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Byron Shire
November 28, 2021

Belongil rock wall to go ahead

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Rock walls proposed to be built at Belongil Beach. Photo Witness King Tides/Flickr
Rock walls proposed to be built at Belongil Beach. Photo Witness King Tides/Flickr

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.

Last Drinks

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.

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  1. You can’t be a member of the Greens and support a rock wall development like this Rose Wanchap. Talk about a conflict of ethics.

  2. For the Echo to describe Cr Rose Wanchap as a “renegade Greens councillor” for so called “voting against party lines” to approve the interim rock works at Belongil is quite extraordinary.

    If Cr Wanchap is a renegade then so were the decisions of former Green Mayor Jan Barham and current Mayor Richardson.

    Cr Wanchap has done nothing more than extend the logic first used by former Greens’ Mayor Jan Barham in voting to protect the town centre to Belongil Beach.
    If you are going to protect the town centre Cr Wanchap can see it’s illogical to do so at the cost of Belongil community.

    In 2006 Mayor Barham contrary to the Greens’ said policy of ‘managed retreat’ used her casting vote to ensure the protection of the town centre with upgraded protection works.

    In today’s article Mayor Simon Richardson said, “He readily admitted he was not a supporter of the move (for interim rocks beach stabilization works) and emphasised that Greens policy remained ‘managed retreat’.

    Mayor Richardson recently voted for a new multi- million apartment complex DA approval right on Main Beach.
    Did that decision fit with the Greens ‘managed retreat’ policy, or was he just being a “renegade”?

    The history of the Byron Greens policy of “managed retreat” has always had a touch of illogical madness about it, diligently and selectively pursued by the Greens, always at a massive cost to the community.

    The Greens’ policy should really be renamed ‘managed retreat at any cost in some places’.
    The cost to the whole community to date has been huge. $millions being spent on doomed environmentally hazardous interim geo-bag works, legal costs and endless mostly ignored expert reports all gathering dust over decades.
    To suggest that the minority of Councillors opposing the interim rocks are “progressive” for opposing the infill of the few gaps left in the historic Belongil protective works beggars belief.

    Thanks to the sensible majority of this Council, the current decision has finally brought an end to the past madness, equitably protected a large community together with valuable Council assets from the historic impact of the Jonson St town centre protection works.

    Hopefully we can now move on and look forward to an inclusive Coastal Zone Management Plan that equitably manages the beach at Belongil, in the same manner that Council has stabilized Main Beach for decades.

  3. What an appalling Christmas gift for Byron Bay.
    Thank you to Chris Dobney, Simon Richardson, Paul Spooner & Duncan Dey for speaking out against this woeful bit of closed shop decision making which will have far reaching impacts on the health and attractions of the region.
    The conservative pro business majority of councillors who were funded by Belongil landowners, can now claim to have damned future fiscal growth as well as public amenity in this once iconic township. With a broken and damaged beach, I imagine a gradual decline in visitor numbers, with resorts, holiday lets and restaurants all feeling the pinch over time.
    I know of no other beach destination on our vast coastline that has so thoughtlessly destroyed the environment that feeds them.
    I despair!

  4. I am deeply disappointed in Cr Wanchap’s decision to support the predictable anthropocentrism of Hunter, Cubis, Woods and Ibrahim. I thought her intelligence and environmental awareness would preclude such a move. Nothing will save the enclave from extreme weather events in the next few years, least of all another rock wall. Goodbye Belongil.

  5. The recommendations of the Coastal Zone Management Plan are vital for the future well being of the Belongil and all coastal zones along the East Coast of Australia. The current conservative councillors who seek to hastily implement the rock wall at the Belongil are making a total mockery of concerned rate-payers money. Indeed, by refusing to broaden their outlook and seriously address the wider issues noted in the Coastal Zone Management Plan they will succeed in opening, literally, the flood gates of future ad hoc decisions and potential disasters. What a precedent! Long term residents have witnessed the loss of beach as sea levels rise. The outstanding question remains? What percentage of rate-payers support this ad hoc decision? And should residents seek fiscal accountability from those who view the current ecological crisis as merely worth ‘fixing’ for the privileged few. This decision is like putting a Band Aid on a shark bite! A very expensive Band Aid at that! The ecological crisis concerns everybody and the rights of future generations to a healthy environment must be represented. Let us be more inclusive of nature when making such decisions. The paradigm of logic has widened from the days of ‘progress’ and helping ‘mates’. Time to mature.


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