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October 4, 2022

Planning Dept investigates Splendour festival site

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The company which owns and manages North Byron Parklands is being investigated by the NSW Department of Planning over traffic safety breaches that occurred during last month’s Splendour in the Grass festival.

As the mud dries following the troubled event, a spokesperson for the Department said that it was investigating whether the organisers had met their conditions of consent.

This investigation would determine whether the Department needed to take ‘enforcement action’.

General Manager of North Byron Parklands, Mat Morris, told The Echo that the investigation was in relation to breaches of traffic rules that occurred on Thursday July 21 as patrons poured into the site for the start of the festival.

‘On the Thursday when we had traffic entering into Tweed Valley Way and the highway there was a breach,’ Mr Morris said.

‘We had traffic queuing back onto the Pacific Highway and that was clearly a breach.’

Self-reported 

Mr Morris said that, in accordance with planning rules, North Byron Parklands had self-reported the breaches to the Department.

‘Under our consent conditions, when we identify that we haven’t met a condition it’s on us to put our hand up for that, and that’s what we’ve done,’ he said.

Mr Morris said that the ‘predominant reason’ for the breaches was the weather conditions, but that it was ‘not appropriate’ for him to comment further.

He said that, following a meeting with the Department, North Byron Parklands had agreed to provide a peer-reviewed traffic assessment that Departmental officers would use as part of their investigation.  

The investigation is the latest chapter in the troubled story of Splendour in the Grass 2022.

The festival suffered significant flooding on July 21 and 22, which caused major delays for those entering the site, flooded out hundreds of those camped inside, and forced the cancellation of all but a handful of shows on the opening day and night.

The issues from this year’s event have led some locals to question whether there was a lack of effective, independent oversight for the event.

In particular, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the North Byron Parklands Regulatory Working Group (RWG), a committee that, according to its terms of reference, is supposed to ‘oversee the environmental performance and community relations for outdoor events’ held at the site.

The creation of the RWG was a condition imposed by the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) when it granted consent for festivals to take place on the site following a long, hard-fought campaign against this by environmental advocates and the local community.

It is made up of representatives from North Byron Parklands, NSW Police, local councils, the State government, and two representatives from the community.

Members of the community, including some who have served on the Working Group, have for some time raised questions about whether it has been allowed to effectively provide independent advice and recommendations.

A key concern relates to the fact that, under the legally-enforceable terms of reference for the group, the Chair is meant to be ‘independent’.

However, the same terms of reference stipulate that this independent Chair is to be appointed by, and receive payment from, North Byron Parklands, the very company that the Working Group is meant to be overseeing.

The current Chair of the Working Group was contacted by The Echo, but has not responded.

A former community representative of the Working Group, Denise Nessel, also said that the terms of reference (ToR) were repeatedly changed by the management of the Parklands in what she regarded as an apparent attempt to sideline those members who wished to criticise its operations. 

Advisory role only 

‘The ToRs were changed, and it appeared [to me] as if those changes were to gain more control over the committee, making it less possible to present criticisms and concerns,’ Ms Nessel said.

‘They were doing everything to maintain control over their operations.’

But Mr Morris defended the RWG, which he says had an advisory role rather than one charged with oversight or compliance.

He said that since its inception, the RWG had been responsible for around 60 recommendations and suggestions for improvements to Parklands events.

Mr Morris further stated that all Regulatory Working Groups in NSW were chaired by an independent chair, who was paid by the project operator. Claims that the ToRs for the RWG had been modified were incorrect, Mr Morris said.

‘The terms were proposed by the Chairperson, and adopted by the RWG, as a mechanism to facilitate efficient meetings and outcomes and sound communication practices,’ he said.

‘The RWG group agreed to, and were intrinsically involved in the development of ToRs; a process which took several iterations to arrive at a clear set of supported ToRs that derived accurate and full inclusion of all members’ inputs.’


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6 COMMENTS

  1. The Parklands site for Splendour was always going to be problematic,

    I raised this issue in the media particularly Echo on a number of occasions,

    The site is known to inundate in rain events which we just had a taste of, anymore rain and
    it would have gone under 2 metres of water and there is no feasible evacuation plan or strategy,

    Disaster waiting to happen and Splendour have been so lucky that except for the recent 2022 inundation there had only been one other smaller event which bought the slogan Splendour in the Mud,

    This is very serious with a little more rain there would have been serious injury or even death,

    If the Echo looked back to my comments from the time Splendour was approved then you can see the flooding of the site is a very serious matter largely ignored by the Planning Department or Council

  2. It’s a miracle no one was killed on the M1 that Thursday night. South bound traffic came to a stop in the left lane about 3km from and queued back to the Yelgun turnoff. right hand lane was still doing 110kph, B-doubles included. There was little in the way of signposting and what was there was confusing.
    There was NO traffic control.

  3. An event poorly planned, lack of services, not enough space for the original planned numbers let alone the extras added this year, no effective weather contingencies, no usable traffic plan in place . . . oh where would this investigation start.
    The organisers need to be either stripped of their rights to have anything to do with any form of event or jailed.

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