Wollombi Music Festival to move out of the Cessnock Local Government Area

Wollombi Music Festival 2015
Wollombi Music Festival 2015

Wollombi Music Festival is relocating from the Cessnock area, citing “prohibitive” council requirements as a major factor in the decision.

The festival announced the 2019 10th anniversary event from September 27-29 would be its last in Wollombi.

Co-organiser Adrian Buckley said Cessnock Council had been an “impediment” to the festival, which has sold out the past four years in a row.

He said the development application process was complicated and the costs kept growing with no assurance how much it would take to get it approved.

A council spokesperson said after the DA was lodged in March last year, council asked the organisers to submit more information to address issues as required by council’s planning controls. 

“The issues generally related to traffic arrangements, noise generation, affectation of the site by flooding and bushfire, event security, management of alcohol, and evacuation arrangements in the event of an emergency,” the spokesperson said. “Council’s requirements for temporary events are consistent and each application is assessed on its merits.”

Being a rural event the bushfire requirements included having an Asset Protection Zone, the size of which Mr Buckley described as “quite astronomical”.

“We would have to build a structure to house every single person in case there was a bushfire,” he said.

“And we weren’t allowed to liaise with the RFS (Rural Fire Service), it had to be done through council. So it was really important we had people in Cessnock City Council advocating for us.

“But I felt we were represented poorly. I don’t think Cessnock City Council took what I would call a collaborative approach.”

Council claims it encouraged them to discuss the matter directly with the RFS and said “any information submitted by the applicant was forwarded to the RFS by council”.

But Mr Buckley said with the extra requirements, the event turned into a “money pit” meaning it would be more viable to withdraw the DA and run a smaller event.

“We spent so much money on consultants, and there was no certainty if we spent another $10,000 we would get the DA over the line.”

Mr Buckley said being an independent festival, they didn’t have the cashflow of the larger vineyard gigs.

He said the event had done huge things for the area.

“It really is a grassroots event. It was born in Wollombi. We know a lot of people will stay in accommodation, we know the cafes are full. We know people who have moved to Wollombi because of the festival. All of that is going to be lost,” he said.

Mr Buckley said it was “highly likely” the event would move from the Hunter Valley and that they were exploring options on the Central Coast.