Byron Bay Music Festivals At 'Crisis Point'

18 May 2012 | 4:16 pm | Scott Fitzsimons

Bluesfest director Peter Noble makes impassioned plea against the restrictive Byron Events Policy to

Tensions and emotions are running high in the Byron Bay music scene at the moment as festival promoters and producers continue to clash with the local Byron Shire Council and specifically an events policy that looks to restrict the amount of live music events held in the region.

Only yesterday did renowned music promoter Michael Chugg join the fight against the council's Byron Events Policy. His statement came alongside similar sentiments from musicians such as Kasey Chambers, Ben Harper, Michael Franti, The Cat Empire, John Butler and more. They urge music fans to sign Bluesfest's petition, which is nearing a key milestone of 10,000 signatures which will it allow it to be debated on the State Government floor.

After Splendour In The Grass' recent approval on a state level, there are now conflicting event policies - the local council's Byron Event Policy far more restricting and would only allow for two more events per year where audiences of 6,000 or more can attend. Noble says that if this current climate were the case when Bluesfest's current approval expires in 2020, the inability to host more events on the Tyagarah site - or anywhere in Byron - could force the award-winning and internationally acclaimed festival to move from Byron.

Speaking to today, Bluesfest's director Peter Noble said that one of the major problems of the restricting events policy is that it is solely focused on music. "There is no other policy like it in the country, and for good reason," he said. "It is just discriminatory." He even claims to have legal advice that deems the policy "illegal".

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And as he's often said before, "I could open a speedway, or have a sex orgy... just not amplified music."

'It Started When Splendour Bought Land'

Noble owns the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm land that Bluesfest is held on each year and says he was encouraged to purchase and develop the land by councilors.

In Noble's view a change of heart came after Splendour In The Grass's purchase of the North Byron Parklands site, which prompted a knee-jerk reaction from the council against music events in the region.

"Obviously because Splendour bought a site," he said of the catalyst. "And then there were rumours that Big Day Out was coming here, Falls was coming here... It brought in a fear that there'd be a number of rock concerts at the North Byron site. Other events are getting the full effect of the fear and loathing of the Splendour decision."

That's not to say that he blames Splendour's promoters, or isn't fighting the policy on a united front with them (in fact he, "spoke to [Splendour co-director] Paul Piticco and offered to do Splendour [2012] on my site, but they preferred to go back to Belongil"), but he definitely feels that the climate changed after their purchase.

When Splendour's proposals were knocked back initially, they took the fight to the State Government who, after a lengthy process that eventually saw them handball it back to local counil, have approved a trial period for events on the North Byron Parklands.

In an email sent yesterday Noble explains, "We now have a situation where The North Byron Parklands site has been approved for three events at any time at much larger capacities than Byron Council is defining in their policy.

"In essence that means we now have a two tiered events system functioning in Byron shire, where essentially one site, which withdrew it's application to local government has been rewarded with a multiple event approval by going to the state government, whilst the other which has attempted to work within local government is looking like being placed at a serious disadvantage through the greatly differing perspectives that the State and Local government seems to take toward music events."

Noble: 'I've Been Stabbed In The Back'

Speaking to Noble today, it's evident that he feels betrayed by a local council that he believes was originally supportive of his plans. He feels that he's been "stabbed in the back" by those council members who are now voting against live music . "All of a sudden they started voting against us," he said.

"I've spent nearly $10 million on the site. It's my life savings, everything I've built... [This policy] could put me out of business. I'm not saying it will, but if it goes through I'd have to leave Byron."

"We were asked to buy the site during the administration of Mayor Tom Wilson in early 2002 by Tom and a number of the councillors of the time," he wrote yesterday, "and have worked with Byron council to firstly identify a site, and then get the necessary approvals over time, with their ongoing support in general, during the past three administrations, and lodging our DA in 2008 and getting our first approval in 2010."

He said that despite this is was unbelievable to "find out that an events policy arises in 2010 which greatly constricts what I could do on my land. It flies in the face of promises I'd been made."

Noble is a supporter of the Greens but has to admit that the political party "are the predominant force in Byron council" and he believes it's the Green-bloc on the council that is causing him the most grief. 

"The message has been, 'We don't want music events coming to Byron'... We shouldn't be anti-arts or anti-business. The Greens have to partner with green outcomes, not try to stop people who aren't doing the wrong thing because they can or because they're anti-business."

The frustration of the situation has lead him to look to thye state level and consequently the petition which today is nearing the 10,000 signatures needed to be brought to the government. Noble believes he's supported by a number of state ministers, including Minister for Tourism and Events George Souris, just like he was originally supported by the councilors.

Elton John 'Forced Out Of Byron'

What seems to have prompted this latest push from stakeholders in the music industry is the news that Chugg Entertainment have been rejected in their request to host an Elton John concert on the Tyagarah site in November this year. The news made the front page of today's Northern Star, with the headline that "Policy doesn't allow for further performances."

They also run Michael Chugg's comments from yesterday regarding the "ridiculous short-sighted policy of the council."

Today Noble told that this one show could potentially have been worth millions to the Byron council, and the money would have come from a respectable and responsible source of tourism.

The next Byron Shire Council meeting, Thursday 24 May, will see the policy on the agenda once again and Noble is calling upon Byron residents - as well as music lovers from around the country - to show their dissaproval.

"It is up to the residents of Byron shire [to decide] if they believe they should have this access to culture removed from them by our councillors," Noble wrote. "And I appeal to media to raise this now, and before the matter is enshrined into policy."

In an email today he writes, "Councillors Richardson, Woods, Tucker and Heeson have continually voted against the Byron events Policy. I call on councillors Barham, Staples, Tabart, Cameron and Morrissey to reconsider their actions. As always I am open to discuss the Byron events Policy with councillors.

"I note that those who advocate the policy have not responded to my many attempts to engage them in a discussion about the policy for many months now – however, you can only live in hope."

[Amendment at 7.07pm: Regarding the timeline of land purchases - Ed]