Have you been to Byron? Apparently it is the place to be seen and an essential on every five minute hippy and hipsters list. Yet for the town itself and residents, the influx of tourists and the short term holiday letting (STHL) bonanza that has come with the evolution of sites like Airbnb and Stayz has been devastating.
‘We have seen several examples of people in Byron who are buying six or more houses in close proximity in order to run these businesses,’ said Byron Shire deputy mayor Michael Lyon.
Councillor Lyon is calling ‘upon the government to ensure a lasting solution to the housing crisis by giving Council the power to prevent non-resident investors from being able to short-term holiday let.
‘Decades of planning in Byron Shire has been undermined almost overnight by the emergence of holiday-let businesses operating in residential areas. We have seen our long-term rental stock decimated by business operators buying up properties in residential areas and operating accommodation businesses out of them. This subversion of residential zonings is only getting worse as tourism expands.’
A group of approved accommodation operators have expressed hope that Byron Shire could be excluded from the state government’s recently announced holiday-letting rules after a recent meeting with Nationals MLC Ben Franklin.
The NSW Liberal-National state government plans to introduce laws that will override Council’s planning policies, and Council staff have indicated the laws are ambiguous and are not consistent with existing laws.
Critics also say the burden of compliance and infrastructure will be borne by local councils.
A small fee paid to local councils with every Airbnb transaction – which is common in other countries – has been rejected as part of the new government rules.
Byron councillors resolved on Thursday (Cr Hunter against) to ‘write (again) to the minister for planning to seek an urgent meeting to request a deferral of Byron Shire from the new state-wide planning rules (pause to implementation).’
The motion also asks the Department of Planning and Environment if Council can require the ‘dwelling’ used for short-term rental accommodation to be the principal place of residence of the owner, and that it be permissible for 90 days (not 180 days). Council have also asked the planning department that if owner or manager of a property used for short-term rental accommodation could be required to ‘register on a Byron Shire Council Short Term Rental Accommodation Register,’ and ‘exclude short term rental accommodation from (to be nominated) areas in the Byron Shire that are needed for permanent residential and key worker accommodation.’
No stopping the tide
‘There is scope to approve more hotels and motels to minimise the disruption to our tourist industry,’ said Councillor Lyon referring to putting limits on STHL.
‘But we must recognise that unless we act now it will be too late. There is no stopping the tide of tourists, and if we allow our residential housing to be converted into an effective business zoning, there will be nowhere even remotely affordable for our long-term locals and our workers. It will be the greatest tragedy to ever affect our shire.
‘Any political party who cares about local communities will join the call for action to end this now and give the power to regulate to the local council. It is the easiest way for compliance staff to act, as determining if someone normally resides in a dwelling is a simple task. Relying on reducing the days alone that a property can be let will do nothing for our long term residential stock, which require year-long leases for secure housing.’