Byron Shire Council today looks set to vote down a proposal to delay the construction of a ‘temporary’ rock wall at Belongil Beach to first allow completion of its Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP), due in June next year.
The decision will effectively wave goodbye to $300,000 of state funding for the million dollar project, which the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has now confirmed is contingent on the work complying with the yet-to-be adopted CZMP.
Instead, council staff have recommended entering into a secret agreement with affected Belongil landowners to partially fund the works, with the balance being picked up by the council’s ratepayers.
But the sting in the tail for ratepayers is that they will never know how much they had to contribute because the negotiations with the landowners are considered commercial-in-confidence.
Yet in a letter to council, received on October 24, the OEH confirmed the additional funds could still be made available provided that the works did not commence before the approval of the CZMP, and that the document recommended they proceed.
‘The NSW Coastal Panel have previously advised council of their concerns about the scale of the proposed interim works, which have significant impact on the amenity of the already compromised beach area and associated public access,’ reads the letter, signed by OEH environmental programs director Carolyn Davies.
‘In addition, the proposed interim works might compromise the long-term management strategy for this area currently being considered in developing the Coastal Zone Management Plan for the Byron Bay embayment,’ it continues.
Greens Cr Duncan Dey has a notice of motion on today’s agenda that would see the work delayed but he fears that the change in the balance of power on council will see the work go ahead, with ratepayers being forced to pick up the tab.
In an unusual series of recommendations, the staff report calls for council to approve the works by no later than 5pm today.
Vaughan holding out
The report admits for the first time that, despite the constant reference to them as temporary, ‘the works are not considered to fall within the definition of temporary protection works as defined under the Coastal Management Act 1979.’
It notes also that, ‘with the exception of one directly affected landowner, the remainder of participants provided in-principle agreement to make a contribution towards the construction and maintenance of the proposed works.’
Ironically the landowner holding out in principle agreement is John Vaughan, who has been the shire’s most vocal advocate of the plan and who will be addressing council today.
The recommendation confirms that discussions are already underway with residents in the Manfred Street area, including Mr and Mrs Vaughan (lots 11-14), Mr and Mrs Burke (lot 37) and Shuttlewood Properties (lot 15) but that the amounts of their contributions have yet to be negotiated.
Negotiations have also been proceeding with residents regarding easements over their properties and, according to the staff report, Mr Vaughan has indicated he is ‘ “not entirely comfortable’ with the proposed easement on his property and has asked if there was any alternative to an easement to which staff responded by explaining again the reasons for the easement, and again Mr Vaughan indicated he would work with his solicitors on the issue.’
The report continued that Mr Vaughan had indicated ‘he did not want to hold up the works and would write to council that day, 13 October 2014, advising his position on the funding contribution, easement and agreement’.
But at the time of writing the report (October 17), council had ‘not received any written response from, or on behalf of, Mr and Mrs Vaughan and the required documents have not been returned signed’.
In a somewhat bizarre twist, given the urgency with which it considers the works should proceed, the report provides an out-clause if Mr Vaughan does not approve the easement over his property, which would see the funding redirected instead to the area around Don Street.
Nats hold the key
Cr Dey said it will be interesting to watch the National Party-aligned councillors, ‘who normally claim the higher fiscal ground, vote for council to throw most of a million dollars at something that would be a lot cheaper done in 2015 under a CZMP (if the plan approved it)’.
Cr Sol Ibrahim’s support of rock walls is well known and Cr Dey said he expected Cr Rose Wanchap would ‘vote like a real estate agent’ on the issue.
But he held out hope that Crs Di Woods, Chris Cubis and Alan Hunter would ‘do the right thing by the ratepayers and not throw the millions into the sea at Belongil’.