The NSW Coastal Panel, a group of highly respected experts in coastal management, has refused to endorse Byron Shire Council’s solution to the issue of Belongil beach erosion.
A freedom of information request by former mayor and Greens MLC Jan Barham has revealed what the panel really thinks of the council’s planned ‘interim’ solution at Belongil.
The Government Information (Public Access), or GIPA, says the panel ‘does not endorse the use of rocks as interim protection measures for coastal erosion and prefers the use of more temporary structures (ie geotextile sand bags).’
Ms Barham, who lodged the request, said, ‘Byron Shire Council is not only proceeding with the construction of a rock wall against the best scientific advice in the state, but it is also acting against the interests of the community.
‘The reversal of decades of planning that recognises the risks of coastal erosion and the inevitable impacts of climate change is also putting at risk the amenity and safety of the beach, which have impacts for the tourism industry and could also carry legal risks.
‘The council has also gone back in time with the move to reclassify public land in the area to allow it to be sold. This proposal was put forward in 1999 but was seen as irresponsible as the community land is known to be at risk from coastal erosion.
‘Community funds are being used for decisions by a majority of councillors as the state is not willing to fund the rock wall construction. The proposal to sell a vulnerable piece of land to pay for the protection of a few private properties that are in a known risk area is still subject to state approval, and I doubt that will eventuate.
‘These decisions by the majority of councillors are not in the best interests of the whole community and should make residents question whose interests they are serving.’
Coastal Zone Management Plan
As preparation for the rock wall construction continues, ahead of the Coastal Zone Management plan (CZMP) for the Byron Bay Embayment, councillors tinker with the overdue plan’s draft constitution.
At last Thursday’s Byron Shire Council meeting they settled on who will be on a panel.
Cr Di Woods was insistent that the absent Cr Sol Ibrahim be given a seat. Given Cr Ibrahim’s passion or obsession for all things coastal, it was granted.
Others councillors joining him will be Crs Cameron, Wanchap and Dey.
But what about non-council community members?
Two community members have been proposed – one from the Byron Preservation Association and one from either BEACON or Byron Residents’ Group (BRG).
There you have it.
Complete democracy in action and we can all rest easy. Except that this panel doesn’t have any voting rights.
That makes it a gabfest, according to Cr Dey (Greens).
He told The Echo it’s a ‘ticking box’ exercise to say to the state government that process has been followed.
‘Many other advisory groups can vote’, Cr Dey says, and this means there will be ‘no formal way to advise council.’
It doesn’t instil the greatest confidence in process and democracy, but then again it does reflect the way in which the council majority has treated the public over many issues.