan, ‘there was extensive public consultation including a public hearing to determine the future uses of this community facility.’
He says the DA for primitive camping grounds and markets was ‘lodged by Byron Shire Council staff to allow for the Cavanbah Centre to be used for different purposes as outlined in the Plan of Management. This includes markets and primitive camping,’ Mr Matthews said.
Mr Matthews restated the reasoning contained within the DA and said that without consent, approval for a market-type event cannot be given ‘until a development application for this type of use is approved’.
The Echo asked, ‘Are Council staff concerned this would impact on the current markets, held at Butler Street?’
Mr Matthews replied, ‘Byron Shire Council is a strong supporter of the existing Byron Farmers Market and the Byron monthly market. Last year we granted both markets five-year leases.
‘These markets are important, colourful, vibrant regular events for locals and visitors and Council believe they make a significant contribution to the community and the economy.
‘The purpose of the development application for the Cavanbah Centre is to accommodate additional markets from time to time and they would not compete with the existing community markets in the Byron Shire,’ Mr Matthews said.
He says Council is also seeking approval for 40 short-term camping sites to cater for people using the Cavanbah Centre, including visiting sports teams that are training or playing at the Centre. It will not be used as a full-time commercial camping ground.
The Echo also asked, ‘What oversight is there for a consent authority (Council) to assess a developer’s DA (Council)?’
He replied, ‘The development application is being assessed by an independent planner, as per Council policy, and will also be assessed by the Planning Review Committee prior to being determined’.