Byron council policy puts Bluesfest under threat: organisers
Earth, Wind and Fire perform at the Bluesfest festival.
The future of Bluesfest is under threat because of the Byron Shire Council's policy of restricting the number of music festivals, the organisers say.
The festival's director, Peter Noble, said the iconic music festival, whose headline acts this year include Cold Chisel, John Butler Trio and Earth Wind & Fire, could be forced out of Byron Bay because of the policy.
The festival is held annually at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, 11 kilometres north of Byron Bay, at Easter. It has has approval to operate until 2020.
Only two major outdoor music events are permitted in the Byron Shire each year, and the council is seeking to make this policy even more restrictive.
The slots are currently taken up by Bluesfest and Splendour in the Grass.
Last week, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission, a state government body, overrode council policy and gave the green light to the organisers of Splendour in the Grass to hold three events over a maximum of 10 days each year at its Yelgun Festival site at North Byron Parklands.
Mr Noble said Bluesfest had invested $4 million in developing its festival site, but, given the current uncertainty, might have trouble obtaining loans for further investment.
A lawyer for the music festival, Brad Heydon, said any change to the council's planning rules would impact on the viability of the festival in the shire if it could not obtain approval beyond 2020.
Mr Heydon said Byron Shire's restrictions on major music events, particularly limiting the number of people attending and the number of events each year, went beyond the powers granted under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
A petition against the council begun by Mr Noble last week has more than 7000 signatures, including those of musicians Ben Harper, John Butler and Michael Franti.
Mr Noble said the policy singled out live music even though other major events attracting large crowds were held in the Byron Shire, such as the Byron Bay Writers' Festival and a food and wine festival in Bangalow.
Large sporting events were not prohibited by the policy either.
The mayor of Byron Shire and Greens NSW MLC, Jan Barham, said Byron Bay did not need any more big music festivals.
"Having one Splendour and one Bluesfest is enough," she said.
She said the council wanted to encourage a diverse range of cultural events that catered for families and older people, not just to the young.
Mr Noble's campaign against Byron Shire has received support from the Sydney Opera House's head of indigenous programming, Rhoda Roberts, who said her efforts to stage an indigenous festival at Byron Bay had been stymied by the council's restrictive policy.
Cr Barham said the council would support a local indigenous festival, but not another large outdoor music event that merely included a few Aboriginal acts.