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Byron Shire
January 21, 2022

Govt delays action on holiday letting

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The desperately-needed 90-day cap on un-hosted holiday letting promised to Byron locals by the State Government has become ensnared in a web of departmental obstructions and delays.

And the government has now refused to extend the amount of time given to the Council and the Planning Department to finalise the Byron-specific cap.

This means that, as of January 31 next year, the Shire will come under the same rules as the rest of the State, under which un-hosted holiday letting can take place for up to 180 days of the year.

This blanket policy will apply in the Shire unless, and until, Byron Council can find a way through the bureaucratic mire. 

Promises, promises

In July 2019, the then-Planning Minister, Anthony Roberts, promised that Byron would be excluded from its statewide holiday letting policy, so that a 90-day cap could be introduced here.

Since then, there have been ongoing discussions between Council and departmental officers in relation to finalising the terms of a holiday letting policy specifically for the Byron Shire. 

However, three years on, this process is yet to be completed.

‘The Council’s Short-Term Rental Accomodation (STRA) planning proposal has had a protracted and difficult recent history,’ Byron Council’s Director of Sustainable Environment and Economy, Shannon Burt, told last week’s Council meeting.

‘What Council has asked the Department to do is to respect proper process, the ministerial direction, and the resolutions of Council, and permit a finalisation of our planning proposal.’

Ms Burt explained that the latest delay centred around an economic impact assessment commissioned by the Department in relation to Council’s proposed holiday letting policy for the Shire.

‘Council staff raised concerns with aspects of methodology, the technical assessment, the language, the lack of a social economic impact assessment, and consideration of mitigation strategies that appeared to be lacking in the assessment’, Ms Burt said.

‘These are being reviewed by Urbis [the consultants] and the Department, with a view to finalising it for gateway determination and next steps for Council,’ she said. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Planning has been approached by industry bodies and homeowners wanting the new policy to be finalised in such a way that the statewide 180-day cap would apply in Byron.

‘This would obviously be neat and expeditious’, Ms Burt said. ‘But there’s nothing neat and expeditious about the incursion of un-hosted, investor-led holiday letting… or the opportunistic seasonal holiday letting of second homes now prevalent in the Byron Shire.

Nowhere to live 

‘It’s taken over whole residential neighbourhoods and left key workers with nowhere to live.’

During parliamentary question time last month, Local MP, Tamara Smith, asked the current Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, whether he would defer the application of the statewide policy to Byron until the bureaucratic wrangling had been concluded.

Mr Stokes said that the application of the statewide policy to Byron had already been delayed, and that the Council now had ‘until the end of summer to complete that work. That has provided a bit over three years to do that work,’ Mr Stokes said.

‘I believe that is a good amount of time to provide certainty to the community to finalise the socio-economic work needed to justify the particular solution it is seeking. At some point, I need to draw a line in the sand and say, “Now is the time that you need to come forward with a concrete proposal based with justification through evidence”.’

According to the latest data from the watchdog website, Inside Airbnb, 20 per cent of the dwellings in the Byron Shire are being used for short-term holiday letting.

Meanwhile, thousands of locals are being forced to leave the Shire or live in their cars because of the dire shortage of rental accommodation.

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