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Byron Shire
December 8, 2022

Byron certainly deserves better… it deserves to house its community!

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Byron Deserves Better

The Byron Shire celebrates a diverse range of ideas and beliefs. We consider this to be a good thing. But, when sharing those beliefs with the community, it needs to be done with respect, a commitment to the truth and transparency. These attributes are lacking in the recent advertisements of Byron Deserves Better (BDB) published in The Echo, statements on their website and in various articles.

Our concerns are that the ads and statements on BDB website misrepresent the complexity of Byron Council’s short-term rental accommodation (STRA) planning proposal for the community; fail to acknowledge the financial interests of those behind the ads in maintaining the status quo; and fail to reference the data they rely on while misrepresenting existing independent research.

We acknowledge the financial interests of those involved with BDB. They represent a significant business commitment to the Byron area. For example, two BDB supporters work for the holiday accommodation service A Perfect Stay, which hosts 142 of the 2,815 Byron Shire properties listed on InsideAirbnb (6.10.22). However, these business interests need to be balanced with the wellbeing of all residents and workers in the Shire.

Relaxing in the sun at Byron’s Main Beach. Photo Jeff ‘Sunshine’ Dawson.

Misleading data

The data supplied in the advertisements of BDB is misleading. It fails to acknowledge that under Council’s new 90-day cap policy there will be some areas with no STRA limit at all. These areas include Byron Bay beachside, Wategos, Suffolk Park beachside, and half of Brunswick Heads (the ‘exempt’ precincts). This would be a significant increase in the number of STRA nights allowed in the most populous areas. 

The BDB ads state that the STRA numbers used by Council are false. These numbers are in fact drawn from the ‘Urbis Economic Impact Assessment’ (EIA) Report released in November 2021. The EIA was requested and mainly funded by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. Council’s contribution to the total cost of $108,278 of the EIA prepared by Urbis was $20,278. 

The independent EIA report found that ‘of the 5,250 non-hosted STRAs listed in the Byron Shire in 2019 ‘62% of non-hosted STRA properties in the LGA were available for more than 180 days in the year (2019), 61% of these properties were occupied for less than 90 days in the year’ (EIA 2021, page 19). These figures indicate that a change to the 90-day cap might not affect the occupancy of over 60 per cent of STRAs in the Shire.

The BDB ad refers to ‘5,248 holiday homes in Byron’ but this is the figure (supplied by the EIA) for the Byron Shire. This failure to distinguish between the Byron township and the Byron Shire is misleading.

Furthermore, BDB does not correctly reference data to support their allegations on their website and in various articles that ‘According to Tourism Research Australia, when you remove families who stay in holiday homes in Byron Shire, as will happen if the 90-day cap is imposed, Council will jeopardise 1,448 local jobs and remove $267 million from the local economy.’ However, Tourism Australia research (TRA) denies that they have put out any research to support those figures and replied to our enquiry regarding the BDB statement: ‘TRA noted the Byron Bay article as it was published. TRA does not link its data to sensitive issues such as the example in the article and has not made such claims’.

BDB’s ad further states that the 90-day cap ‘Will Kill Byron Bay’ (The Byron Shire Echo, 5.10.22, page 9). Instead, the EIA analyses projected job losses owing to the implementation of the 90-day cap (with 365 days in exempt precincts) compared with the current in-place 180-day cap in terms of job losses. It predicted a total of 120 job losses in direct job losses (cleaning, maintenance etc) and six jobs in retail. It also predicted that 116 of these jobs would be recovered by 2027, resulting in a net job loss of ten (see pages 121–125). 

Cartoon by Ron Atkinson – ronatkinson.wordpress.com

10% rental supply increase

Significantly, the EIA report predicts that with the council’s 90-day cap proposed policy (including exempt precincts), an approximate 10 per cent increase in long-term rental supply would result from this simple change. 

This view is shared by Dr Peter Phibbs, who peer-reviewed the EIA report in December 2021, and concluded that it

‘… seems likely that the economic impacts on Byron Bay of the changes proposed by the Council would be very modest…’ (page 7).

Further, in analysing the demographic and housing data the EIA report revealed that the Byron LGA is experiencing housing-market failure, with poor affordability, very low rental vacancy rates, and high concentrations of non-hosted STRA approaching 35 per cent of total dwelling stock (see EIA, pages 43–44). 

Dr Sabine Muschter, a Byron local and a co-author of various research studies regarding impacts of STRA on the Byron Shire and other communities, summarises: ‘In my view, the proposal will not result in a shortage of tourist accommodation at all as the exempt precincts will increase bed night availability and “hosted” STRAs are not impacted by the policy at all. 

‘Furthermore, in 2019 Byron Shire’s over 100 Approved Accommodation Providers (AAPs), such as hotels, motels etc, had an average occupancy rate in the mid–high 60 per cent, low for a heavily touristic region and compared to the average of 74 per cent in NSW (Tourism Research Australia, 2019; Destination Byron, 2019). This suggests there are a lot more nights available in AAPs for visitors to stay in the Byron Shire. AAPs pay commercial rates and ensure compliance with noise and nuisance requirements,’ she explained.

‘Therefore, I question the argument that jobs, and money, will be lost with the proposed STRA policy. And just imagine, more families and essential workers will have the opportunity to live locally in full-time rentals and contribute to the town’s community activities, as well as the economy, all year round – not just in the holiday peaks.’

So by all means, BDB, have your say and promote your interests, but please don’t use unreferenced and out-of-context data, or statements designed to mislead the community about the structure and impacts of Council’s STRA proposal.

Please have your say on this issue at www.byron.nsw.gov.au/Your-Say-Byron-Shire/ until 31 October 2022. There is also a Change.org petition gathering momentum ‘Byron Deserves Balance’ www.change.org/p/byron-deserves-balance.

♦ Kim Goodrick is a 2022 NSW Government Community Service Award winner for her fierce advocacy for affordable housing in the Byron Shire. 

The Echo received a significant number of letters on this issue that will go online this week.

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