The battle over Byron Bay is really heating up with Bluesfest promoter Peter Noble slamming the local shire council for redrafting plans to that would make it impossible to hold most large scale events in Byron Bay.
The council announced a new draft to be added as a major event clause to their Local Environmental Plan (LEP), despite the fact that the new clause would most likely be overruled by the state government.
The clause, which has divided the beachside city, would allow for only two major music events per year. The shire are classifying a major event as having more than 6,000 people and unlike previous proposals will be including single-day events in the quota.
Speaking to local newspaper The Echo, the council’s executive manager of environment and planning, Ray Darney, said that “the intent and thrust is that the community and council believe that only two major events are sustainable both economically and socially in Byron Shire.”
“We should be encouraging smaller events in between that are well supported by the community and cause less impact.”
But Peter Noble, promoter of the popular Bluesfest festival which attracts over 60,000 patrons a year and has had the likes of Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Bo Didley, Elvis Costello, and other blues legends grace their stage, thinks that the council is being ‘draconian’ and ‘anti-arts’.
The council’s proposal throws a spanner in Noble’s plan to expand the calendar of events at his festival site to include a Shakespearean Festival, an indigenous festival, and a few one day events, over the next few years.
“There is nowhere else in Australia, and probably the world, where a policy of this type exists,” he said. “Why we would have an events policy that would only affect music events? ”
“Councils all over Australia and most normal people actually like music. They don’t try to stop it. Byron Shire Council knows the policy is illegal. That’s why they’re trying to ally it to an outdated LEP.”
Noble is also suspicious of the council’s timing, the end of their term is just a few months away. “I have asked Jan Barham [The Mayor] to discuss this with me for more than six months. I haven’t heard back. Why are the Greens anti-arts? It makes no sense.”
But despite his frustration, Noble is confident that the state government will reject the councils plans as he believes they contravene the Trade Practices Act.
The proposal by the council could go some way to explaining why Noble spoke out against fellow promoters Splendour In The Grass at their proposal to move to a new purpose built site near Byron Bay.
The proposed new home, North Byron Parklands, was bought back in 2006 by a small group of people, including Splendour in the Grass owners Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco, with plans to move Splendour there shortly afterwards.
But the group have been wrangling with the local council ever since, taking their cause to the New South Wales Department of Planning who recommended approval of a venue with the capacity to hold 50,000 people, but decided to delegate the decision to an independent body, the Public Assessment Commission [PAC].
Speaking against the proposal to the PAC, Noble said that it would be “unfair” for North Byron Parklands to be granted approval due to restrictions currently on his site. He even cheekily offered to host Splendour In The Grass at his site if the council would allow him to run more events there.
“We can easily take up to 30,000 people, we have put in the parking and we have the camping areas already in existence,” he said. “But we’re not interested in doing large events or getting approval for large events above 30,000 people. We just don’t see that it’s necessary or even needed in our area.”
But due to the future of the North Byron Parklands already sitting with the PAC, any moves by the shire council would not apply. “This does not relate to North Byron Parklands,” manager Mat Morris said. “We have our own application, which is being processed at present. We hope it will be finalised soon.”
The PAC isn’t expected to hand down its decision for a few more months, but even the council admits that it would be difficult to pass the ammendment if the PAC ruled in favour of the North Byron Parkland proposal.
“A decision favourable to the full extent of the Splendour site would make our position of trying to put it in place in the LEP legally quite difficult,” Darney said. “We’re hopeful that the Splendour approval will limit that site to only one major event [per year].”
Bluesfest are hosting a petition online for supporters to sign. You can show your support by clicking here.