Two community groups, which have joined forces in a campaign to halt construction of a rock wall at Belongil, plan to organise a protest at this Thursday’s Byron Shire Council meeting.
Contentious plans by majority councillors Ibrahim, Wanchap, Hunter, Cubis and Woods are pushing ahead to build an Interim Beach Access Stabilisation (IBAS), aka rock wall, and have requested staff time be diverted to expedite that and associated management programs. The issue will go before council on Thursday (May 21).
The council recently voted to overturn the almost 30-year policy of ‘planned retreat’ and are set to go ahead with the controversial rock wall, despite concerns from local residents, the NSW Coastal Panel, expert engineers and the scientific community.
The size and scope of the project remain a secret and the council has overruled the normal process of putting the work out to tender, despite hundreds of thousands of ratepayers’ dollars being spent.
Karl Goodsell, the CEO of Positive Change for Marine Life, said, ‘We’ve seen the impacts that walls such as these have had on coastal areas around Australia and overseas.
‘The science is there for all to see and when coastal management experts and even the NSW government are ignored, you have to ask yourself who the rogue five members of the Byron Shire Council are acting for?’ Mr Goodsell asked.
Cate Coorey of Byron Residents’ Group said, ‘Our beaches are our major aesthetic, recreational and economic assets, yet the community is deliberately being shut out of the process.
‘Rushing through this project with no community consultation is irresponsible and shows the increasing willingness of members of this council to implement “worst practice” when it comes to governance. They seem to have forgotten they voted to support the Community Charter for Good Planning only a few months ago.’
‘The community has questions for this council and we deserve answers: what is the reason for the haste? Why the secrecy?
‘Council is planning to undertake substantial works before the Coastal Zone Management Plan is completed. Why can’t designs and construction contracts be drawn up and put out to public tender for such a large expenditure of public funds?’ Ms Coorey questioned.
The group is calling on members of the community to come to the Byron Shire Council meeting at Mullumbimby this Thursday at 9am ‘to show support for maintaining the beach for future generation’s.
‘Community power is all that has stood in the way of unsubstantiated development in Byron Bay over the past few decades. We need to stand united to stop this madness,’ Mr Goodsell said.
The Echo asked the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) if ‘temporary protection works’ have ever been removed. A spokesperson replied, ‘Council has a proposal for ‘Interim’ works under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007. This should not be confused with ‘temporary’ coastal protection work under the Coastal Protection Act. As the proposed interim coastal protection works at Belongil Beach are proposed for construction under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007, the temporary coastal protection work provisions defined in the Coastal Protection Act and the related Code do not apply to this proposed development.’
The Echo also asked if is it OEH’s understanding that the cost of removing the temporary works was included in Council’s design for its Interim Beach Access Stabilisation, but is not funded.
The replied, ‘Yes, the cost of removing the interim works was included in Council’s design. This cost is not a component of the OEH funding, which was to assist with the design and approvals of interim coastal protection works.’
A Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) for that stretch of beach, known as the Byron Bay Embayment, is also at risk of not being ratified owing to time limits.
Council’s Director Sustainable Environment and Economy, Shannon Burt, wrote in Council’s upcoming agenda, ‘The challenges facing Council in meeting the current June 30, 2015 CZMP deadline, which have arisen, largely, as a result of the OEH comments on the cost benefit analysis (CBA) and determining an appropriate response to the OEH comments.’