In Business & Trade by Clyde Mooney

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Pubs and businesses in Byron Bay region are outraged by an ‘air tax’ expected to be imposed for operations with balconies and awnings over Council property.

An innocuous meeting by Byron Shire Council in December 2015 resolved to further previous amendments (in 2012) to its ‘Road Airspace Policy’. The policy covers any part of a building that projects beyond its boundaries onto Council road reserve.

The purpose of the policy is said to “ensure that road airspace that is controlled by Council is managed effectively”, with Council citing concerns that such structures are safe, properly constructed and maintained, and kept aesthetically pleasing.

It also notes a desire to ensure those who profit from the use of public (air) space pay for the privilege, and to minimise its own public liability exposure.

Council insists the policy is in line with other jurisdictions in NSW. Some districts have undertaken ensuring that historic balcony supports are protected or not load-bearing, due to the dangers of street traffic that weren’t considered when they were built.

The Byron Bay region is festooned with historic and heritage buildings that are key to the area’s appeal, many incorporating balconies that have been in place for decades.

The Middle Pub, built 1904 and owned for the past four years by former Sydney hotelier Brenden Lawless, boasts a classic iron lacework-framed balcony along two sides.

Middle Pub. Image: Facebook

Atop the $100,000 annual bill to maintain the workings and aesthetics of the pub, Lawless is now facing a bill of around $20,000 simply for having the balcony, which cannot be changed or removed due to the building’s heritage listing.

And while the pub has its own public liability insurance anyway, the balcony in question is set back from the street and protected.

“I am hoping council will drop the issue … if they pursue this, it will end up in court,” Lawless, told the Northern Star. He says a Council letter received in March this year – 16 months after Council’s meeting – was the first he had heard of the matter.

Following a second letter in May to affected businesses stating the tax was going ahead, Byron Shire Council conducted a public submissions process, which ran 18 May to 15 June.

A report will be presented to Council in a meeting tomorrow (22 June) and AHA NSW director of Liquor & Policing, John Green, has criticised the push to get the initiative through.

“Council needs to put its retrospective tax on air on hold until it undergoes a proper consultation process,” says Green.

Recognising the predicament of historic buildings and established business models and leases, Green says the Association is particularly outraged by the tax’s retrospective application on balconies constructed with such a tax never considered.

“Some of these buildings are more than 100 years old and cost a lot of money to maintain as it is.

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

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

PubTIC was unable to make contact with Brenden Lawless in time for publication.

Middle Pub, Mullumbimby. Image: Google maps