Cleaning up on New Year's Day 2001.
Cleaning up on New Year's Day 2001. Gary Chigwidden

New Year's Eve fears

BYRON Mayor Cr Jan Barham fears the go-ahead for ramped-up New Year's Eve celebrations at Byron Bay could lead to a return of "the bad old days" when revellers trashed the town.

Cr Barham said she was very concerned the town would again become a magnet for over-the-top, alcohol-fuelled celebrations.

But it's a claim rejected by Paul Waters, president of Byron United, which pushed for the celebrations upgrade.

"What we are doing is creating an appropriate celebration atmosphere for locals and other people who are here," he said.

"Before, there was nothing, with people wandering around not knowing what to do. It was embarrassing."

The council last week backed a proposal by the New Year's Eve Working Group formed earlier this year at the instigation of Byron United to widen the celebrations at Byron Bay which, in recent years, have been deliberately low-key.

The group is planning to erect a small stage in Apex Park on the beachfront for a program of "musical and cultural performances" featuring local musicians and performers, a laser show, a New Year countdown and a midnight fireworks show.

Byron United says it plans to raise $20,000 from the local business community to cover the cost of the extra entertainment.

As in recent years, there will be amusement rides and market stalls in Apex Park.

While Cr Barham, who is a member of the Upper House and was in Sydney on parliamentary duty, wasn't at the latest council meeting, she did send messages to councillors and council staff raising concerns about changing the "formula" for New Year's Eve.

She said there was a long history of "considered management" of the issue and she believed it required greater consultation with police before upgrading entertainment.

This was particularly so with plans to have a fireworks show, she said.

This would create an "attractor" for people to come to the town, as well as creating problems with entertainment finishing at midnight.

Cr Barham said she was concerned the working group had not consulted with people who knew the history of New Year's Eve at Byron Bay.

She said organising activities at Byron Bay for New Year's Eve was "all about safety".

In those "bad old days", businesses actually lost out on New Year's Eve, with some not even opening, she said.

As the former chairperson of the New Year's Eve Safety Committee for a number of years and with an involvement that went back to 1994, she was concerned a change in direction had the potential to impact on the safety of the town.

"I don't think they really understand the implications of it, that it's a signature event that sets the identity of the town," Cr Barham said.

In backing the expanded celebrations, the council has called on the working group to be expanded in the future to provide a more representative community input.

Mr Waters said he had made it very clear in all his presentations to the council that he was not aiming to attract any more people to the town on New Year's Eve.

Mr Waters said the town was already booked out and the celebrations wouldn't be promoted anywhere.

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