Rock-wall councillors push to meet June deadline

Byron Shire councillor Sol Ibrahim.

Between a rock and a hard place: Byron Shire councillor Sol Ibrahim.

Chris Dobney

Byron Shire’s pro-rock wall councillors hope they can rush through a coastal zone management plan (CZMP) in less than two months, although no draft has yet been drawn up more than three years after it was first mooted.

The plan has been mired in delays since the state government first called for it in October 2011.

Then environment minister Robyn Parker ordered the CZMP to be in place by June 2013 and extensions were later given until June 2014 – and then until June this year.

But in March, then minister Rob Stokes told the Coastal Councils Conference that guidelines may be changed after 30 June this year and that councils still with outstanding CZMPs at that time may have to re-frame their drafts to fit them.

Byron Greens Cr Duncan Dey believes the deadline is now unachievable but one of the biggest supporters of rock walls in the shire, Cr Sol Ibrahim, told Echonetdaily that it may still be met.

That is despite the Office of Environment and Heritage throwing out the council contractor’s cost benefit analysis (CBA) of rock walls versus the council’s existing policy of planned retreat.

Byron mayor Simon Richardson has previously told The Echo the CBA was ‘clearly biased towards a rock wall solution.’

But rather than accept the OEH’s offer of help to redraw the CBA, Cr Ibrahim and the pro-rock wall faction voted at last month’s council meeting to give more money to the same contractor to redo the job.

At time of writing the contractor still had not estimated how long it would take to complete.


Despite this, Cr Ibrahim told Echonetdaily believes the development of at least a draft CZMP is still possible by the June 30 deadline and to this end council staff have inserted two late reports relating to the matter in today’s council agenda, one of which would establish a project reference group (PRG) that would ‘guide’ the development of the draft.

[Since this report was written Cr Ibrahim has told Echonetdaily that he has now read the late reports in full and council staff advise they believe the CZMP cannot be completed within the government’s June 30 deadline. He did not commit as to to whether he would support a vote requesting an extension at today’s meeting.]

'Government by stealth': Byron Shire Cr Duncan Dey.

‘Government by stealth’: Byron Shire Cr Duncan Dey.

But Cr Dey has described the move as ‘government by stealth’ and the PRG as ‘a secretive group that will meet in private and deliver its recommendations to the state government long before it reports to council, let alone the community.’

Cr Dey has lodged a formal objection to the move.

‘With everything we’ve been given there’s not one word about why it has to be dealt with on May 1,’ he said.

‘I’m offended I have to deal with it without the public knowing about it. There’s no announcement [by council] that these late reports have been published,’ he added.

Cr Dey told Echonetdaily that if the CZMP was to be completed by ‘it would have to go on public exhibition by mid May. The idea that is going to be done by June 30 is ridiculous. Even blind Freddy can see we can’t get it done.’

He put a motion the last council meeting to ask the state government for a further extension which was defeated by the pro-rock wall majority.

Funding precluded

But Cr Ibrahim said it was important to get the reports before council today ‘so that we can keep the ball rolling rather than be hamstrung by the cycle of reports.’

He said the likelihood of meeting the CZMP deadline depended on ‘how long it takes for the revision of the cost benefit analysis.’

‘If that were to be completed in two weeks and we were able to have that incorporated into a workshop for councillors on or around the next meeting in three weeks time, then I think we could put the draft out and get submissions in.’

‘It may, in all likelihood, not be completed exactly on June 30 but… I think at least we will get the draft completed and out for public exhibition by June 30.’

‘Personally I would like to see the draft out in early June, so the exhibition period could be completed by June 30 and we could then say, “look, we’ve basically got the finished document”.’

He said that that once council passes that deadline it is ‘precluded in seeking funds for additional coastal works.’

He added even if the guidelines were to change after June 30, ‘I believe the instruction is that those councils that have proceeded in good faith under the existing guidelines can complete their CZMP under those guidelines.’

‘We obviously don’t want to find ourselves in a position that we request funding for additional coastal works or emergency works and don’t get it.’

Constitutional conflict

Cr Dey said that one of the worst aspects of the PRG proposal was ‘that the public will be excluded from PRG meetings and scrutiny even by the elected council will be post-mortem.’

‘The un-health of the PRG’s operation is best illustrated by clause 5 of its proposed Constitution: if the councillor who is appointed chair can’t make it to a meeting, they ring in from their death-bed or wherever and determine the replacement chair for the day. This is unheard of in local government,’ Cr Dey said.

Cr Ibrahim defended the plan to hold closed meetings of the PRG, saying the group may be ‘criticising the work that is being produced by a consultant, considering whether we need additional revisions or changes to the documents we have before us, [or] talking to staff about internal matters.’

But he did leave the door open to the members of the panel being selected by council rather than, as is proposed in the draft constitution, by the group itself.

‘What the staff have done is put up a template for what might be the final constitution… in fact tonight [Wednesday] I’ll be looking at other PRG’s, such as the one that was established for the landslips, that was very effective.’

But Cr Dey said that under the proposed constitution the PRG ‘will be skewed from the outset. It will have a majority of pro-rocks councillors on it and those councillors will be responsible for selecting the community reps.’


4 responses to “Rock-wall councillors push to meet June deadline”

  1. m gardner says:

    Such a closed door Public Reference Group and related procedures would be in breach of the People’s Charter for Better Planning, endorsed by this council in Dec 2014. Cr Ibrahim’s vote for this charter tipped the scale and the endorsement was won.

    Importantly, the voting at today’s council meeting is public and every councillor can be held to account.

    Here is the link to the Community Charter and the basic principles

    Good planning is governed by the following principles:
    • The well-being of the whole community, the environment and future generations across
    regional, rural and urban NSW.
    • Effective and genuine public participation in strategic planning and development
    • An open, accessible, transparent and accountable, corruption-free planning system.
    • The integration of land use planning with the provision of infrastructure and the
    conservation of our natural, built and cultural environment.
    • Objective, evidence-based assessment of strategic planning and development proposals.

  2. Christina says:

    The only sensible, via long-term solution to the issues at Belongil remains planned retreat. Other ratepayers have suffered too much for too long for the moneyed few who continue to believe that collectively they have enough wealth to halt Mother Nature. One more big cyclone is all it will take – rock wall or not – to either wipe out the entire spit or isolate more than one home from ‘the mainland’. Maybe then those residents can ‘secede’ from the shire of Byron and start their own little independent fiefdom. Good luck with that.

  3. Duncan Dey says:

    Councillor Ibrahim offered huge concessions on the constitution of the PRG at Council’s meeting on 30 April. He would not accept my amendments to it though. The matter then fell over – there won’t be a PRG.

    Whether a PRG could have been a good thing or not, it was the rush that killed it.

    Thanks Echo for getting these matters out into the public sphere.

    Councillor Duncan Dey

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