After visiting a small elephant at Taronga Zoo, NSW environment minister Frank Sartor found time to announce a draft coastal protection bill, which, he assured us, would solve all those niggling problems for coastal landowners and for councils.
Sartor’s announcement of the bill, which can be downloaded from www.environment.nsw.gov.au/coasts/coastalerosionmgmt.htm, coincided with the arrival of Easter, thus giving councils little time to get in submissions by April 12, next Monday. Byron Shire councillors were busy absorbing staff advice on the bill only last Thursday, a mere 11 days out from the deadline.
The proposed section 55S of the bill gives ‘a Coastal Authority’ the power to make stop work orders to prohibit an activity on a beach on the land ‘that… affects or is likely to affect beach erosion, affects or is likely to affect public access to a beach or headland or poses or is likely to pose a threat to public safety’.
This may be a good first step but it is hardly cutting-edge stuff from the NSW government. Back in 2006 the NSW Greens proposed a bill which would ‘give effect to the National Coastal Action Plan by enacting a NSW Coastal Protection Bill, complete with implementation budget…’ It also called for a coastal authority to oversee the plan. In fact these sorts of management suggestions have been floating around for decades and only in the last five years have the state and federal governments shown some real interest in implementing a policy and a plan.
There are some benefits in the bill for councils, some for landowners. As the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) notes, ‘beachfront landowners will be able to conditionally place sand or sandbags on beaches to reduce the impact of coastal erosion on their houses. The temporary emergency works will need to be in accordance with gazetted Minister’s Requirements and can be placed for up to 12 months, to enable landowners to develop a longer term approach to managing the erosion risks.’
For councils, a proposed section 496B in the Local Government Act 1993 will ‘allow councils to levy an annual coastal protection service charge outside rate pegging. Councils would be required to levy this charge on benefiting landowners for long-term coastal protection works (eg seawalls), where the works were constructed by the benefiting landowners. Where landowners jointly fund these works with a council, the council would have the option of levying the charge.’
According to a staff briefing to Byron councillors, if the new policies under the bill are to proceed, the State should give consideration to ‘making the DECCW the determining authority for all development applications and complying development certificate applications for coastal protection works. This would ensure the necessary expertise is applied to assessment and also guarantee a consistent state-wide approach to assessment of such applications…’ It would certainly take the onus off under-resourced and overworked councils who bear the brunt of landowner anger.
The staff and some councillors seem to think the consultation period is rushed. Don’t they understand there is a state election in the wind and the incumbent Labor government needs to look like it’s doing something?