The serious traffic safety issues at this year’s Splendour in the Grass festival were not a result of increased patron numbers, but a confluence of unforeseen circumstances, festival organisers say.
But demands for significant changes to the event are continuing, including a reduction in capacity.
In an address to last week’s Byron Council meeting, Splendour’s General Manager, Elise Huntley, acknowledged that there were ‘significant failings’ during the event and that there was ‘a lot of work to do to restore good will’.
However, Ms Huntley denied that the issues warranted a reduction in numbers, or a far-reaching independent investigation as some have demanded.
‘We acknowledge that there were significant failings, specifically in relation to traffic on Thursday July 21, that caused unacceptable impacts to the community,’ Ms Huntley told councillors.
‘We accept responsibility for these, and are devastated by what occurred and the impact on the community.’
But Ms Huntley said the traffic issues, which saw buses and cars queued back onto the Pacific Highway in breach of the venue’s consent conditions, were not the result of the scale of festival but predominantly the result of ‘adverse weather conditions’.
‘Thursday is the main arrival day for campers and the number of people onsite at that time is significantly below capacity,’ she said.
‘The number of patrons in attendance on Thursday was in line with, or less than, patron numbers and arrivals to the event in 2019, 2018 and other years prior.’
But independent councillor, Peter Westheimer, said this explanation was not satisfactory.
‘For you to say that it’s just a bad weather event, doesn’t cut it for me,’ he said.
‘We have to plan for the worst possible scenario, because this type of weather is going to happen again.
‘Really, with all the problems that there were – e.g. people waiting 12 hours to get in and then being given a flooded campsite – can you really make good on your promise that this won’t happen again?’
Attendance numbers steadily increasing
Attendance numbers at the festival have been steadily increasing in recent years in line with a controversial amendment to the venue’s consent conditions, passed in 2019. The capacity limit for this year’s event hit 50,000 for the first time, though Ms Huntley put the figure at closer to 45,000, owing to a higher-than-usual attrition rate.
Meanwhile, Kathy Norley from the South Golden Beach Community Organisation, told the meeting, ‘If there’s a rain event, you can’t get the patrons off that site – you can’t even get the cars off the site’.
‘The numbers either have to go down, or the event has to be sent somewhere else, like Woodford.’
Ms Huntley promised to introduce a series of measures to address the traffic safety issues at next year’s event, including using the second entrance to the camping area at the north of the festival site, which organisers chose not to operate this year.
The parking area on the site will also be extended in accordance with another approved modification to the venue’s development consent.
Ms Huntley concluded her speech by declaring that the Splendour organising team was ‘recognised on a global scale as industry leaders’.