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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Byron Bay, New South Wales

Lots of artistic folk live in Byron Bay and the town is considered to be the alternative and creative hub of far North New South Wales. But the city, surrounded by natural beauty, is divided. Five of nine positions on the Byron Bay Council are held by the Greens. Lady Mayor, Jan Barham is also a Green.

There are a lot of very wealthy people in Byron Bay and most of them have waterfront homes. The trouble began when Byron Council adoped a policy of "planned retreat". Council is totally commited to climate change and are convinced that sea levels will continue to rise so future development should be pushed back from the shoreline. Sounds logical, but when wild weather and high tides pounded the coast in May their over-reaction was bizarre.

John Vaughn saw his front yard disappear into the sea so he rang and asked permission to build a rock wall - which he would pay for - on the dunes in front of his house. He said the wall would plug a gap in an existing rock wall that had protected surrounding properties since about 1974. Council said no and issued him with a legal threat if he dared to go ahead - no sandbags, no sea walls.

The distraught home owners approached the NSW government for help. The NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change has written a stern letter to Byron Bay Council stating that ratepayers have every right to defend their homes. Mr Vaughan said that Belongil property owners were euphoric when they heard the news. But the Mayor is still defiant. Perhaps she should consider that six councils have been sacked by the NSW government since 2003, some for corruption, others incompetence. Maybe her council should get together and plan their own retreat.

Then there is the problem of holiday rentals. Council says there is unregulated and illegal tourism in residential areas and have proposed a ban on some holiday rentals. Canny investors bought houses in the town purely to rent them out as holidays homes, bringing in huge rents. The Mayor is unapologetic and says the locals are fed up with 'party houses' which are scattered among permanent private homes, they keep residents awake all night and cause real distress. Point taken, but since when does council have the right to tell people they can't rent out their property if they want to.

We Aussies seem to follow a pattern, when we retire, we want to get out of the rat race and move to a beautiful, quiet, seaside town. Byron Bay 30 years ago was a quaint village with an alternative lifestyle and weird looking people in dreads and whacky clothes. Today you have to fight for a parking meter - the charm has long gone. Business owners naturally want to expand and encourage new development like McDonalds and huge shopping malls and the long time residents want it to stay the way it was. Trying to hold back progress in any quaint coastal town I think is a pipe dream and if people want total peace and tranquility, they'll have to move to some place no one else wants to be.