BYRON Bay has become a slave to the dollar, is putting its own people last and has lost the ‘magic’ for which it was once renowned.
That’s according to Byron Shire Mayor Jan Barham, who is becoming increasingly frustrated with what she sees as an imbalance between the rights of residents and the power of economics.
She says the dominance of the tourism industry in Byron is hurting long-term locals – the people who gave the town it’s ‘edge’ and attractiveness in the first place – and it’s time the town looked beyond the tourism dollar.
Her comments have incensed the president of the town’ s chamber of commerce, Sevegne Newton, who is currently preparing to launch one of Byron Bay’s biggest tourism campaigns.
Ms Newton said the mayor was creating division in the community and hurting businesses at a time when they needed all the help and support they could get.
Cr Barham’s feelings came to the fore at a recent council meeting, in which councillors voted to allow a hinterland resort to open its restaurant to the public, despite protests from locals about increased traffic on their quiet country road and threats to wildlife.
She despaired at the direction the shire was heading.
“If you’re not running a business you don’t seem to count,” she said.
“We are driven by the dollar. That seems to be where we are going.
“Welcome to the new Byron Shire. Not proud to part of it.”
According to Cr Barham, unregulated tourism activities – such as weddings and parties held at properties with no approval – are out of control and causing headaches for locals.
“It might be nurses who work at the hospital and are trying to get some sleep. It could be teachers or doctors or students. People who should be assured of their amenity are being disrupted.”
Long-term locals were also being forced out of town by unregulated holiday letting.
She said there were up to 600 homes taken out of the residential market by holiday letting, which contributed to the housing shortage and exorbitant property prices.
“Every day I hear about people who can’t find somewhere to live,” she said.
“I’m saddened by the fact that every day I encounter people who are leaving the shire or who are really struggling. When you’ve got 70 per cent of someone’s wages going in rent, you lose a lot of long-term valued residents.”
Jobs provided by tourism also lacked security, as the main work available was part-time or casual.
It all adds up to residents being ripped off, according to Cr Barham, who suggests that tourism businesses are actually indebted to these residents, as they are the ones who warded off developments like Club Med in the ’90s, and helped to preserve the natural beauty of the area.
“A lot of people contributed to giving them the ability to have a business,” she said.
On top of this, the ‘flavour’ and diversity of Byron was being lost.
“You have a main street that’s predominantly franchise stores. Local businesses can’t afford to be there because the rent’s so high.
“In tourism it’s one of the golden rules – offer up your arts and your culture and your point of difference so visitors can get something they can’t get at home. But we’ve not been able to maintain that,” she said.
Cr Barham thinks it’s time Byron looked at alternatives to tourism.
“One of the key messages in economic development is ensuring there’s a diverse market, so if there are changes in one sector you can fall back on another,” she said.
“When the abattoirs closed in the ’80s, we thought that was the end, but then we moved to tour-ism. Now we see fluctuations in that industry.”
Industries such as agriculture, arts and culture and the care sector were all areas that council had previously supported and could be developed further.
However, president of Byron United Ms Newton believes that until an alternative to tourism is established, council should do all it can to support local business owners, many of whom are struggling.
“There’s no ‘us and them’,” she said. “The business community are members of the community. They have every right to earn a living, pay off their mortgage and support their children.
“The message the mayor is sending out to tourists is ‘you’re not welcome here’.
“It’s time to stop destroying the industries that employ people in our community.”
source: Lismore Northern Star
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