Hundreds of Byron residents have signed a new petition supporting a 90-day cap on un-hosted short-term holiday letting as way of addressing the critical lack of housing in the Shire.
The petition, which stood at 550 signatures and rising as of Tuesday morning, is part of the Byron Deserves Balance campaign, launched on Monday by a group of long-term locals.
‘So many people who used to live and work in Byron have had to move away because their rent has gone up substantially or landlords have decided to short term holiday let – it’s changed the whole town,’ the co-founder of the campaign, Liz Friend said.
‘A real estate agent said to me last year, “Well Liz, the rich move in and the poor just have to move on… that’s the way it is”.’
‘But the last thing we need in Byron is a playground for the mega wealthy, many of whom don’t even live here and don’t care about the quality of community. There needs to be a more equitable sharing of opportunity for all, not just a select few.’
The launch of the new campaign is the latest chapter in the ongoing debate over restricting short-term holiday letting in the Byron Shire.
A key moment in the saga came in 2019 when the then Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, promised that Byron would be allowed to impose a 90-day cap as a way of encouraging landlords to put their houses on the long-term rental market.
Three years later, the State Government has not only failed to deliver on that promise but appears to have deliberately impeded efforts to make it a reality.
Driven by the housing crisis, and the catastrophic floods of February/March, Byron Council has renewed its efforts to have the cap imposed, placing a new Planning Proposal to this effect on public exhibition.
While many residents support the plan, a group of business owners, calling themselves Byron Deserves Better, launched a campaign in a bid to derail the new policy.
The similarly named, Byron Deserves Balance campaign, is a direct response to that opposition.
The business owners behind Byron Deserves Better claim that imposing a 90-day cap would ‘remove the families who stay in holiday homes in the Byron Shire’, thus removing ‘$267 million from the local economy’ and jeopardising ‘1,448 local jobs’.
It also asserts that Council has grossly exaggerated the figures in relation to the pervasiveness of short-term holiday letting in the Shire, pointing to the fact that just 6.5 per cent of the Shire’s housing stock has been officially reported as short-term holiday letting.
By contrast, Council says that 35 per cent of the Shire’s housing stock is being used for this purpose.
The claims from both sides have sparked debate over what the true impact of restricting holiday letting in the Shire would be.
When challenged on its assertions about the economic impact of imposing the cap, Byron Deserves Better said ‘we stand by our claims and we stand by our campaign’.
‘The data has been sourced from Tourism Research Australia (TRA), the leading tourism economics and research body for the Australian Government, and also from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS),’ the group said in a statement to The Echo.
However, further scrutiny reveals that neither the TRA nor the ABS have undertaken any kind of detailed evaluation of how a cap on holiday letting would affect the local economy.
Byron Deserves Better has also incorrectly stated on its website that Mayor Michael Lyon is proposing a cap ‘on all short-term rental accommodation’ in Byron Bay.
This ignores the fact that, under the Council’s proposal, significant parts of Byron Bay, Suffolk Park and Brunswick Heads would have holiday letting 365 days a year.
Nevertheless, an independent Economic Impact Analysis (EIS) commissioned by the NSW Department of Planning in 2021 did recommend that a 180-day cap rather than a 90-day limit would be the best option from an economic perspective.
The analysis, by consulting group Urbis, found that this option would provide the most substantial benefits across the various stakeholder groups while minimising detrimental impacts on the visitor market.
But a peer review of this analysis commissioned by Council questioned these findings, both in terms of the methodology used, and the underlying assumptions made.
A key argument of this review, as well as those who support the 90-day cap, is that any policy must give due consideration to the social impacts of un-restricted holiday letting as well as the economic ones.
‘We need to get this housing crisis under control,’ Ms Friend said.
‘Turning so many properties into short term holiday lets for the benefit of a few does not serve the greater majority. It is not the answer.
‘There must be a balance between the permanent, long term residents of Byron Bay and wealthy tourists. The community is losing out through the monopolistic attitude of a few.’