Byron Bay’s local council wants to curb the number of visitors to the New South Wales north coast holiday hotspot amid growing resentment from local residents.
The Byron Mayor and Greens Councillor, Jan Barham, says the growth in houses being used for holiday letting is destroying lifestyles and disturbing ratepayers.
But Ms Barham has been frustrated in her attempts to quarantine tourists in special precincts.
To do that, her aim is to prohibit short-term rental accommodation from being alongside permanent residents.
“About 2002 we started to see the use of dwellings for tourism use,” she said.
“It was post-Ansett crash, Bali bombings and a lot of domestic tourism that year.
“In the suburbs where we have a residential living, we started having complaints about parties on the weekend, anything from 12 to 40 people in a house and throughout summer this ongoing partying.”
But the president of Byron’s Holiday Letting Organisation, John Gudgeon, says efforts to create a specified area for tourists to rent holiday houses has produced a ghetto.
“What they’re trying to do is create in Byron a very thin strip along the coastline where all visitors who want to rent a house, the traditional family holiday house, would be herded into. In fact they’re producing almost a ghetto,” he said.
“Let’s manage what we’ve got and manage it in the best way we can, so that the residents and the people who live here can enjoy it as much as the people obviously who want to visit here in their droves.”
Mr Gudgeon earns income from letting out property. He says the move by the council is a battle for the soul of one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Australia.
“They talk about the fact that these people, they’re greedy rich people who’ve got more than one house and if they didn’t have that house other people could own that house or rent that house or whatever,” he said.
“They’re really attacking a fundamental right of a person to have a second house or even to be able to have a flexible lifestyle where they might move between two houses or whatever.”
Ms Barham says she would like more housing freed up for permanent residents.
“There’s the usual noise and traffic issues and there’s some sense that they can be managed, but the most important thing has been the loss of that housing for permanent residents,” she said.
Mr Gudgeon says his association has gone out of its way to self-regulate to avoid noise problems, even setting up a hotline to dob in a noisy neighbour.
He says bringing in bans will not address what is fundamentally a behavioural problem. And he makes the point that a tourist precinct will push land prices up and add pressure to allow high rises.
“It’s an interesting relationship in Byron Bay. You’ve got a lot of people who understand very much that the economy depends on tourism and therefore you’re going to have, you can’t have tourism without visitors obviously,” he said.
“Now I don’t like crowded places, I hate crowded places, but what we’ve got is a greater array of restaurants, we’ve got a greater array of activities.
“All those things have been brought to us by that tourist economy which we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have the number of visitors coming here.”
For the Greens to get their way, they would need support from the State Government. So far that has not been forthcoming.
But Ms Barham says something will have to give.
“A lot of people say that the infrastructure is at capacity when you get stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into Byron. That’s a problem,” Ms Barham said.
She says Byron Bay’s problems are far from unique. She says other coastal towns are also struggling to cope with accommodating more people with limited money to spend on infrastructure.