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November 29, 2023

Rockinghorse gets ‘rural function centre’ approval

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Byron’s Rockinghorse Studios has been given permission to run weddings and functions on its sprawling Coorabell property, becoming the first land owner to successfully navigate Council’s new planning controls for rural events.

But it’s not all champagne and caviar for the iconic property, with the owners also being forced to atone for a series of previous development consent breaches on the site.

Byron councillors voted unanimously to green light Rockinghorse’s application to temporarily use its property as a ‘rural function centre’ at last Thursday’s planning meeting.

It means the iconic venue will be able to hold up to 20 events per year, each with up to 150 people, with a maximum of one event per weekend.

This use will be permitted for three years, with the first year serving as a trial.

The owners of the studios were required to meet a series of criteria put in place by the Council in 2020 in order to gain the approval.

These included that the development be ‘small scale and low impact’, and that it not generate noise, traffic, parking or light spill that will ‘significantly impact on surrounding residential areas’.

10pm curfew 

The approval also came with a long list of specific conditions, including adherence to a 10pm curfew, strict noise regulations, and that a register specifying event/function type, date and trading hours be kept on site at all times.

‘It is a great pleasure to finally see a venue that not only complies with standards and operations but also, from the industry point of view, provides a solid representation of what the industry would like to see moving forward,’ the President of the Byron Events Industry Association, Jane Magnus told last week’s meeting.

‘This will provide a clear signal to [those who operate] without an approval, that securing a development consent is achievable by the standards set out by Council.’

However, it emerged during the course of the meeting that the studios have not always been so law-abiding.

Illegal dwellings

The meeting heard that there had previously been complaints to Council about a series of breaches, including using the property for unauthorised glamping and rental accommodation, building unapproved structures, and the operation of a helicopter service.

Council staff were coy when asked about the veracity of these allegations.

However, they confirmed that the studios had recently submitted two other development applications for the site in response to issues identified by Council’s enforcement team.

‘In terms of the structures, an inspection was undertaken and it was verified that some of the complaints were valid and they’re currently being assessed under a separate application seeking consent for those uses,’ said Council Compliance Officer Dylan Johnstone.

‘The owner has undertaken that any camping on the site will be undertaken in compliance with local government regulation.

‘There was an acknowledgment that a helicopter had been landing on the site to transport family etc. That complaint came in mid-last year and there hasn’t been any further complaints in terms of camping or the helicopter since then.’

However, councillors did not conclude that these breaches were serious enough to warrant refusing or deferring the application to temporarily use the property as a function centre.

‘I had thought about talking about a deferred commencement but that’s difficult to do on the run,’ Greens Councillor Duncan Dey said.

‘And hearing that those non-conformities are being pursued I feel okay with going ahead with the consent, bearing in mind that this is a trial and so will come back before us again.’

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