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Byron Shire
April 13, 2021

Funding for controversial Belongil rock-wall denied

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NSW planning minister Rob Stokes has thrown a spanner in the works of the controversial Belongil rock wall project, rejecting funding for the second stage of the works.

The proposed beach access walkway and revegetation, as part of stage two for the interim rock wall at Belongil, will not be funded by the state government, Mr Stokes told Greens MP Jan Barham this week.

The works are part of stage two for the stabilisation project which Byron Shire Council is pushing ahead with. Construction contracts for stage one of the 103-metre rock wall at Manfred Street were signed just this week.

Ms Barham, a former Byron shire mayor, says denial of state government funding for the works due to the impact risks ‘should be enough for Byron Shire Council to halt the project’.

In the latest twist to the rock-wall saga, Mr Stokes told Ms Barham that stage two was not eligible for funding because council had not redesigned the works to address concerns  by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and NSW Coastal Panel.

In his letter to Ms Barham, the planning minister said the grant made to council under the NSW Coastal Management Program was still ongoing as council had met two milestones for the grant and could claim the third milestone (for detailed design and the review of environmental factors) once completed.

But Mr Stokes said that under the funding agreement, stage two was not eligible until a revised plan for the works element of the project had been approved by OEH.

‘Both OEH and the Coastal Panel have previously advised Byron Shire Council of their concerns about the scale of the proposed interim works, impacts to public safety and the adjoining coast, beach access and amenity, and the need for long-term maintenance,’ Mr Stokes said.

‘In addition, the proposed interim works could compromise the long-term management strategy for this area, which is being developed in the Coastal Zone Management Plan for the Byron embayment.

‘As Byron Shire Council has chosen not to redesign the works to address the concerns raised by OEH and the Coastal Panel, funding under 2012-13-CM-0034 cannot be used for the interim structure currently proposed by council,’ he said.

Mr Stokes told Ms Barham that under the new administrative arrangements of the Coastal Protection Act 1979, the OEH continued to have lead responsibility for the act within government, but reports directly to the planning minister on coastal management issues.

Ms Barham had originally written to environment minister Mark Speakman about her concerns over the rock wall, but her letter was referred to Mr Stokes because he said ‘this matter falls within my portfolio responsibilities’.

The Greens MP has raised the issue in parliament recently, calling for the government to oppose the works, and made an adjournment speech on the issue.

She told MPs that Byron Council had resolved to build the rock walls to protect private properties without a NSW government approved Coastal Zone Management Plan.

She said the walls had been identified by the NSW Coastal Panel as ‘potentially causing increased coastal erosion and impact on adjoining Crown land, the loss of the beach, and impacts for public safety’, as well as on tourism.

This morning, Ms Barham told Echonetdaily that Mr Stokes’s comments had ‘confirmed community outrage over the council’s decision’ to build the rock wall.

‘The decision of council to use the Infrastructure SEPP as an approval process does not preclude the requirement for the state’s approval for works on public land or the need to be compliant with planning processes,’ she said.

‘The planning minister has raised the point that these works  may compromise future management of our important coastal lands.

‘The denial of the state government’s financial support for the works due to the impact risks should be enough for council to halt the project.

‘The lack of state funding support has meant that council is using public funds for a project that may jeopardise future coastal planning and lacks the openness and transparency expected by the Byron Shire community.

‘The government’s stated position about the potential impacts of the work on public land is disturbing and raises concerns about the motivation and professionalism of the staff to proceed with the works.

‘I will be meeting with the planning minister next week and will continue to raise the community’s concerns and to seek the transparency and long term sustainable planning that the community deserve for our precious coastline.’ Ms Barham said.

Byron Shire Council’s infrastructure services director, Phil Holloway, said this week that the contractor could start the works within the next four weeks.

The rock wall will replace an ageing geobag structure which currently connects two stretches of rock wall built by residents against council’s wishes in the 1990s.

Council said the geobags were only intended as an interim short-term measure, but they’ve been in place for over 10 years.

Conservative councillors voted to push ahead with the plan following the defection of former Greens Cr Rose Wanchap to their ranks earlier this year.

Stage one of the works include the main wall construction, with the Manfred Street beach access to be closed during this time.

A council spokesperson said the total cost of the project was made up of: $907,000 in the 2014-15 budget, an additional $60,000 from yesterday’s (July 30) council meeting and $300,000 from private landholders.

The spokesperson said council’s $967,000 for the interim works had been allocated from the following council funds:

* Beach protection works – $90,000
* Coastal rectification works –  $241,500
* Infrastructure services 2013/14 carry over reserve – $140,000
* Infrastructure renewal reserve –  $458,000
* Employee entitlements reserve- $37,500

Mr Holloway said there was ‘currently no state funding for the works, however the NSW Office of Environment will be asked to reconsider funding $300,000 towards the project’.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. Well done Jan Barham and Rob Stokes.

    Leave our coastline alone, unless you want to promote sand dune recovery by strategic planting, like Green & Clean have been doing since 1997 at Main Beach.

    With the onset of global sea level rising and more frequent rogue climate events, planned retreat is really the only sane approach.
    Otherwise we humans will leave a vast legacy of massive coastal vandalism and rock litter.

    These renegade Councillors with their short term fixes for their mates’ property interests, is purely perverse and must be checked in its tracks with further community outrage.

    Remember that pumping sand from Cosy Corner to Belongil, is the NEXT stage.

    They’re NOT kidding …..

  2. I bought a beachside New Brighton house in 1980. I didn’t know and wasn’t told by the real estate agent about the coastal plan, although it was in effect. I couldn’t get flood insurance. I sold and moved shortly thereafter, at no profit, I may add.
    These clowns went in with their eyes open. They should suck the tough titty on this one, instead pf expecting rate payers to foot their bill. Wankers all of the highest order.

  3. Yes, we must thank the State Government minister for acting appropriately and legally.
    It is completely inappropriate for the current Byron Shire Councillors to approve these works. Not only is it beyond their expertise, but it would render the Coastal Management Plan useless – perhaps that was why
    it was pushed so hard. It is also in danger of rendering the current situation whereby all property owner on the Belongil Spit have had to sign paperwork, saying that they are aware that they are building or making alterations on their properties at their own risk, nil and void.
    A Bay FM program concerning the pumping of sand from Tallow Beach brought forth the response from a
    woman Councillor that “they only intending pumping sand from one corner of the beach.”
    This typifies the level of understanding.

  4. I would suggest this matter now needs to go back to Council for further debate. Ratepayers cannot be expected to foot the bill for this part of the work. The government is clearly not happy with the Council’s decision to proceed with this activity prior to the release of the CZMP. A deep breath and some sanity should now prevail. There may be up to five councillors who should possibly reconsider their stance on this – especially with the next elections now looming.

  5. does anyone understand just how much bad karma this is? a small handful of people are going to be single handedly responsible for permanently destroying a micro system – the beach. Do any of them realise the bad karma thats going to come down upon their heads spiritually for that? And their descendants? It’s such a MAJOR intervention against mother nature. These people live be the sea but have no concept of the laws of nature, the cycles and energies of the land? And the consequences of willfully screwing with them? Is this total insanity? It’s not just a small change. It’s not a butterfly flapping its wings. It’s like a MAJOR catastrophe. This kind of change will ripple on up and down the coast line. This is BAD karma for these small group of people. I also never get how people can want to live in a really tiny little community yet do things against the wishes of everybody and still think they’re going to have friends, a social life, continue to receive service etc

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