The renovation reality television series The Block has set its sights on Byron Bay for the 2022 season, with local real estate agents confirming they are in verbal negotiations with owners of a number of properties in a region now classified as Australia’s most expensive property market.
But many locals, still angry about the arrival of the Netflix Australia/Eureka Productions film crew to shoot another reality TV show, Byron Baes, say Channel Nine’s plans for The Block are unethical, in poor taste and possibly, for some long-term residents, the final straw.
Byron Bay paramedic Benjamin Gilmour makes regular visits to a community of people living in tents just outside the town, who can no longer afford the area’s skyrocketing rents.
He said the prospect of The Block buying up properties for already well-off people to flip for a profit was “grotesque” in the middle of a pandemic and Byron’s housing crisis.
“We’re looking at a show which is about greed and the rich getting richer,” he said. “The community is getting sick of Byron’s natural beauty being dolled up and paraded, and people are saying they’re sick of our town being pimped by outsiders.”
Channel Nine has refused to confirm where they are looking to shoot the next season.
“We will not add to speculation on future seasons of The Block, as we’ll announce plans once a decision has been made,” a spokesperson said on Friday.
But Christian Sergiacomi, from Pacifico Property, told Guardian Australia earlier this week the network was definitely looking to Byron Bay for the 2022 series.
“Yes, we are exploring it, there’s no doubt,” Sergiacomi said. “The guys have contacted us to pursue the idea of trying for The Block in Byron for next May.”
He confirmed there was a shortlist of three possible locations in Byron Bay: a group of five houses in Sunrise Boulevard, another group in the suburb of Suffolk, and a block of vacant land on the town’s outskirts, where existing houses could be located for renovation.
But Sergiacomi declined to confirm claims from one resident living in Sunrise Boulevard who told the Guardian the series’ producers were offering up to $500,000 above each property’s market value to secure the group of five adjacent houses essential for the show’s format.
“Every property in Byron Bay that’s selling at the moment is considerably over market value, it’s the strongest market in the country,” he said.
Housing prices in the Byron shire have nearly doubled in the past year as the area has become the country’s most sought-after celebrity enclave.
The property market boom has also pushed up the cost and availability of rental properties, with the median price for a two bedroom house in the area now $735 per week (in Sydney it’s $540) and a vacancy rate of just 0.6% at the end of last year.
Sergiacomi said property owners should be welcoming the prospect of The Block moving to Byron because wherever the television series went there was a considerable “uplift” in prices in the immediate area following broadcast.
But prominent local resident Alison Crook AO, the former NSW state librarian who is now the chair of the locally run Enova Community Energy, says further pressure on housing prices is the last thing the region needs.
“We already have a declared housing crisis here,” Crook said. She is actively involved in campaigning for affordable housing in Byron shire through the Women’s Village Collective.
“It’s unethical to put more pressure on an area which is already in distress, and it’s not just stress, it is distress.
“We’ve got women sleeping in cars all over the place, the older women don’t admit it, so they’re not even getting into the statistics, the younger women with children won’t admit it because they’re scared their children will be taken away from them.
“With The Block … it just creates more and more pressure on a place where there is already a very high homeless rate.”
Byron Baes unrest
Crook said temporary accommodation in the town was placed under additional stress earlier this year when the production crew from Byron Baes arrived.
That reality TV series, described by Netflix Australia as “a docu-soap series following a ‘feed’ of hot Instagramers living their best lives, being their best selves” has already been the subject of vocal opposition by sections of the Byron shire community.
Netflix has responded to local community opposition, saying Byron Bay had been chosen as a location due to the area’s “unique attributes as a melting pot of entrepreneurialism, lifestyle and health practices, and the sometimes uneasy coming together of the traditional ‘old Byron’ and the alternative ‘new’, all of which we’ll address in the series.”
Byron shire council in April passed a motion highlighting the “possible reputational and social damage” the series could cause.
Local independent Byron councillor Cate Coorey said with nothing yet coming across the council’s desk regarding The Block there was not a lot the community could do.
“But if we’re looking at yet another series using Byron as a backdrop for the glamorous life when we’ve got a serious homelessness crisis here, I think it is in extremely poor taste,” she said.