Byron Council has abandoned its plan to divide the Shire into separate short-term holiday letting ‘precincts’ with different caps on the number of days people can let their houses if they are not living there.
At last week’s planning and development meeting, Council instead voted to adopt a staff-recommended approach involving a blanket 90-day cap on holiday letting across the Shire.
The approach is a central part of Council’s attempt to address the impacts of short-term holiday letting, which has soaked up a significant proportion of the Shire’s rental housing stock, thus exacerbating the housing affordability crisis.
In the lead up to the last state election, the incumbent Liberal/National coalition promised Byron that it would have a special exemption from new short-term holiday letting laws. These laws had cleared the way for the practice to expand across the state and had potentially disastrous consequences for Byron.
Since then, Byron Council has been developing a draft strategy in accordance with that pre-election promise and subsequent discussions with the minister.
It will now wait hopefully for the state government to approve the strategy and turn it into law.
There had been considerable debate within the Shire about the best way to limit the impacts of short-term holiday letting, while at the same time accepting the reality of Byron’s status as a tourist town.
Council had originally proposed a precinct model, whereby areas such as central Byron and Brunswick Heads would have unrestricted short-term holiday letting, even when the host doesn’t live in the Shire.
The remainder of the Shire would have various caps on letting, including large areas with a 90-day cap.
But Council has now abandoned that approach, choosing instead to adopt a blanket 90-day day approach following advice from staff.
‘A proposed precinct model has not been progressed as it requires significantly more data analysis to validate,’ staff said in a written report to Council.
‘Without this, it has the potential to create an unequal distribution of benefits and burdens across the community.
‘Instead, a more simplified approach is recommended that will seek to introduce a 90-day limit for non-hosted STRA in all areas as an initial planning control response, with further data analysis to continue on the potential for a precinct-based model which could be implemented at a future time.’
This recommendation reflected, in part, the results of a survey of local residents conducted over the recent holiday period.
Responses to the survey were split quite evenly between those who favoured a precinct model and those who felt a simpler 90-day cap should be applied equally in all areas.
It was on this basis that Council staff felt they were not justified in recommending a precinct model without further data to demonstrate its fairness and effectiveness.
However, concerns have been raised about the veracity of the survey results given that there was no limit on the number of times people could participate.
In their report to Council, staff said ‘while it is acknowledged that there may be some bias in the feedback due to multiple responses, all submissions have been reviewed by staff with this in mind, and the results, as presented, are generally considered to be a fair representation of current community views.’
Meanwhile, new data on holiday letting in the Shire from Airbnb shows that between July 1, 2016 and November 1, 2019, the total number of Airbnb and HomeAway listings increased from 1,586 to 4,237.
The data also shows that about half of these listed properties were highly utilised holiday lets and ‘would most likely be considered de facto tourist and visitor accommodation’.
However, while the total volume of listings is still increasing, take-up rates appear to be slowing overall, suggesting that short-term holiday letting may be approaching saturation point.