The crowd gathers at this year’s Splendour in the Grass festival at Woodford.
The crowd gathers at this year’s Splendour in the Grass festival at Woodford. Jay Cronan

Woodford embraces festival

THE state of Queensland is licking its chops.

The loss of Splendour in the Grass from Byron Shire to Woodford is expected to cost the Northern Rivers economy at least $13 million.

In the middle of winter. In the middle of a tourism downturn.

After the NSW Land and Environment Court revoked Byron Shire Council's approval of a trial event for this year at North Byron Parklands, festival organisers were left ‘in the wilderness'.

The decision came after the actions of CONOS (Conservation of North Ocean Shore Inc), a citizens lobby group opposed to the Parklands development, took the decision by council to the environment court and won.

With Belongil Fields no longer a site option due to it being rezoned for residential development, Splendour organisers looked north, and they were welcomed with open arms.

“We are incredibly stoked to have Splendour in the Grass at Woodford and we will be doing everything we can to keep it,” Moreton Bay Regional Council mayor Allan Sutherland said yesterday at the festival.

“We make no secret of the fact we are pulling out all stops to keep the festival here for as long as we can. We estimate it will bring between $13 and $18 million into the local economy, and that's conservative.”

Meanwhile, Splendour in the Grass event organiser, Jessica Ducrou, said it was refreshing to feel welcomed by a community.

“It's lovely to be wanted, not only by the Woodford community, but also by the local and state government,” Ms Ducrou said.

“They have made it so easy and they are very enthusiastic about keeping us here. However, we would like to come home to Byron Bay.

“So many people are loosing out. People in the business community, the region's youth are missing out on job opportunities and everyone who wants our region to be regarded as an arts and cultural hub – it's very sad.”

Meanwhile, members of the Byron Bay business community and delegates from Northern Rivers Tourism could only look on in envy as the festival dollars poured into Woodford's coffers.

“It's a big loss for the Northern Rivers – up to $18 million in the middle of the tourism off season,” Northern Rivers Tourism chief executive Russell Mills said.

“But it's not just the economic loss. We are loosing part of our identity when a festival of State significance needs to leave the region.”

Byron United Chamber of Commerce president Ed Ahern echoed Mr Mills concerns, but said it was a disgrace that a minority group was dictating the agenda.

“A very small but very vocal community group should be hanging their heads in shame,” Mr Ahern said.

“They have taken a huge amount of money out of our local economy at a time when we can't afford it. They have taken away real employment opportunities for our youth, they have taken away a world-class festival. Shame on them.”

However, Stan Scanlon, spokesperson for CONOS, said environmental concerns surrounding the Parklands site were of higher importance.

“The State Government has spent many millions of dollars of taxpayers money to preserve the Billinudgel Nature Reserve,” Mr Scanlon said.

“The proposed Parklands development threatens an area of environmental significance,” he said.

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