Green light for festival
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.