Byron Bay . . . an explosion in holiday let accommodation has led to a stand-off between Byron Council and property owners.
Byron Bay . . . an explosion in holiday let accommodation has led to a stand-off between Byron Council and property owners.

Holiday lets: What's the solution

The Holiday Letting Forum held in October 2005 seems such a long time ago now.

It was called by Byron Council in a bid to get the tourist accommodation industry and concerned resident groups together to sort out the growing problems caused by holiday lets in residential areas.

Those problems related to all-night partying, loss of amenity, loss of community and overcrowding.

A range of options stemming from that forum went before the council in April 2006 and again towards the end of that year as part of a submission to the draft Local Environmental Plan (LEP) for the Byron Bay area.

That draft LEP was subsequently abandoned and the holiday let issue was once again left hanging.

The council then went on to develop a new shirewide LEP and resolved to deal with the holiday let issue by way of precincts.

It wanted to incorporate into the new LEP specific areas at Byron Bay and Brunswick Heads where holiday lets would be permitted. The planned precincts included Belongil Beach, Wategos, Lighthouse Road and areas close to the Byron Bay CBD and the beach.

Holiday lets in those precincts would be then regulated through an annual licence system.

The Holiday Let Organisation (HLO), formed to give voice to people who owned holiday houses, spoke out strongly against the precinct plan.

HLO, which says it represents the bulk of holiday let owners, has consistently taken the line that its own self-regulation initiatives are working and are sufficient.

Those initiatives include a code of conduct, a ‘Hot Line’ security response to complaints, two-strikes and you are out tenancy agreements with holidaymakers, and rules for maximum occupancy, parking and garbage.

The HLO said the State Government wouldn’t wear the precinct idea anyway, and the organisation was proved correct with the Department of Planning recently telling the council it wouldn’t support the stance.

All of which led to the decision by the council this year to fall back on its 1988 shirewide LEP to back a motion from Mayor Cr Jan Barham declaring that holiday letting in residential areas required approval and had to be regulated.

The motion also called for council staff to come back with a report on potential holiday letting compliance matters, which in simple terms will mean some ‘please explain’ letters will go out to property owners, with one of them probably leading to a test case in court.

It comes as no surprise that both the council and the HLO think they will come out on top if such a case eventuates.

The reality is that courts rarely record a ‘draw’ and in most court situations there is generally only one winner.

Given the history of the saga and the depth of feeling being freely expressed, there seems little likelihood of the council and the HLO getting together and coming up with a suitable compromise solution before it gets that far.

In an article in the Byron News in January 2007, the mayor said that as a compromise, she was willing to support the precinct option in a bid to resolve the issue, even though she didn’t believe holiday letting should occur anywhere as a full-time tourist use.

In that article, she said there should be a level of management to ensure visitors had their needs met, but also to allow behaviour to be managed so as not to upset the experience of others.

More importantly, she said, the rights of residents should be protected.

Living in a tourist town was difficult enough, but there needed to be areas where community could thrive, she said.

There is little doubt holiday lets have been part of the Byron Bay landscape forever in varying degrees and like other tourist areas, they are an important part of the holiday accommodation package and should continue to be in some form.

It has been the explosion in the number of houses being offered as holiday lets, especially in Byron Bay residential areas, in recent years that has brought the issue to the boil.

Unlike licensed and approved accommodation places, there is no official regulation which would deal with fire safety, health and other related issues – which hardly makes for a level playing field.

While its aims are worthy, HLO’s self-regulation is far from a perfect system. There is no doubt the lives of residents in residential areas who live next door to a holiday let house can be substantially disrupted by holidaymakers. I’ve certainly experienced it and it’s not pleasant.

It’s wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

But it does and it will continue to happen – which is why it needs to be properly regulated, just like other tourist accommodation outlets in Byron Bay.

Which begs the question? Can it be?

Do we have to wait for the outcome of a possibly long, costly and divisive court case to get the answer?

I actually thought the precinct idea was a fair compromise outcome. People buying into such a precinct would have an indication of what to expect and would have little room for complaint.

But the State Government – for whatever reason – didn’t like it. So it ain’t going to happen.

It may be hard, given the war of words on the issue, but perhaps both sides can put their emotions and egos aside and at least talk about a licensing system, or any other workable way of avoiding a costly and divisive court case.

It’s not too late.

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