There are currently nine zones in Byron Shire where function centres, including weddings, are permitted with development consent. There are three zones where they are prohibited. This includes RU1 and RU2 zones. However, some commercial weddings continue to take place in RU1 and RU2 zones.
Instead of closing illegal wedding events down in these zones Byron Shire Council has decided to amend the 2016 LEP to approve such events.
It is a fact that no one in the hinterland or in the entire shire wishes to live next door to a wedding or commercial events venue. Naturally there will be people who are happy to participate in such events in other peoples ‘backyards’.
Council has said:
‘Council would like to take a more active approach to rural weddings and events. Council is considering policy solutions to manage and control weddings and events within rural zones through planning controls.’
Short on resources
These statements are made despite the fact that Council admits that it does not have the resources to implement such policy or monitor and control consent conditions. Neighbouring property owners are expected to do this. To date most affected neighbours have suffered in silence but this is about to change. Many now have the resources to fight to protect their legal rights.
In Roden v Bandora Holdings Pty Ltd  NSWCA 220 (24 August 2016) Colin Roden, a local farmer, was successful in obtaining a declaration from the Supreme Court of Appeal NSW, to the effect that the development consent 10.204.230.1 dated 13 October 2014 (for a wedding and events venue) given by Byron Shire Council to Bandora Holdings Pty Ltd was invalid and of no effect. Byron Shire Council failed to correctly interpret its own 1988 LEP ie understand the meaning of ‘tourist facility’.
Colin Roden was awarded all legal costs. Council has the power to issue a DA but not the resources to rein in the horse after it has bolted or to deal with the damage caused.
Byron Bay Weddings owner Che Devlin has stated:
‘Not every property is suitable for weddings. If it’s affecting your neighbour it’s not suitable for weddings.’
Inevitably the effects of weddings and other commercial events do not merely affect’ neighbours they violate their property rights, impair their health and diminish their quality of life.
Council states that commercial events such as weddings boost the local economy and bring employment. The same can be said for McDonalds, Dan Murphy, shopping malls, nightclubs, festivals etc. The effect is the same.
‘Council recognises that people choose to live in rural areas for a peaceful lifestyle. Byron Shire Council has the difficult job of trying to find a balance that works for residents and the events industry.’
For the reasons outlined above there can be no balance. I speak from personal experience.
In 2016 an event entitled ‘Splendour in the Hills’ was hosted on my neighbour’s property. According to the Gold Coast Bulletin more than 300 people attended the event. There was free alcohol, great music and everyone had a wonderful time. One of the so called VIP’s arrived by helicopter.
Driving locals out of their homes
Preparation for the event included the erection of marquees and round the clock sound testing.
Frenetic activity persisted over four days. Several visitors mistakenly drove up to our house. We were forced to vacate our property on the day of the actual event as the doof music was so intense that our house shook and we could not function at all. It was impossible to even hold a conversation in our home. Our cows and pet were terrified of the helicopter. The effect on wildlife would have been equally horrific. On our return to our home we were unable to sleep due to the disturbance.
This was particularly shocking as a member of our household was recovering from recent surgery.
On the arrival of the helicopter another neighbour’s horses tore through a barbed wire fence. Another neighbour had her two grandchildren, a baby and toddler staying with her. The children were very distressed by the noise. Their grandmother unsuccessfully tried to buffer the noise by hanging blankets over her doors and windows.
I notified Council prior to the event and again after the event. No one from Council was available during the event. Council later contacted me to confirm it was an illegal activity and a fine would be issued. On the strength of this advice I refrained from commencing legal action in the tort of nuisance. Nearly twelve months later I was told by Council no fine had issued as this was a low priority matter and Council had to devote its resources to higher priority matters.
I was left to conclude that the event was indeed a ‘free for all’ except of course for the people who were legally entitled to be on their property ie the neighbours. The price we paid was immeasurable.
Parts of the hinterland remain picturesque and remnants of wildlife persist. In large part this can be attributed to those residents who care enough to invest their time and money in preserving and enhancing the natural environment on their properties and common land.
I am of the belief that Council resources will be better spent on the ongoing engagement of a lawyer (preferably legal counsel) who is an accredited specialist in environmental law. With expert advice Council may be able to avoid litigation and gain sufficient confidence to dutifully uphold existing law rather than evading it by constantly tweaking the LEP.
Members of the community who genuinely care about the natural environment and about other people’s backyards as well as their own are beginning to band together in mutual support to protect the peace of this remaining fragment of hinterland. We are not immortal. We have a moral obligation to leave something of intrinsic value for those who follow.