The nearly six year saga involving Splendour In The Grass’s festival site has reached fever pitch at a hearing held by the Public Assessment Commission tasked with deciding the fate of the proposed festival site.
It’s hard to believe but it was back in 2006 that a small group of people, including Splendour in the Grass owners Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco, formed the Billinudgel Property Trust to try and find a place to set up a permanent festival site.
The group settled on a site now called the North Byron Parklands but have since been stopped by endless complaints, vitriol, and government bureaucracy which has threatened to completely derail the Splendour promoters plan and the future of the festival.
The local council initially approved a trial event at the site but that decision was later overturned in the Land and Environment Court. The New South Wales Department of Planning has now recommended approval of a venue with the capacity to hold 50,000 people, but have delegated the decision to independent body the Public Assessment Commission [PAC].
Ray Darney, the Byron Shire’s director of planning said the council does not support the development saying “we believe that numbers of the order of 35,000 and 50,000 are just too big in our shire and on this particular site the opportunity to camp 25,000 people when we have a shire population of only 29,000 is simply over the top.”
Also speaking at the PAC was Peter Noble, promoter of fellow Byron Bay festival Bluesfest, who according to The Daily SPA claimed to it would be “unfair” should North Byron Parklands be granted 365 days operational approval, when his site at Tyagarah is only allowed five.
Noble’s speech was met with anger from some members of the audience with heckling that the promoter was “vicious” for objecting to the plan. We’re also not sure it’s necessarily the best PR move for Noble to be acting out of what appears to be jealousy in such a public way.
But Noble stands by his position, and cheekily slipped in that he’d be happy to host Splendour In The Grass at his site if the council would allow him to run more events on the site. “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.”
Some locals are also concerned that the site is unsuitable to hold such a large event as it is prone to flooding, as evidenced by heavy rains in the last few weeks that saw the festival site flood extensively.
Chris Cherry from the Wooyung Action Group told local paper the Echo it wasn’t so much about not wanting the festival back as it was, “that we can’t provide them with a safe and secure environment. And that’s all there is.”
Outside the meeting, North Byron Parklands general manager Mat Morris said the site was not unsafe and an event would not have been held at the site following last week’s rain.
“We ran a simulation of the system that we would have utilised and we would not have had an event (following last week’s rainfall),” he said.
“The north-east corner of the site took 18-24 hours to rise in the area that it did (last week). It takes about eight hours to evacuate the site at its full capacity.
“The Department of Planning were focused on public safety. The event operators involved in this project have probably sold in excess of 2-3 million tickets for events and have never had a major incident or death.”
He also addressed concerns that approval would mean a barrage of visitors inundating the Shire to visit music festivals on the site. “The way that it’s structured is such that it’s phased in over a period of six years,” he said.
“The end result being that we would be allowed – if everything happened the way we said it was going to happen – to have one festival up to 50,000. We would be allowed to have three more festivals,” he continued. “But they would be at smaller capacities over a maximum of 12 days for those four events.”
The final decision rests with the Planning Assessment Commission, however there may be an avenue for Splendour In The Grass to challenge the decision in the courts.
You can see some footage of the proceedings below: