Fears for Byron tourism industry
By ALEX EASTON
BYRON Bay's new plan for holiday letting will gut a $100m industry, real estate agents say.
Byron Shire Council settled on the rules as part of its new local environment plan last week. It will allow all property owners to rent their homes to tourists for up to eight weeks a year.
But year-round holiday rentals in residential areas will be banned under the biggest shake-up of Byron Bay's planning laws in seven years.
And with at least two months to go before they go on public display, the holiday letting rules are already under fire from industry groups who warn they will hammer the town's $100 million per year holiday rental industry.
Byron Bay First National real estate principal Chris Hanley and Grant Hawkins, of Byron Bay Accom, said the changes would shatter the town's $100 million per year holiday industry. They said about 95 per cent of Byron Bay's permanent holiday letting industry would be hit by the new rules.
Mr Hanley warned the changes would make life harder for residents already frustrated with noise, traffic and garbage issues created by holiday-makers in residential streets.
He said the holiday letting rules would be unenforceable and warned they would be challenged in court by property owners.
"What are you going to have? Bed checks? Are they going to go around and ask people if they're on holiday and if they've been there more than eight weeks," Mr Hanley asked.
However, Rhonda Cheeseman and other residents of Suffolk Park's holiday hot-spot, Alcorn Steet, just want the noise to stop.
Alcorn Street residents who spoke to The Northern Star yesterday welcomed the end of permanent holiday rentals, but questioned whether the council would be able to enforce the new cap.
The decision by the council to adopt the two-month plan, first proposed by Mayor Jan Barham, follows a long debate on how to manage holiday letting.
The debate was focused around the two-month plan and a zoning plan, put up by council officers, that would ban holiday letting outside of particular areas, such as Alcorn Street, Lighthouse Road, Wategos Beach and Belongil.
At one point the council appeared prepared to drop holiday letting from the local environment plan altogether, but on Friday it announced the plan, along with the new holiday letting rules, was complete.
Byron Shire Deputy Mayor Richard Staples dismissed the complaints, saying the industry's $100 million figure did not show up on official economic modelling of the region and the new rules would give residents more control.
Council planning director Ray Darney said the draft local environment plan, of which the new rules are a part, had just been finished by the councillors and was presently being reviewed by lawyers, ahead of getting approval from the State Government and being put on public display.
Mr Darney estimated it would be at least two months before the plan was put on public display and longer before it was enacted.
He said details of new holiday letting rules, such as how they would be enforced and what sort of approvals would be needed, would be worked out in a series of council workshops.
Cr Staples said the new rules would mean people could holidaylet the home they lived in and neighbours would be able to address them directly if there were any problems.
The rules also put a cap on the amount of time people would have to live next to a home that was being let to tourists.
Mr Hanley said some property owners, who bought their houses as holiday rentals and had been operating them that way for years, would be likely to challenge the rules in court.
He said holiday letting in its present form supported a small local industry in areas such as cleaning, interior design, painting and upholstery; and some of those jobs could go under the impact of the new rules.
He said the new rules could also create insurance issues; saying the homes being let out by residents going on holidays were less likely to have the proper insurance and warned the changes would damage house prices in areas such as Alcorn St at Suffolk Park, where high prices had traditionally been justified by the houses' potential holiday letting income.
Cr Staples said holiday letting appeared to largely operate within an unofficial 'black' economy.
He said the houses in those areas were zoned for residential and that people who bought them in the belief they could be run as a business could take the people who sold it to them to court rather than the council.
Alcorn Street residents Bob Walder and Kate Swan said they welcomed any plan that would reduce the amount of time they had partying tourists staying near them.
Mr Walder said he was rankled by the fact people paying the same residential rates and land taxes he was were using their properties to generate thousands of dollars per week by renting out to tourists.
Ms Cheeseman said, even if the council could enforce the new rules, they would probably make little difference to the residents' problems.
"I wouldn't think it would change it that much," Ms Cheeseman said. "The people in there at other times are families -? it's only at Christmas you have the big groups of people."