Plans for this year’s Strawberry Fields Festival have been stalled with one resident willing to take the event to the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Council was due to vote on the Tocumwal festival plans on Wednesday, but after fire, traffic and safety concerns were raised, a decision was deferred to a fortnight’s time.
Kelvin Baxter owns land adjacent to the proposed site on Lower Rived Road and told councillors the event, as it continued to expand, needed to be assessed for risk independently.
“The event used to be a couple kilometres away – this year their application includes land right up to our boundary and includes down to the edge of the Murray River,” he said.
“There’s people having a great time and I don’t want to deny them of that … but does it have to be there?
“You have a much better chance of monitoring and mitigating all the risks somewhere else, like on a site of the Deniliquin Ute Muster.”
Mr Baxter said if council approved the plans unchanged, he would lodge an appeal with the NSW Land and Environment Court.
“You can’t fence that area successfully – people come across the river from the other side, and across our property,” he said.
“Each year the promoters have said they will do lots of things, but my observations are they haven’t.
“All the conditions that are put on are self-assessed.”
Engineering Services manager Matthew Clarke said the organisers had outlined improvements in their proposed management, including the employment of a traffic consultant and the introduction of a 24-hour onsite medical centre.
“The fire management plan goes through the events which have triggers – if it’s a critical fire day, the festival is off, and they would evacuate people in preparation of a critical fire event the next day,” he said.
Councillor Darryl Morris questioned whether that process would be upheld.
“They would be very reluctant to cancel the event even on a high fire risk day and I think without involving the Rural Fire Service, I have big concerns as to whether they can actually evacuate everyone safely,” he said.
“You have emergency vehicles trying to get down Lower River Road, effectively a one-way road, as people are trying to evacuate.”
Strawberry Fields Festival police statistics 2016: Note NSW Statistics N/A for Oral fluid tests, Unlicensed driver, Unregistered car and Speeding offences
Technical Services Director Fred Exton added ‘sheltering’ as outlined in the fire management plan lodged with the application would not be an option because “the radiant heat would kill everybody”.
“RFS suggested moving the event outside the fire danger period or considering a different site,” he said.
“The applicants aren’t prepared to budge on either of those issues.
“If you approved it and there is a disaster, where do we sit?”
Development Manager Laurie Stevens said council was yet to receive a submission from the RFS.
Perception is the key when it comes to the Strawberry Fields Festival, but is its reputation as a “drug-ridden event” fair?
Berrigan councillors are undecided on that.
Police statistics from 2016 show of 1527 people tested for drugs by Victoria police, 77 came back positive, with a further 31 positive drug tests recorded by NSW police.
These results prompted Deniliquin Inspector John Aichinger to write a submission against the festival, stating “that it is only a matter of time before there is a death”.
John Taylor was one of four councillors who visited the festival and while he was “impressed” at the medical and security provisions, he remained concern about drugs.
“They (police) only pull up a percentage – we’re talking about drugs that create habits, that kill people,” he said.
But Cr Ross Bodey said council had to be realistic about events – with consumption of drugs and alcohol happening at B&S balls as well.
“The organisers said the Strawberry Fields crowd were the most compliant out of the events they are involved with,” he said.