This year’s Bluesfest at the new Tyagarah site was a major success. Festival director, Peter Noble, is leading the fight against the major events policy.
This year’s Bluesfest at the new Tyagarah site was a major success. Festival director, Peter Noble, is leading the fight against the major events policy.

Council faces the music on policy

Byron Council is due to face the music today and decide what direction it will take with its controversial major events policy.

Sections of the music and arts industry fear the ‘draconian' policy will be enshrined in an amendment to the shirewide Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and will have a big impact on staging major events in the shire.

The region's peak tourist body, Northern Rivers Tourism, has also entered the fray with CEO, Russell Mills, claiming the draft events policy had attracted widespread criticism for its ‘non-consultative and overly restrictive approach to major events'.

In expressing concern for the loss of the World Rally Championship from the region, Mr Mills said the tourism industry was directly and indirectly a major employer and contributor to the economy of the Northern Rivers.

He said a diversity of major events through the year was a vital part of the tourism mix.

The decision to relocate the rally to Coffs Harbour followed decisions to move Splendour in the Grass from the Byron Shire to Woodford in south-east Queensland and the Tweed Wintersun Festival to Port Macquarie.

Mr Mills said losing major events from the region due to a lack of a proactive lobby supporting them was a worrying trend.

“The message these relocations are sending to people is that the Northern Rivers is not supportive of major events. Take them elsewhere,” he said.

“While there is a groundswell of support for bringing it back, the departure of Splendour in the Grass has been a major loss, not only economically, but culturally and socially.

“It occurred due to a passive, naive and complacent attitude toward the value of events on the part of the business and residential community, local government and the NSW Government.”

However, Byron Mayor Cr Jan Barham while Mr Mills' objective was to ‘increase the economies of the area', local government had a much more broader responsibility to protect the community and the environment.

Cr Barham said the council had to consider the shire's identity as an overall tourist destination and not focus one type of tourism.

She said there had been wide consultation on the events policy and the council had to ensure the protection of the local community's amenity.

Byron Council had always been supportive of maintaining existing events and festivals that ‘fit more comfortably with our community' and didn't have major impacts on the amenity of residents, she said.

Cr Barham said the focus should be on events that supported and provided exposure for local cultural groups and ‘fit the scale of our community'.

“I would like to see the council define an acceptable level of events happening in the shire,” she said.

“I would like to think it has the right to define limitations on the scale and number of events.

“Notwithstanding that, I have always been a supporter of the Blues Festival.”

It has been Blues Festival director, Peter Noble, who has been leading the opposition to the planned LEP amendment.

Mr Noble said anyone involved in arts, tourism and culture in any way should be ‘mad' and ‘enraged' about the policy.

He said despite the efforts of many in the community imploring the council to ignore ‘draconian' elements of the policy, nothing had changed.

A petition signed by 2045 people and presented to the council in April called on the council to amend the draft policy to allow for more than two large events a year and to cut the 16,500 cap on event capacity.

Northern Rivers Tourism says it will be calling on local councils and regional peak bodies to work together to develop a proactive regional events strategy to attract and retain events in the region.

Russell Mills said the ‘current complacency' was disturbing and damaging, only adding to regional problems as other event organisers assessed the hostile climate that seemed to be developing to major events.

“Conducted responsibly, major events have such a short- term physical impact, but provide such a valuable longer-term financial boost to the economy and community,” he said.

“Major events have more resources to make a valuable contribution back to the community and they should be part of the diversity of experiences that the Northern Rivers can offer.”

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