Green light for fes­ti­val

The Cobram Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Kenji Sato

Ber­ri­gan Shire Coun­cil has ap­proved a devel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion for Straw­berry Fields Fes­ti­val, al­low­ing the mu­sic and arts fes­ti­val to be held on pri­vate prop­erty near Tocumwal from Novem­ber 16 to 19.

The ap­proval comes de­spite a re­quest from Kelvin Bax­ter, who owns a prop­erty neigh­bour­ing the fes­ti­val site, to deny the devel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion due to safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion con­cerns.

At an ex­tra­or­di­nary coun­cil meet­ing on Wed­nes­day last week, only Cr John Tay­lor voted against the event be­ing ap­proved.

Coun­cil­lors Bernard Curtin and Daryll Mor­ris were ab­sent from the meet­ing.

Ber­ri­gan Shire Mayor Matt Han­nan said the coun­cil was ‘‘com­fort­able’’ with the event pro­ceed­ing, pro­vid­ing or­gan­is­ers met devel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion amend­ments is­sued by coun­cil.

It has asked for im­prove­ments to the event’s bush­fire man­age­ment plan and the traf­fic man­age­ment plan to re­duce risks.

The amend­ments also call for ad­di­tional se­cu­rity and tem­po­rary fenc­ing around the fes­ti­val site, which is on Lower River Rd, Tocumwal.

‘‘We’re com­fort­able with the Straw­berry Fields or­gan­is­ers and the agree­ment they came to with po­lice and the NSW Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice,’’ Cr Han­nan said.

‘‘At the last meet­ing we were con­cerned about the fire risk, par­tic­u­larly at that time of the year, how­ever we’re sat­is­fied (safety is im­proved) with those amend­ments.’’

Vot­ing for the event to go ahead, Cr John Bruce said too much of the dis­cus­sion had been fo­cused on the neg­a­tives — in­clud­ing a per­ceived drug use is­sue.

He said coun­cil and the com­mu­nity had a chance to cap­i­talise on the event’s pos­i­tives, like tourism, a boost to the lo­cal econ­omy and in post-event do­na­tions to lo­cal com­mu­nity groups.

‘‘Let’s turn this into some­thing the shire can hang its hat on,’’ Cr Bruce said.

Straw­berry Fields emer­gency re­sponse co-or­di­na­tor Matthew Wood at­tended meet­ings with coun­cil­lors and emer­gency ser­vices in Tocumwal last week, to give an as­sur­ance that or­gan­is­ers had a clear fo­cus on safety at the event. He said it in­cluded a strong anti-drugs stance.

‘‘The aim of Straw­berry Fields or­gan­is­ers is to en­sure that all of our at­ten­dees are safe,’’ Mr Wood said.

‘‘The event will have a 24-hour med­i­cal fa­cil­ity, which is al­ways manned by doc­tors and nurses.

‘‘Our aim is not to put a strain on the lo­cal fa­cil­i­ties or their re­sources.’’

Mr Wood and fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Tara Ben­ney par­tic­u­larly wel­comed coun­cil’s re­quests to fur­ther im­prove the fire safety plan, which Ms Ben­ney said al­ready has some strict guide­lines.

It in­cludes can­celling the event if the weather, par­tic­u­larly heat, is too se­vere.

Fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers, coun­cil­lors and coun­cil staff met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the NSW Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice at the site on Tues­day last week to look at other ways the fire man­age­ment plan can be im­proved.

‘‘We are com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment,’’ Ms Ben­ney said.

Mr Bax­ter said the amend­ments re­quested by coun­cil did not do enough to al­lay his safety con­cerns.

He main­tains the lim­ited ac­cess to the fes­ti­val site — one sin­gle lane road, four nar­row bridges and four flood cause­ways — in­creases the risk of dan­ger.

He said this would only be ex­ac­er­bated if the event — which is an­tic­i­pated to at­tract about 6000 pa­trons and 500 staff this year — con­tin­ues to grow.

Mr Bax­ter said he would con­tinue to dis­cuss al­ter­na­tive site op­tions with or­gan­is­ers and coun­cil for fu­ture events.

‘‘I’m still fully op­posed to the site that has been pro­posed,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m work­ing to seek an agree­ment that this is the last time it’s used.

‘‘I have enough ad­vice to know that if I chal­lenge the de­ci­sion in an en­vi­ron­ment court, I’ll be stand­ing on pretty firm ground but I don’t wish to do that.’’

Mr Bax­ter has also called on coun­cil to ex­tend the devel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion pub­lic ex­hi­bi­tion time­line for fu­ture events.

He said plac­ing it on pub­lic ex­hi­bi­tion two months be­fore the event does not leave enough time to ad­e­quately ad­dress com­mu­nity con­cerns.

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