A renewed push by billionaire developer Bob Ell to build a controversial multimillion-dollar cruise-ship terminal/casino near the world-renowned Kirra surf break has sparked a wave of anger, with a huge protest set for Sunday week.
Gold Coast and Tweed surfers, residents, environmentalists and other community groups will take part in a paddle-out on Sunday, 19 January at North Kirra/Bilinga at 10am (11am NSW) in one of the biggest protests of its kind held in that state in years.
The Leda group, owned by Mr Ell who is behind the Tweed and NSW’s two biggest residential township development at Kings Forest and Cobaki, plans to use around a kilometre of beachfront land at Bilinga to build the integrated resort, casino, apartments, shops and restaurants.
It will mean reclaiming a huge swathe of beachfront to build a harbour on the southern Gold Coast.
The new bid follows the Queensland government’s recent calling for expressions of interest from developers wanting to build new casinos in Brisbane and regional areas.
A similar resort/casino has also been proposed for the northern end of the Gold Coast at Southport Spit near Wavebreak Island but is on hold with locals there also fearing a big impact.
The Leda subsidiary Gold Coast Ocean Terminal Pty Ltd had originally proposed the southern Gold Coast seaport, to be located within walking distance of Coolangatta Airport, around two years ago.
A News Corporation report says project managers are confident work could start within six months on the $400 million terminal, with other infrastructure to follow.
But Save Our Southern Beaches Alliance (SOSBA) says the sheer size and scale of project would ‘wipe out Kirra forever’ and ‘all the hard-fought gains to bring it back will be ruined’.
SOSBA, which for years has been lobbying to restore the famous barrel-producing Kirra Point surf break to its former glory before man-made sand replenishment (the Tweed River sand-pumping project) was blamed for ruining it.
The campaign against the loss of the iconic break, on an Australia Day 2009 paddle-out at Kirra Point, involved one of the biggest demonstrations seen on the Gold Coast when 1,500 surfers joined in a ‘map of Australia’ formation watched by 5,000 on the beach.
SOSBA chairman Jim Wilson said that as a result, the Queensland government pledged $1.5 million to ‘fix the problem’.
The campaign also helped persuade Gold Coast City Council to replace rock boulders taken off the Big Groyne, which had been seen as part of the problem.
Current professional world surfing champion and avid campaigner for Kirra, Mick Fanning from Tweed Heads, has called on the public to support the paddle-out protest.
‘Everyone who is concerned about the cruise ship terminal please show up and have your voice heard. This is a community stand so if you surf or just enjoy the beach as it is, let’s make a statement,’ Fanning said.
Organisers say the paddle-out protest is not restricted to surfers and that ‘all the community can play a big part in the shape of the development on the beach’.
SOSBA says around 30,000 million cubic metres of rock and concrete would be needed for the ocean terminal, casino and high-rise development, according to an engineer’s estimate.
‘It stretches one kilometre out to sea and one kilometre from North Kirra Surf Club north to Bilinga,’ Mr Wilson said.
‘Local residents would have their ocean views destroyed and property prices [would] plummet.
‘Reclaiming of public property and foreshore due largely to the sand build-up courtesy of the Tweed sand-pumping operation would go against the [policy] of the Queensland premier… who rejected a development application on public foreshore land from Clive Palmer at Coolum.
‘The sheer size and visual impact of the proposed development looms larger than a scene out of the movie Independence Day!’
Fanning said the magnitude of the proposal was ghastly, saying its footprint will be around 94 hectares.
‘This will affect the whole Gold Coast, not only just the local area,’ Fanning said.
‘One question is how will the sand flow get around this monstrosity to replenish the beaches north?’
Fanning has urged the public to ‘have a good read of the application’ and then make up their own minds.
‘So many things are totally wrong about this whole idea,’ Fanning said.
‘1. Ruining our beaches by stopping natural sand flow to the northern Gold Coast that is already eroding.
‘2. Pollution from the ships will be ridiculous and affect wildlife, especially around whale migration season.
‘3. Ruining the world-class waves we have that also generate millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses.’
Mr Wilson has written to Queensland premier Campbell Newman ‘asking for the government to once and for all reject this project’.
He said that if a cruise terminal/casino development plan at the Broadwater backed by Gold Coast mayor Tom Tait fails, ‘the way is then open for the Leda group to press on ahead for their proposed development’ at Kirra/Bilinga.
Mr Wilson said Mr Tate ‘will not categorically rule out North Kirra if the Broadwater project is dead in the water’.
‘The surfing community applaud Tom Tate for carrying out their demands to have the Big Groyne rebuilt and council’s sand-replenishment works on the badly eroded northern beaches, but find his stance totally hypocritical if he ultimately backs the North Kirra/Bilinga project,’ he said.
Queensland tourism minister and Currumbin MP Jann Stuckey said the North Kirra/Bilinga development could adversely affect major sporting events on the southern Gold Coast such as the Quiksilver Pro at Coolangatta and the Australian Surf Life Saving titles and National Kite Festival at North Kirra.
Mr Wilson said the fragile reef at Miles Street, named one of the best diving reefs close to the beach by acclaimed diving iconic couple Ron and Val Taylor, and the SS Coolangatta shipwreck, believed to be buried under the ocean floor of Kirra, is within the precinct of the proposed development.
The local Indigenous group the Krungal Aboriginal Welfare and Housing Association have endorsed the paddle-out, raising questions about marine, environmental and cultural impact.
The Krungal tribe will perform a traditional welcome to Country ceremony to bless the paddle out.
‘SOSBA feels that people power will ultimately play the final decision to reject both proposals and has called on the public to be proactive on this issue and ensure our beautiful strip of pristine coastline, waterways and waves will be protected once and for all and for future generations to come,’ Mr Wilson said.
According to a recent News Corporation report, the Kirra/Bilinga plan’s project director Dennis Hughes said the southern site was superior to The Spit because it could accommodate 500-metre ships, while there was only room for one cruise ship terminal on the Gold Coast.
Mr Hughes was quoted saying that ‘if the government gives it (The Spit proposal) the tick then we’re done and dusted and I’ll pack my photos (artist impressions) up and go home,’ he said.
Mr Hughes acknowledged concerns by surfers fearing the destruction of local breaks, saying, ‘there’s a lot there who are upset about it but we’ve just got to work around it’.
To learn more about the campaign www.facebook.com/SaveOurSouthernBeachesAlliance.