Paid parking in Brunswick Heads is set to become a political football at next year’s local council elections, after a majority of Byron Councillors voted to put off considering the move until next August.
In a victory for a group of local business owners referred to during last week’s Council meeting as ‘the anti-parking metre lobby’, Councillors voted against a recommendation by Council staff to defer the matter until this October.
Instead, councillors elected to defer consideration until the eve of the September 2021 Council elections, meaning the likelihood of parking meters being installed in the next two years is virtually nil.
‘If you’re going to put this off, putting it off to that particular date is just going to turn it into a circus,’ Greens Councillor Sarah Ndiaye said.
Rejecting suggestions that his deferral motion was politically motivated, Labor councillor Paul Spooner said the move was necessary to protect local businesses who had been seriously impacted by COVID-19.
‘Over 100 jobs have been lost in Brunswick Heads owing to COVID,’ Cr Spooner said.
‘The loss of income has been massive owing to the reduction in tourism, the cancellation of festivals… not to mention the impact of the lock down and social distancing.
‘With this motion, we basically give ourselves 12 months to return to some sense of normality. For us to be even considering such a massive change in Bruns would be a silly decision.’
Cr Spooner and his erstwhile ally councillor Alan Hunter, rejected the parking study Council had commissioned, which showed parking occupancy rates of more than 100 per cent, saying it had lost relevance because it was conducted prior to COVID 19.
He also questioned the study’s accuracy.
This closely echoed the claims by Brunswick Heads Chamber of Commerce representative Michelle Begg, who said during public access that the study was characterised by inflated figures and anomalies.
‘The dates when the study was conducted were not representative,’ Ms Begg said.
‘Then you consider the fact that [in the study] the occupancy rate of the four spaces parallel to Torakina was four times that of the Torakina carpark. How do you explain that?’
Ms Begg said Council should take the matter off the table for five years.
But Greens Councillor Michael Lyon said there was a clear justification for introducing paid parking in Brunswick Heads once the impacts of COVID had passed.
‘I think it’s undoubted that COVID has had an impact,’ Cr Lyon said.
‘What for me is really important is that the data shows unequivocally we have reached maximum occupancy.
‘And looking at the trend figures, even if they’re 50 per cent out, we are going to see a massive increase in visitation in the Shire, especially from South East QLD.
‘I don’t want to kick the can down the road here. This isn’t just about Brunswick Heads, it’s about the impact on the whole Shire and getting revenue for the whole Shire.
Cr Cate Coorey also spoke in favour of the staff recommendation, pointing out that, far from introducing paid parking, it simply suggested a shorter deferral period.
‘I understand that business is suffering, but this paid parking is not going to affect locals, because those with permits won’t have to pay,’ Cr Coorey said.
‘Those on the pension and health care cards can get permits at a discounted rate.
‘This is not a tax on locals it’s a tax on tourism and visitors to the Shire.’
Byron Council staff say they have suffered a $1m shortfall as a consequence of COVID-19, forcing it to shelve a number of significant community projects, including a major upgrade of the Mullumbumby swimming pool that would allow it to open all year round.
Cr Coorey moved the staff recommendation, but this was voted down by each of the other councillors, except Sarah Ndiaye.
When Cr Spooner’s motion was then put, all Councillors voted in favour.
Michelle Begg later told The Echo, ‘At this time of huge uncertainty, the business community is very grateful, thank you’.