Byron Bay’s music festivals under threat if redevelopment rejected

The 260 hectares of green pastures and lush forest used to be a cattle farm.

These days, the North Byron Parklands, near Byron Bay on the NSW North Coast, is home to two of Australia’s largest music festivals, which attract tens of thousands of music fans and, organisers say, millions of dollars to the region’s economy.

However, a $42 million proposal to create a permanent festival site for up to 50,000 people has raised concerns that the staging of events such as Splendour in the Grass and the Falls Festival harms the environment, creates traffic and transport problems and affects the amenity of locals.

Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson also attacked the planning process as “undemocratic and disrespectful”.

Byron’s mayor Simon Richardson described the planning process for the North Byron Parklands as “undemocratic and disrespectful”. Photo: Kirra Pendergast

“Festivals bring creative, cultural and economic benefits for our shire but they are also a two-edged sword, impacting on our locals by way of traffic, waste and noise. These issues can be overcome but they are nonetheless real and important for residents,” he said.

The development application submitted by North Byron Parklands proposes the construction of an administration building and “golden view” bar.

“Parklands’ long-term vision also includes the construction of a conference centre and associated accommodation as per the approved concept plan, with capacity for up to 180 attendees and accommodation for up to 120 guests a day,” according to Mat Morris, the general manager of North Byron Parklands.

The site’s owner also seeks permission to stage outdoor events for up to 20 days a year, including Splendour in the Grass, for up to 50,000 patrons for a maximum of five days.

“The maximum attendance for Falls Festival Byron would be capped at 35,000 patrons,” Mr Morris said.

The proposal also involves temporary camping for up to 30,000 people a day for certain events.

The proposed redevelopment will be assessed by the Department of Planning and Environment – not Byron Shire Council – as a state significant development.

It follows a trial period of five years, plus a 20-month extension, which Mr Morris said had led to improvements in managing noise and traffic, as well as addressing community concerns.

“It’s probably fair to say that Parklands is the most regulated and scrutinised festival site in NSW, not only by the DP&E but by some members of the local community,” Mr Morris said.

The number of event days and overall number of annual patrons had also been reduced in the latest proposal submitted by the site’s owner, Billinudgel Property Pty Ltd, a company whose directors include Brandon Saul, the producer of the Byron Bay Falls Festival.

“Whilst there’s no such thing as ‘the perfect festival site’, North Byron Parklands comes pretty close,” Mr Saul said.

“It’s spectacularly beautiful, it has relatively few direct neighbours, its topography incorporates two natural amphitheatres and about 300 acres of level ground suitable for camping – and, it’s adjacent to an arterial road network.”

The site has had a contentious history – the organisers of the 2016 Splendour festival were forced to apologise after hundreds of patrons were forced to wait in three-hour long queues for buses to leave the event.

The NSW Police in its review of the 2016 festival said the site’s capacity should not be increased to 50,000 patrons until various issues were addressed.

Mr Morris said if the proposal was turned down “it is very clear, NSW will lose two internationally renowned Australian festivals to Queensland”.

“Hundreds of jobs and more than $100 million in economic benefits will leave a region with high youth unemployment and a range of businesses dependant on these events.” ‘Undemocratic and disrespectful’

A spokeswoman for Byron Shire Council said it would highlight issues such as impacts on ecology, emergency evacuation, noise, traffic, food health and security in its submission to the Planning Department.

“Because the NSW government is currently the consent authority for events held on the North Byron Parklands site, Byron Shire Council has limited input to what occurs aside from compliance issues including traffic management and noise to minimise disruption to residents,” she said.

Cr Richardson said: ???”I strenuously oppose the circumvention of local government decision-making because there is little consideration for the local community and to take the power to make decisions on important development applications is undemocratic and disrespectful,” he said.

“It is increasingly obvious that state governments of either party persuasion are intent on continuing to strip local communities from determining what is best for them and or adjudicating on developments that may affect them and this is occurring in Byron and across NSW.”

A local resident, Denise Nessel, said the festivals added to the considerable stresses placed on Byron Bay by an annual influx of more than 2 million tourists.

“Many of us who live near the site are not pleased with the ever-larger numbers of festival goers who use our roads, camp on our streets and beaches, and swarm into nearby towns in great numbers, and we are not looking forward to twice as many festival days (as are proposed) and still more in future,” she said.

“The shire is already overrun by tourists, and the festival goers just make it worse.”

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