The Bay Lane Activation Festival temporarily reclaimed an under-utilised laneway for pop-up music, art and markets. McGregor Coxall

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To raise awareness and promote the masterplan, 2,000 bar coasters were placed in 4 town venues. McGregor Coxall

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Sandhills Community Hub [top left], Byron Recreation Ground [bottom left] and Railway Square [right] form key community assets. McGregor Coxall

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The Bay Lane Activation Festival temporarily reclaimed an under-utilised laneway for pop-up music, art and markets. McGregor Coxall

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An iconic Australian Town Centre known for it’s laid-back vibe, alternate lifestyle and surfing culture, Byron Bay is a place that attracts over 1.5 million visitors a year and is home to a historically passionate and highly political local community. With this deep connection and passion for place, comes the an aversion to change and a desire to protect the status quo.


Subsequently, years of ad hoc decision-making processes by Byron Shire Council has led to more reactive solutions rather than holistically considered ones. This way of thinking has resulted in a conflation of issues such as local businesses being driven out of the town centre and an overwhelming vehicular dominance.


Further, Council’s approach to community followed a rather top-down method whereby Council projects ‘informed’ rather than ‘engaged’ the community. As a result, the relationship between Council and the community has been clouded by distrust, dissatisfaction and disconnection.


The need for a holistic plan was clear; the challenge, however, was to establish an engagement approach that would embrace this local passion for place held by community members, deliver community driven outcomes, and create a place focused deliverable masterplan.


To do this, Byron Shire Council and the McGregor Coxall consultant team, positioned ‘change’ at the forefront of conversations with the community. Central to this conversation was introducing a series of ‘Place Vitality Criteria’.


The Place Vitality Criteria are a holistic set of systems comprising the natural environment, public domain, built form, economic development, access and movement and culture. At the core of the 'Place Vitality Criteria' are the community and the crucial role they play in informing the future strategies, actions, governance and implementation of the masterplan.


By turning the topic into a positive discussion around ‘place vitality’, the community was guided through the interrelated systems that make up place and the crucial role their voice and agency play in securing a positive future for Byron Bay.




Through a bespoke community website, ‘Byron Bay Our Plan’, a 21 person ‘Community Bounce Group’, and 10 broad interactive sessions, the Council and consulting team listened, shared and aimed to understand what the community valued about the centre and what they wanted to change for the future.


The first step to this community engagement approach was the Bay Lane Activation Festival, which was used as a platform to engage community members in a conversation regarding change to Byron Bay’s town centre. The festival temporarily reclaimed an under-utilised laneway for pop-up music, art and markets and provided a site for the team to directly engage with travelling visitors and locals alike.


This was achieved through a ‘Big Ideas Board’ and ‘Flagging Activities’ which received over 2,000 ideas and comments from Festival goers, allowing the project team to understand the local and visitor community’s appetite for ‘change’ and reveal their aspirations for a ‘new way forward’.




A second vital success of the project was to change the Byron Bay community’s perception of change and to inform them of the transient nature of place. This was achieved by: reviewing 90 of Council’s background studies; researching 23 million years of Byron Bay’s evolutionary history, and; integrating the community’s comments into the consultant team’s analysis mapping.


In all of these findings, it was clearly demonstrated that change is a constant and that change will continue to happen whether planned or not.


Further, it was essential to communicate the findings through various communication tools, such as an online interactive quiz, audio presentations, radio interviews and press releases. This maximised engagement opportunities and ensured an inclusive project process for all members of the community.




By this stage of the process, the consultant team had established an understanding of the community’s desires for change, their fear of change, and was ready to transform these findings into a positive discussion as to how a Council masterplan could effectively manage the future of the centre.


To initiate this within the project, 12 interactive techniques responding to the systems that make a place were tailored to address issues unique to Byron Bay.


Interactive engagement exercises that included; a ‘Parking Location Tool’, ‘Lego Density Game’, ‘Byron Bay Monopoly’, ‘Management and Mitigation Mapping’ and a ‘Cultural Jigsaw’ were developed to grapple with contentious topics such as car parking, density, development, flooding as well as fun aspects such as markets and activation.


These exercises underpinned the team’s development of 24 strategies establishing an adaptable framework for change that responded to the aspirations of the Byron Bay community.


Through a pedestrian prioritised core, biodiverse street corridors, flexible public spaces for varying users and a locally vibrant economy, Byron Bay is sensitively positioned to balance the demands of its local and visitor population.




In creating a strategic framework for the centre, it was important to go beyond the typical stakeholder groupings and to engage with all user groups together, ensuring joint and balanced decision-making were achieved. An integrated stakeholder approach balanced the competing interests of the community and established a realistic set of priorities that responded to council’s focus on being financially responsive.


Over three days of interactive workshops - including two community workshops, two town centre walks, and one stakeholder perspective session - the Byron Bay local and visitor community identified 337 short to long term priorities to achieve positive change. This engagement period emphasised the community's focus on short-term change and informed the creation of 60 project priorities across 12 Town Centre Precincts, spanning 20 years of Byron Bay’s future.


Initiatives included the pilot activation of Jonson Street, the community reclamation of Railway Square, relocation of an integrated transport interchange and emergence of a creative precinct for increased local live-work opportunities.




The Byron Bay Town Centre Masterplan demonstrates an integrated, engaging and empowering consultation approach that connects the centre of Byron Bay with the spirit of its community. It celebrates Byron Bay’s unique vibe, eclectic culture and natural character through a bold vision, holistic layering of strategies and community prioritised masterplan that frames the centre’s future.


Through 32 interactive workshops, 37,771 webpage views, 8 radio interviews, 1000s of fliers, 20 media articles and over 2,500 individual comments, the Byron Bay Town Centre Masterplan sets a benchmark in place focused masterplanning. Continuing engagement, partnering and collaboration with community, business and government agency stakeholders over the coming years will be key to the masterplan’s successful implementation.


“We can confidently say that this was a project that was embraced by our residents as we set out to ensure that the Byron Bay Town Centre Masterplan captured the voice, vision and identity of our residents. The Masterplan has given us a strong community plan which shows how we want the Byron Bay Town Centre to look, feel and move. Our future landscape and social values will remain strong under the guidance of the Masterplan and the soon to be formed community governance group." Mayor Simon Richardson, June 2016.

MICHAEL COWDY is an award winning urbanist and designer with over 10 years industry experience in the UK, Australia and China. His passion rests in integrating both masterplanning and placemaking, creating healthy, climate adaptive and vibrant places that sensitively respond to a local community’s needs. As  Global Urbanism leader for McGregor Coxall, Michael has recently opened the Bristol studio adding to the Sydney, Melbourne and Shanghai studios.

JO KELLY has been working with places and communities for the last 17 years. She is a qualified urban planner and a community consultation specialist with a varied experience in strategic, statutory, land use and transport planning. Jo has extensive experience working with Cities, Town Centres and Precincts across Australia and Europe. She has worked on many revitalisation projects that have delivered long-term solutions.


issue 2. summer 2016