Byron Greens Mayor Simon Richardson has again been forced to admit council’s inability to communicate effectively following a decision to evict a solar-charged electric bike hire company from a prime Byron Bay CBD location.
The operators of Sunshine Cycles have been given one month’s notice to vacate the site, located near the newly constructed train station on Shirley Street, which was provided by the council.
Indeed their tenure has been overshadowed by repeated lack of clarity and communication regarding their use of the site and concerns relating to the competitive advantage gained over other bike hire businesses.
While an application by Luke Young to the council’s Byron Bay Town Centre Placemaking Seed Fund for the development of a solar-charged electric bike hire company was unsuccessful, Mr Young subsequently approached Council in August 2016 asking for support to trial their business.
Byron Council had been looking into a bike hire scheme for Byron town and discovered that these initiatives have been heavily underwritten by other councils that adopted them and is ‘not a viable option for us.’
The Sunshine Cycles proposal was then supported by the mayor and other councillors for a trial period as it could be done at little or no cost to the council. A peppercorn rent was arranged.
‘It’s innovative nature was why we wanted to support them on a short-term basis,’ said mayor Simon Richardson.
The council’s November 23, 2017 agenda initially states that it was looking to support the start-up phase for ‘12 to 18 months’. However, Cr Richardson told The Echo that staff were uncomfortable with this, owing to guidelines around competitive processes. A six month lease was provided, which then became a month to month lease.
As the end of the six month lease approached, Sunshine Cycles contacted the council to clarify their position and request an extension. Council’s executive management stated that it was unable to extend the trial ‘in relation to guidelines around competitive processes’.
Confounding matters, a practising valuer was engaged by the council on September 4 to prepare a commercial market valuation to estimate the market rental value of the site. While councillors were advised by staff that it would be completed on November 8, the mayor told The Echo last week that ‘staff haven’t completed it yet’.
Mr Young says he has waited for the council’s valuation report to be done so that they could further discuss whether they stayed on the site at a cost, as per the valuation, or re-locate.
With no clear communication to Sunshine Cycles, the end of their lease was raised at the November 24 meeting. Mr Young spoke at public access requesting that their tenure of the site be once again extended. Later in the day, councillors voted to give Sunshine Cycles one months’ notice to vacate the site.
Cr Richardson has since told The Echo that he would have supported the business remaining on the site until the new incubator program was ready to run, as had previously been decided. However, he said there wasn’t the support for that from other councillors.
Cr Richardson also stated that there were other similar businesses in Byron Bay that are unhappy about the competitive advantage that Sunshine Cycles are receiving as a result if the council’s support.
‘We didn’t communicate remotely well enough,’ said Cr Richardson.
However he felt that Sunshine Cycles should have already had an exit strategy in place as they knew their time at the site was limited.
This has left Sunshine Cycles in the unenviable position of finding a new location for their business on, or before, Christmas Eve.
‘The timing was unfortunate,’ councillor Sarah Ndiaye told The Echo.
Mr Young highlighted that the business is still in its development stage and that it is ‘covering its costs without paying rent’.
‘I got involved with Zero Emissions Byron and they were talking about ways to improve transport in the town.
Luke then came up with the idea of the solar powered rental bikes that could be booked and operated remotely. You book on-line and then he is able to open the container remotely for users to collect and return the bikes.
‘I have put my own money in so far and we are now looking for investment. If we double what we are currently doing, we have ten bikes, it will begin to be profitable.’
Ultimately they would like to have several sites around Byron where you can collect and return bikes.
With only a month’s notice to re-locate, Sunshine Cycles are hoping that there is a reasonably central location with public access where they could rent a 6m x 3m north facing site to continue to develop the business.
To contact Sunshine Cycles visit www.sunshinecycles.com.au or call 0406 755 547.