In all 40 local businesses completed the survey’s three questions with 70 per cent ‘in favour’ of the event at this point and 85 per cent in favour of the WSL being held at Lennox if it was ‘post-pandemic’ and ‘not held during the holidays’. This was despite the fact that only 65 per cent of businesses said that they would benefit from the event itself.
However, according to local Ballina councillors Jeff Johnson and Keith Williams, who both have businesses in the area, the broader community had serious concerns over the event going ahead at this time.
‘As a Councillor, it was also clear that the broader community had major concerns with crowds, congestion, and COVID risks during an already busy period,’ Cr Williams told The Echo.
‘I’m not against Lennox Hosting surf competitions and am a big supporter of the annual Skullcandy Gromfest which is a feature event on our calendar,’ said Cr Johnson.
‘But when you have representatives from the Lennox Surfing Reserve, Landcare, the residents association, board riders groups, and council staff expressing reservations then you have to listen to those concerns and weigh them up with the economic benefit argument.’
Council rejection of WSL
Cr Williams said that he spoke with the Lennox Chamber of Commerce prior to the Ballina Council meeting where he voted to reject the WSL being held at Lennox.
‘It is clear that the views expressed by the Chamber in support of the event at that time were broadly supported by local businesses,’ he said.
‘As a local cafe owner and operator I was acutely aware of the potential positive impacts of the WSL event for business. I have subsequently spoken with local business operators to explain my support for the decision of Council to reject the event. Put simply, the event was rushed, poorly planned, and could have become an absolute balls-up if large unregulated crowds had showed up.’
This was reiterated by Cr Johnson who highlighted how fortunate the region is to not have had a case here in ‘over six months’.
‘We can’t let our guard down now, particularly with the reporting of new strains of the virus that are even more contagious. We have seen what is happening as we speak in Melbourne due to them hosting an international sporting event,’ he told The Echo.
‘The key issues for me in moving the motion to reject the proposal were that: 1) due process wasn’t being followed. Councillors were being asked to approval a major event with no actual application during the busy Easter holiday period. 2) The downside risks due to COVID were high. Any short-term economic boost could have quite easily been reversed if any of the competitors or support staff unknowingly had COVID-19.
‘In this case, I couldn’t support the proposal with the information we had. I also remember the community concerns and opposition when Rip Curl Search wanted to hold an event in Lennox about 10 years ago.’
Cr Williams said that he was strongly in support of events ‘as a way of increasing business during quiet periods. But sadly that was not the case in this instance.
‘I think the Deputy Premiers description of Lennox as a bunch of NIMBY’s is seen as a badge of pride by many locals. I’m proud to represent a community that will stand up, mobilise and demand that politicians listen.’