Belongil looks set to get its ‘interim’ rock wall after renegade Greens councillor Rose Wanchap voted against party lines to immediately approve the works.
The move at an extraordinary general meeting last Thursday brought a rebuke from Greens Byron mayor Simon Richardson against the Byron Bay real estate agent, who has regularly broken ranks with her party colleagues since being elected last year, not least over the issue of holiday letting.
On Thursday, a report from the engineer who provided the design for the rock wall and a study of environmental effects were presented to council with staff recommendation that they be accepted.
Despite Greens policy being against rock walls, Ms Wanchap sided with conservative councillors Ibrahim, Cubis, Woods and Hunter to overturn a motion by progressive councillor Paul Spooner and seconded by the mayor that would have seen a decision at least delayed.
The motion would have required that ‘prior to adopting the Review of Environmental Factors for Interim Beach Access Stabilisation Works… [council will] invite the NSW Coastal Panel (and other relevant agencies) to provide a presentation on the matters raised … with a view to clarifying how these proposed works will inform and compliment the Coastal Zone Management Plan’.
Instead, an amended motion by Crs Ibrahim and Woods called for the works to proceed independently of a presentation on February 14 by the NSW Coastal Panel.
It also called for staff to develop a project plan, to be presented at the next council meeting in February 2014 ‘outlining the steps forward’.
Byron mayor Simon Richardson said the so-called ‘interim’ Byron rock wall will now cover the area replacing the degrading geotech bags.
He readily admitted he was not a supporter of the move and emphasised that Greens policy remained ‘managed retreat’.
‘I don’t support the use of rocks. It’s been a consistent vote with this council. It’s never happened in Australia’s history that rocks are used as an interim protection work and never have they been taken away,’ he told Echonetdaily this morning.
‘If you are truly talking about interim measures, you can’t talk rocks,’ he said.
‘Some councillors think they are interim but it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to take them up,’ he added.
Mayor Richardson said the engineers would now give council a report on cost ‘and that will basically be what the staff and engineers will be working towards’.
Cr Richardson was critical of Cr Wanchap’s decision to cross the floor, given managed retreat was a longstanding Greens party position.
‘This is not a question of having to “tow the party line”, per se. My only point was, in this particular matter, where it was a very strong election promise, people were voting for Rose Wanchap as a Greens representative and we were on record including her, who supported managed retreat,’ he said.
‘It’s as if the group who support rocks and have been funded by Belongil landowners turned round and withdrew support from rocks.
‘Greens have broad policies and we can have different interpretations but supporting planned retreat is pretty cut and dried.
‘When I first stood for council, I understood virtually no one knew me and that people weren’t voting for me. I told even my friends to vote Greens above the line.
‘Regarding Belongil and the concept of private ownership versus public amenity, clearly people know what the Greens position is,’ he said.
Cr Richardson denied the situation was a mirror image of the one that saw him attacked by Byron Greens convenor Tom Tabart recently.
Mr Tabart told Echonetdaily, that the mayor was breaking ranks over support for the community group Last Drinks at 12, which has been calling for earlier closing times for Byron venues.
Mr Tabart had previously written to Echonetdaily, throwing the party’s support behind the move.
‘Last Drinks at 12 was chalk and cheese,’ the mayor told Echonetdaily.
‘Greens have no position on Last Drinks at 12 in terms of resolutions, except that we support efforts to reduce alcohol-related violence,’ he said.
‘It was only a couple of days after your article that the group acknowledged there was room to move on that time and supported me in what I had done.
‘The wording we have in the Greens on curbing alcohol consumption I absolutely support.’
Rose Wanchap has yet to respond to Echonetdaily‘s questions.