MAYOR Cr Jan Barham has vehemently rejected claims that Byron Council should carry the blame for Splendour in the Grass quitting Byron Bay after nine years and heading off to Woodford in Queensland to stage next winter’s festival.
“No way,” said Cr Barham when asked if the council should bear the responsibility for last week’s shock decision by Splendour organisers.
She said it was about choices and Splendour had made choices about how it wanted to proceed.
“I don’t think council could wear any blame for that,” she said.
Cr Barham said one of the biggest issues associated with Splendour was its social impact on residential areas through holiday letting.
The Byron Shire was a small community and there were significant pressures from tourism and on the lifestyle of residents, she said.
The council had a great responsibility to consider the needs of residents and was looking at the potential of smaller festivals that would ‘sit within the community’s comfort zone’.
The mayor’s stance is at odds with that of Byron Bay’s peak business group, Byron United, which lays the blame squarely at the council’s feet and says the decision will cost the shire millions of dollars.
Vice-president, James Lancaster, said the council was ‘driven by ideology’ and was trying to restrict everything happening in the shire.
“In a shire like ours with a high unemployment rate, to lose something like Splendour in the Grass is a real kick in the teeth for a lot of businesses and employees,” he said.
With its application to have its land at Yelgun in the north of the shire approved as a permanent festival site still being processed by State Government planners, Splendour organisers said they had made the decision to move to Woodford because dates for next year’s event had to be locked in.
Promoter, Jessica Ducrou, also cited Byron Council’s draft events policy as another reason for the move.
Ms Ducrou said the policy was a ‘slap in the face for Splendour and we are struggling to find a way to move forward in the Byron Shire’.
She said the policy was negative, restrictive and onerous and limited how many events could be held and how many people could attend.
Ms Ducrou urged people disappointed with Splendour’s decision to move to Queensland and who wanted to see it return to the Byron Shire, to lobby councillors and write letters to local newspapers.
“I think all too often they hear from naysayers, it’s time they were aware of the support for the festival,” she said.
Ms Ducrou said Splendour organisers would continue to work through the approval process for the Yelgun site and was hoping to return to the Byron Shire in 2011.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the festival’s move to Queensland was a ‘huge coup’ for the state and could generate at least $13 million in economic benefits.
“This is great news for Queensland music lovers and locals who will reap the benefits of such a big event,” she said.
However, Northern Rivers Tourism CEO, Russell Mills, said the loss of the festival was a major blow to tourism in the Northern Rivers.
“It is very disappointing that organisers have been frustrated to the point of leaving our region with an event that generated nearly $6 million into our economy,” he said.
Byron Council had given Splendour the go-ahead for a trial event next year at its Yelgun site, but in May this year that approval was overturned by the Land and Environment Court.
The court action was launched by residents’ group Conservation of North Ocean Shores (CONOS) which challenged the validity of the council’s consent on the grounds that development was not permitted in 7(k) habitat zones which covered parts of the site.
In his ruling, Justice Brian Preston said the council had no power to grant consent to a prohibited development and declared the consent invalid.
However, Splendour said the judge had found fault with the council’s technical processing of the application and had raised no concerns with the merit of the application, or the suitability of the site.
While welcoming the court’s decision, CONOS president, Bob Oehlman correctly predicted a ‘few more twists and turns’.
The Coalition for Festival Sanity said it would continue to throw whatever resources it could muster to stop the proposal once and for all.
In July, Splendour organisers took the application to the State Government to determine under the government’s ‘major projects’ legislation and withdrew the application for a ‘trial’ event at Yelgun.
Bluesfest director, Peter Noble, said the council needed to sit down and value what festivals brought to the shire.
Asked if he would ever consider taking his festival elsewhere, he said: “ I don’t want to leave, I love it here, this is my home. But if people keep knocking on your door and say go away, well then you don’t feel welcome.
“There seems to be a group of people using the word ‘community’ as their guise and they are trying to tell us how to live our lives.
“We are a special community here, but over-regulation should not be the catalyst for this events policy, we need the policy to support us.”
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