INFRASTRUCTURE MONEY: Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson
INFRASTRUCTURE MONEY: Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson Mireille Merlet-Shaw

OPINION: Byron Bay deserves state help to fix infrastructure

THE main reason a tourism-dependent council like Byron is looking to paid parking to raise funds is because we cannot raise funds to offset the impacts of tourism on the council's infrastructure.

In particular, although great for business and employment, day visitation costs Byron council millions. Recently, the State Government announced funding of $57 million to Taronga Zoo. They explained in the media the reason as thus:

Mr Baird said Taronga Zoo, which attracts 1.4 million visitors each year, was a "jewel in the crown" for Sydney and must be revitalised. "You cannot be complacent and just sit back," Mr Baird said. "Taronga Zoo for a while was allowed to be run down. Under the new leadership, and the new approach of the Government, we're not letting that happen. This is a rare jewel not only in Sydney's crown, but in the world's crown in terms of zoos. The more people that visit, that drives the economy, that drives jobs and that's great for the state."

Sound familiar? Byron is the "jewel in the crown" for non-Sydney-orientated tourism. Byron needs "revitalisation" to a degree unable to be provided by a financially hamstrung local government - just like Taronga Zoo needs government help. Unlike Taronga Zoo, we don't receive it.

Byron Bay attracts more visitors than Taronga Zoo; in fact, unlike Taronga Zoo, which mainly provides an added attraction for visitors already in Sydney, Byron brings 700,000-plus new visitors a year who come for the day, specifically from Queensland to Byron Bay, NSW.

The State Government has been missing in action in supporting us to revitalise. Byron is rundown and needs "refurbishment" in the way of toilets, beachside amenity, parking and seating.

Yet we are not eligible for any State funding for tourism infrastructure "revitalisation". Funding is only available for more tourism products. So, if we built a wall around the town and charged admittance, maybe then we can receive tourism funding?

And yet it is obvious that better facilities would mean a better experience, and thus, more day visitors would return more often, or overnight visitors may stay longer, and that "drives the economy, that drives jobs and that's great for the state."

Every reason to justify $57 million to the tourism "product" Taronga Zoo could be made for the tourism product Byron Bay. Even if we couldn't justify being unique, imagine if the State Government split $57 million between 10 tourist towns - $5.7 million to upgrade our toilets, main beach and infrastructure would minimise the biggest turn-offs visitors have towards Byron, and residents would live the benefits every day.

Vivid Festival gets nearly $2 million per year funding for a 14-day event. If we got $2 million per year for being a jewel in the crown, we wouldn't have to consider paid parking.

Imagine if the State Government provided us a one-off $20 million "refurbishment" for us to get a light rail? Not only would it provide a tourism product, leading to more visitors spending an extra day here to use it, but it would allow residents from Mullum, Sunrise, Byron, Suffolk and Bangalow to use it and not have to drive and park cars in Byron as often.

Byron is the most visited area outside Sydney and Melbourne and we don't receive a cent for tourism infrastructure support from the State Government, as infrastructure renewal is not a new "product". In Byron, we don't need new products, we just need financial support for rundown infrastructure. Then visitors receive a better experience, while residents receive a better town.

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