Kerry O'Brien
Kerry O'Brien

Markets minefield

FEARS Byron Shire Council's proposed market policy could turn the region's markets into commercial ventures attracted hundreds to a robust public meeting on an unseasonably cold Monday night.

It was even enough to bring one of Byron shire's newest residents, former ABC journalist Kerry O'Brien, out of retirement.

And by all accounts it took most of the seasoned compere's skills to keep the estimated 400 residents on-track as the community struggled to grasp the complexities of the issue.

Byron Mayor Jan Barham, Deputy Mayor Basil Cameron and councillors Tom Tabart and Simon Richardson were initially criticised for the draft policy's proposal to put the operation of markets on council, or council-managed land out to tender.

"People weren't getting the fact that there's no choice - we have to go to tender," Cr Barham said.

"Kerry did a really good job and we were lucky to have him there, but even he freely admits he's not an expert on local government and I think even he was surprised how restricted local government is - it's our responsibility under four pieces of legislation to have a tender process for commercial activity, not only on Crown land, but publicly-owned land.

"Everyone got that at the end and what we need to focus on now is that the assessment criteria for the tender process clearly demonstrates the local values so that it 'ain't all about money', but supporting our local identity.

"We got a very clear statement from the meeting that council prioritise support for local products, producers and residents."

Cr Cameron said he wasn't happy with the draft plan in its current form, but his motivation for seeing it put out to public exhibition was to get a broad range of feedback.

"We wanted comment on what people thought was the right format and weighting in the tender assessment," he said.

The meeting also called on the council to reject the current draft and convene a working group of stakeholders to explore the tender criteria and seek legal advice.

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