FROM FACEBOOK: What’s All the Fuss Over the Byron Bay Rec Grounds?

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Byron Bay Memorial Recreation Grounds, Memorial Gates entrance. Photo: Google.

Save Our Local Amenity – Byron Bay member, Greg Meek, has written a comprehensive and informative article on why so many members of the Byron Bay community are concerned over Council actions towards the Byron Bay Memorial Rec Grounds. 

As Greg himself says, it’s a long read, but contains important information. We agree, and urge Voice of Byron  members to make the time to read it through.

Byron Mayor, Simon Richardson and some proponents of the Byron Bay Town Centre Masterplan have expressed bemusement at the community’s response to the latest Draft Plan of Management for the Byron Rec Grounds – particularly that of the newly formed Byron Bay Memorial Recreation Grounds Users Group.

It is hoped that the following words will help them to understand and appreciate the position, and the passion, behind the protest.

As the name implies, the Users Group is a gathering of Rec Grounds stakeholders that includes the RSL, the Primary School, the Scouts, the Croquet, Football, Cricket, Rugby Clubs and has the support of many other prominent community groups. In all, it represents a significant proportion of the Byron Bay population.

It is apolitical and comprises a broad cross-section of the Byron Community.

The Group represents many life-long custodians of the Rec Grounds who have volunteered countless hours and contributed many thousands of dollars towards the upkeep to the facility and the organisations that use it since its establishment more than 100 years ago.

It is hardly a hot-bed of serial malcontents and dissenters. Its considered and heartfelt concerns have however, been publicly trivialised and dismissed as ‘hysteria’.

The Grounds

Far from an under-utilised space, the users group believe that the Rec Grounds are the thriving heart of Byron’s sporting community and a well-used passive recreational facility.

The Users Group believes that the Rec Grounds belong to the community, they are playing fields. They are not a Council asset to be subsumed, monetised and commercialised at the expense of the sporting community.

As a recreational and sporting hub, the Grounds through the established users, deliver an invaluable return to the Byron community through social and intergenerational cohesion, positive youth development and to the physical health and wellbeing of its residents.

The Ground’s users also provide year-round passive surveillance over the grounds and facilities.

The Masterplan

Many in the User Group believe that consultation process for The Byron Bay Town Centre Masterplan (on which the PoM draws) was deeply flawed with regard to the Rec Grounds and that its conclusions and recommendations neither respect nor reflect the views and aspirations of the Byron Bay community.

Many in the Users Group were given little opportunity to have their say (even told to be quiet at one workshop) and when given the opportunity to have their say were roundly ignored. Subsequent objections were met with “why didn’t you speak up when you had the chance.”

The Plan(s) of Management

Despite having very few of the actions recommended actually carried out, the 2002 Plan of Management (the current plan) was a much better fit for the community.

If the improvements and maintenance recommended in that Plan had actually been acted upon we probably would have an ideal sports and recreation facility.

As part of the Masterplan process, another Plan of Management was developed by Parkland Planners’ Sandy Hoy for Masterplan consultants, McGregor Coxall.

This Plan was apparently deemed unsuitable and was never tabled. Byron Bay FC recently obtained a copy of the is draft through ‘Freedom of Information” process.

While this plan also shifted the balance toward more commercial activity and the downgrading of the sporting facilities.

Again, much of the feedback from the consultation was apparnetly ignored in the name of pursuing the Plan’s Stated objective:

A key driver for reviewing and updating the Plan of Management is Council’s desire to shift the focus of use of the Recreation Ground from sport towards recreation and community uses.

Members of the Users Group then participated in another Plan of Management consultation process with consultants Greg Downes. It is understood that this Plan, too, was deemed ‘unsatisfactory’ and the project was terminated. The group has again lodged an FOI application for access to the document.

The Group believes that PoM5 needs much more than an ‘edit’ or the removal of a couple of a couple of contentious bits. The core objective of the this Plan is, again, to downgrade the playing fields to a sub-regional standard an shift the priority to passive recreation and children’s activities.

If adopted, our sports clubs will no longer be able to participate in regional competition.

History and Change

The Memorial Recreation Grounds have long been the home of Byron’s sporting community. for over 100 years. Generations of Byron sportspeople have grown up on these fields.

The historical importance of the grounds in the hearts and minds of Byron cannot be overstated.

In general terms, change is inevitable but unnecessary and socially corrosive change that brings no demonstrable benefits to the community should be resisted.

Simon Says…

Mayor Simon Richardson has offered repeated and comprehensive assurances that no team will be forced to leave the Rec Grounds and all that is needed is an edit to remove the worrying words.

These assurances are very welcome but the Mayor made the same assurances 2 years ago and the same words (and core objective) appear in this current Draft Plan.

If the objective of downgrading the playing fields, altering the zoning, the management and functioning of the grounds is removed, we basically come back within the parameters of the 2002 Plan – so why change?

Why not shelve Draft 5 and stick with the status quo?

‘Transitioning’ Competitive Sports

Despite the Mayor’s encouraging words, if the fields are downgraded to a level below competitive standards, there will be no sport at the Rec Grounds.

At its core, the plan seeks to:

  • transition to a secondary sporting facility, which is used for a range of compatible activities for all ages, but with a focus on children and youth.
  • focus on local sporting activities, particularly flexible, informal recreation opportunities.

The Rec Grounds are already a secondary sports facility. Any downgrade would render them unfit for competition.

There is no such thing as ‘local’ sport. All competitive sport (even the under 6s) is conducted at a regional level (who else would we play – each other?!) under the auspices of regional associations and governing bodies. All football for example, is played on full-sized regulation fields from the age of 11.

All Clubs are vehemently opposed to disintegrating into separate and disjointed senior and junior clubs for myriad reasons (see Byron Bay FC’s original Masterplan submission).

To participate in regional competitions, our Clubs must have security of tenure. They must be able to provide ‘home ground’ venues with certainty and not have commercial or other events allowed to take priority over their scheduled fixtures Almost every weekend there is a full card of sporting events at the Rec Grounds.

The Cavanbah Centre

The Cavanbah Centre is now well used with AFL, regional football (Liverpool Academy) and other commercial arrangements.

If ‘transitioned’ from the Rec Grounds the full competition calendar (plus training) of the Rec’s sporting clubs would overwhelm capacity at the Cavanbah Centre.

Byron Bay FC alone has fixtures and training for over 500 players in more than 40 teams.

On most afternoons, kids from Byron’s schools make their way on foot or bike to the Rec Grounds for training and/or games. If the Clubs are transitioned to Cavanbah, many of our kids would be unable to attend training without parents to drive them during working hours.

At the Rec Grounds, the kids are supervised and watched over by a mix of parents and senior players who give their time to look after and nurture our Byron kids.

What will our youth be doing if they can’t train or play?

Pressure on the clubs to transfer to the Cavanbah has been subtle but consistent since the facility was opened, with DAs denied and spending in facilities and improvements limited.

Moving to the Cav would have a devastating effect on all of the Clubs and their ability to operate.

The West Byron development and our rapid population growth will soon add hundreds of new sporting families to the Byron Bay community.

These kids (and adults) will need somewhere to play.

Byron Bay will soon need MORE playing fields. The idea of reducing capacity is absurd.

With its extensive facilities and large grassed areas (that are not playing fields), the Cavanbah Centre is a much more appropriate venue for markets and events.

Commercial Activities

The Users Group is not opposed to all commercial activity on the grounds, provided that activity does not impact on the playing surfaces or the scheduled sporting calendar. In fact, the various Clubs are keen to assist with events that will contribute to the upkeep and development of facilities at the grounds.

Many of the PoMs proposed uses are however, not appropriate for the playing fields.

‘markets, outdoor cinemas, fetes, celebrations’ or commercial use ‘ markets, filming, events, cinema, outdoor/indoor entertainment, gymnasium, primitive camping, training camps etc)’

Many of these proposed activities would require vehicular access that would damage the playing surfaces and render them unsafe and unplayable for senior or junior sport.

Markets would, presumably, be held on weekends, when the Rec Grounds are fully occupied by sporting activities.

Toilet facilities at the Grounds are inedequate for large scale events.

The ‘hysteria’

The vigorous response from the Byron community to the PoM V5 is an indication of the level outrage felt by the people of Byron. Many see the Masterplan and the Plans of Management as attempts by Council to subsume their playing fields into an asset portfolio for commercial gain.

The common response is that ‘the playing fields belong to the community, not the Council’.


The Byron Bay Memorial Recreation Grounds (not just the gates) were created over 120 years ago and developed by ‘diggers’ returning from WWI. Nowhere is the outrage and indignation against Council’s Plans and their processes more keenly felt than among the RSL custodians.

The RSL feel that their position and views have been sorely disrespected and ignored.

The ‘Rally @ The Rec’

The ‘Rally @ the Rec’ Gala Day to be held at the Grounds on December 9 is intended as a very positive celebration of the Rec Gounds and a show of solidarity by the community and the Rec Grounds’ users.

It will feature a range of both passive and active recreational activities including food and drinks, musical entertainment from local schools a couple of speeches and perhaps a response from Council, small side soccer and touch rugby games as well as the scheduled cricket matches

Where to From Here

The intention of the Masterplan and the Draft Plan of Management V5 is clear and no amount of tinkering with the wording will alter that. The intent and proposals of the PoM are unacceptable to the Byron Community.

All of the positive ‘social’ elements of Draft Plan of Management V5 – passive recreation, seating, expanded playgrounds etc – are achievable under the 2002 Plan.

Draft Plan of Management V5 should be shelved (along with its two ill-fated predecessors) and the recommendations of the 2002 PoM should be revisited.


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One comment on “FROM FACEBOOK: What’s All the Fuss Over the Byron Bay Rec Grounds?

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Greg Downes on November 29, 2017 7:44 am

I prepared a draft POM for Council to near completion, however was advised after a meeting that Council itself would complete it. This has not been done and none of the community consultation results that I included in the draft have been considered.

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