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Byron Shire
April 14, 2021

Government set to rewrite rules on rock walls

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NSW environment minister Rob Stokes.
NSW environment minister Rob Stokes.

Chris Dobney

The state government has indicated it is about to tear up legislation under which Byron Shire Councillors recently voted to build a contentious rock wall at Belongil.

Environment minister Rob Stokes told a coastal conference last week the government will completely replace the existing legislation by mid next year.

The announcement comes less than a month after the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) withdrew funding for the project, stating that the design that council presented it with was inappropriate and could cause more problems than it solved.

Mr Stokes, who is the first-ever state minister to attend a NSW Coastal Conference, spoke at a dinner for delegates on Thursday night.

He told the conference the state government planned to completely redraft the Coastal Management Act, which he said was 34 years old and completely out of date.

The government will also issue councils with new Coastal Management Guidelines, effective from next June.

Byron Shire Cr Duncan Dey attended the conference in Ulladulla with mayor Simon Richardson last week.

Cr Dey told Echonetdaily the speech was well received by the attendees and ‘sounded as if [Mr Stokes] was putting the brakes on structural answers to coastal management’.

‘The minister added that after June 2015 the government will not be funding works that aren’t part of a Costal Zone Management Plan (CZMP).’

‘This puts paid to the argument by Cr Ibrahim that it was just one lowly bureaucrat’s idea to scotch funding for his rocks at Belongil,’ Cr Dey said

In an exclusive interview with Byron Shire Echo last week, Cr Ibrahim said, ‘It is incorrect to say the “state” did not support [the rock wall]. One regional office of one state department (OEH Coastal Panel) wanted a rock wall with a shorter toe on the grounds that in a heavy storm [the toe] would become exposed and create a hazard. They were not opposed to a rock wall per se as an interim protection measure, which after all is the actual purpose of the funding.’

He added that, ‘Had the design met with approval from OEH, it would now be built, without the CZMP completed.’

Byron’s CZMP for the Byron Bay Embayment (BBE) is due next month but council has applied for an extension until June next year.

Cr Dey said, ‘The minister received an ovation at the climax of his speech when he stepped away from the microphone and said “our policy will be to protect the beach”.’

He added that he had spoken to minister Stokes afterwards about the planned Belongil ‘interim’ beach access structure (IBAS) and about the CZMP for BBE.

‘In both cases the minister told me to talk to Bruce Thom about these issues.’

Professor Thom is a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and president of the Australian Coastal Society, who is on record as opposing these types of structures.

Coastal Council re-established

As part of the state government reforms, Mr Stokes also confirmed the government will re-establish the NSW Coastal Council, which was abolished by the Carr government in 2003.

As long ago as 2006, then Greens MLC Ian Cohen called on the government to re-establish the Council.

The Australian Coastal Society has also welcomed the reforms.

NSW branch spokesperson John Corkill said, ‘These initiatives are very much in line with international best practice, and indicate to the NSW coastal management community, that the minister and the Baird government are serious about working with councils and communities in managing their precious coastal resources in the public interest.’

According to Mr Corkill, the minister, ‘advised delegates that the government wanted councils to “move forward” with their coastal planning rather than “go back and start again”, noting that all future funding of coastal projects would need to be consistent with the plans agreed by councils and their communities and certified by government’.

‘This is very good news because it reinforces the importance of Coastal Zone Management Plans as the appropriate framework for making key decisions on coastal management and for allocating resources for their implementation,’ Mr Corkill said.

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  1. “Our policy will be to protect the beach”. Music to my ears. Hallelujah!
    At last we have an intelligent NSW environment minister in Rob Stokes who promises to respond scientifically to coastal issues rather than allow local parochial shire councillors to trash our beaches in favour of the vested interests of a minority of landholders.

  2. this sounds like good news for Belongil Beach and the community and bad news for the interests of a few who would benefit from this wasteful construction, while so many others would suffer the loss of public amenity (including wildlife and natural systems). lets hope that those councillors who foolishly and selfishly supported this project , take it as the very major self interest smack down that it is and will feel suitable chastised for their extremely poor judgement on the matter!


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