By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier

Publicans and other stakeholders in the Byron Bay area of New South Wales are furious, as Byron Shire Council tries to rush through an ‘air tax’ on commercial balconies.

Byron Shire held a Council meeting yesterday to discuss a ’Road Airspace Policy’ that would impose a per-square-metre fee for commercial use of a balcony if it extends from a building into the “airspace” over a road or footpath.

Amendments to the Airspace Policy were placed on public exhibition between 18 May and 15 June, and AHA NSW Director of Liquor and Policing John Green criticised Council, which is seen as rushing through the controversial retrospective policy, just a week after submissions were due in on the issue.

“It is outrageous council would rush through a retrospective tax on balconies attached to local businesses without proper consultation with those affected,” he said.

“Council needs to put its retrospective tax on air on hold until it undergoes a proper consultation process. What’s the sudden rush?”

At the Council meeting yesterday it was recommended that the amended policy be adopted, but whether that has happened or not is still unclear. A source has suggested that the matter has been deferred to allow for further consultation, following outcry from existign parties.

Green said hoteliers in the Byron area have either purchased or entered into long-term leases based on existing use approvals and cost considerations.

“Where an existing balcony was in place, the value has already been reflected in the purchase price paid or rental figure agreed,” he said.

“To now face an additional and unexpected fee for the use of this balcony space is ridiculous. For many local small businesses already operating on tight margins, such an overhead will be unaffordable.

“Our advice is that the legality of this move, particularly in regard to the retrospective nature of the tax grab, is questionable.

“This issue is of vital importance to our members and needs to be addressed.”

Speaking to Australian Hotelier yesterday, Brendan Lawless, owner of The Middle Pub in Mullumbimby – which has an extensive balcony area – said that publicans in the area were protesting the proposed changes, with the help of AHA NSW.

“At this stage it is only a proposal, we are vigorously fighting due to its unfairness and what looks like unlawfulness.”

Larger consequences

Operators in other local council areas will be watching what unfolds with the airspace policy amendments closely, as other councils in the state may decide that a similar policy could be a way of adding to their coffers.

Lorraine Barlow is the co-owner of Eltham Pub in the nearby Lismore LGA, and is perturbed by the proposed air tax, and the knock-on effects it could have.

“We are most disturbed to hear of this tax as we all work within our communities to keep people working and this tax will impact heavily on employment.

“Many owners in hospitality are finding that it is difficult to find wages as it is, so I know that they are taking shifts themselves to cover costs and this puts a young person out of a possible job.

Barlow continued: “The alternative of shutting down the space makes a business very vulnerable when it is unable to maximise space.

“I see this move on the part of Byron Council pushing business out of the shire to areas such as Ballina and Lennox Head. People come to the Northern Rivers to take in sea and sun not to sit indoors, so they will go where the relaxed lifestyle is available.”

TheShout has reached out Byron Shire Council to clarify the status of the policy, but has not heard back at the time of publication.  

The Shout Team

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1 Comment

  1. So I gather that the lease agreements require the tenants to pay the rates. That shouldn’t be legal. Banning it is a matter for the State Parliament.

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