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Byron Shire
October 5, 2022

Byron rock-wall legal bill ‘the cost of democracy’

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Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson says a legal bill for ratepayers of more than $100,000 incurred by council fighting an injunction to stop the controversial rock wall at Belongil represents the ‘cost of democracy’.

Environmental group Positive Change for Marine Life this week withdrew its bid in the NSW Land and Environment Court to halt the Belongil interim access stabilisation works being undertaken by Byron Shire Council, after failing to convince the court to grant an interim injunction.

Cr Richardson told media that ‘if you believe in people’s rights to seek justice in a court, then you’ve got to take the negative along with that, which in this case is pretty rich legal bill for a couple of months’ work, so the only people who benefit is the lawyers’.

Council’s legal services coordinator, Ralph James, welcomed the outcome, saying construction works would continue as planned.

‘While we are pleased that the matter is not going to proceed before the court, unfortunately council has incurred significant legal costs of well over $100,000 through defending a case that council successfully argued had little merit,’ Mr James said.

‘Unfortunately these costs will be borne by our ratepayers; funds that could have otherwise gone towards much needed infrastructure upgrades such as road maintenance. It’s disappointing.’

Last month, the marine-life group lodged the legal challenge to try and stop the works going ahead without an environment impact statement.

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  1. Mr James speaks with a forked tongue. If Council were genuinely concerned with having extra funds for “infrastructure such as roads maintenance” they wouldn’t be building this joke of a rock wall in the first place.

  2. You’re right Mick. Anyway, we, the ratepayers, are already being charged the cost of building the rock wall in the first place, since the state government refused to fund it, deeming it too large and in the wrong place. So there was never going to be funding left for road maintenance etc after this debacle was steamrollered into action against the greater community’s wishes. It’s appalling that we are actually being forced to pay to downgrade and ultimately destroy our public beaches and amenity. Unless there is a building code put in place for West Byron re building on swamplands, there will be more damage to come down the track – aka, the fouling of Belongil Creek and the ocean and regular flash flooding. Buyers beware!

  3. ‘….unfortunately council has incurred significant legal costs of well over $100,000 through defending a case that council successfully argued had little merit,’

    Does it count that a large part of the local community believe that the case has a lot of merit? How lucky that us ignoramus serfs have our big paternalistic councils out there to interpret the concerns of the voters in such a way that saves ourselves from ourselves.

    ‘Unfortunately these costs will be borne by our ratepayers; funds that could have otherwise gone towards much needed infrastructure upgrades such as road maintenance….’

    Are we really getting chided by a bureaucrat for citizens exercising their right to question a decision pushed through behind closed doors? A decision that will use community money ear-marked for this all-important “road maintenance”, and has been criticised by almost every agency, office and outlet that it has come into contact with, outside of the pro-development faction of Byron Council?

    Glass houses, Mr James. Lets not quibble over a measly 100 grand when Byron Councils record of waste is a far more interesting story.

  4. how nice of our spineless Mayor to cave in to the top end of town, his record will be the destruction of Belongil beach, building sports fields that hardly anyone uses, giving the Roundhouse block in Ocean shores away (lucky there was a court injunction to the sale today) and adding an other round about to Ewingsdale road, planing to destroy iconic Butler Street market site and make it into a car park

    • Simon did not cave in to the big end of town on this issue – far from it. He has resolutely opposed the extension of the wall from the get-go. If you had been at the extraordinary council meeting to discuss this issue several months ago you would know that he is anything but spineless. The issue at present is the pro development ‘cabal of 5’ that now controls voting thanks to the defection of Rose Wanchap from the Greens.

  5. So lets see. After a long winded process on par with fascism, not democracy, the council funded rock wall was due to commence. At the 11th hour the community sought to protect and defend its sovereignty. The MAYOR ie the servant of the community, insinuates that the community is being penalised by daring to oppose the interests of the council
    And I’ll second the comment above in response to the liar-for-hire, well, yes it’s all our fault how dare we waste money that was supposed to be spent on fixing roads – but ALAS – all that money the council had ready just ITCHING to be spent on roads was suddenly diverted because of that evil, selfish community that dared twist the law against the poor, poor council that was just trying to do its job, but yes justice prevailed, and the evil community have to cop it by paying for it, which means they don’t get to enjoy the roads the council is now too poor to fix. because of the court case.
    Right. I got it. Thanks for the clarity

    • It was Ralph James who made the ridiculous comments in the article about the money wasted because the council had to defend itself against the community, not Simon Richardson. If you read the article, Simon says that the money spent by the council in fighting the action is the cost of democracy – in other words, he is supporting the right of the community to protest against something that they do not agree with. Simon has also been staunchly opposed to the extension of this wall from the beginning, along with many in the community. Ralph James is the one who deserves your ire, not Simon.

  6. It’s worth checking into the bigger picture issues and facts rather than being sucked into the propaganda. Also worth noting that the 150 people that turned up to protest at Belongil (I was there) is not the ‘whole community’. The spit at Manfred St is only 50 meters wide (thanks to the rocks in town). If this was breached around 25 buildings (not all owned by rich people) would be cut off, potentially permanently. Also council roads, power lines, phone lines, sewerage, wear mains would be destroyed. The town could be flooded as a result. Imagine the cost of this? Including lost rates, land taxes, stamp duty etc. Treehouse and Belongil Bistro under water. This sounds like much more of a loss of amenity to me, than building a relatively small wall at the back of the beach, connecting walls which have been there for decades with very little impact on the beach. Don’t get sucked into the ‘save the beach’ propaganda. Despite rocks being at Belongil for 30 years or more, it is far easier to walk to the end of spit from town at high tide than it is to walk to the Pass. Some common sense is required. Everybody wants a great beach at Belongil, but letting it wash away is not going to do anyone any good.

  7. David – what a lot of fear mongering codswallop you are spouting there. The illegal rocks at Belongil are eroding the beach and will continue to do so. The Manfred Street entrance will never be breached in your lifetime and the town will never be flooded in this way. It’s total bunkum, all designed to build support in a small community that is already losing business due to the damage being done to beach and access. There’s not one person who has lived here in the last 100 years who would support rocks on the beach. The madness of this, and the long term and expensive damage it creates, has been played out on the Gold Coast and at Noosa. All expert advice has broadcast the same warnings.
    But, go ahead, destroy your little enclave and half the beachfront. Just don’t ask the community to pay for it. I hope you’ll all be happy with your perch on your seawall in the coming years – and later your little island. Living in la la land.

  8. Hi Jan… (re the article referenced above) during the 2009 erosion event when you were Mayor and Belongil residents were being door knocked by Council officers to evacuate, the Echo itself stated in its editorial:

    “the immediate situation is surely about the emergency protection of lives and properties. Belongil property owners are obviously acting out of self interest – who wouldn’t? – but the interests of Byron Bay itself may be at stake as well. Expert witnesses have been produced to say that if the foredune is breached along
    the Spit then tidal waters may flood along Shirley Street and into town. Certainly our front page photo shows how close the sea is to the work on a new subdivision recently approved by Council off Border Street. It would be one of nature’s great ironies if Council’s Main Beach rockworks which have helped in the erosion of Belongil see the ocean sneak into town from behind.”

    As you know – most of the rocks at Belongil were built along time ago by the meat works and others (with council support or as a result of advice from council). They are not illegal. They also have not caused erosion of the beach, the rocks at the carpark have. As been been proven.

    The people that I speak to that take the time to understand the issue support the rocks. They are a natural part of many beaches (e.g. little Wategos) are a necessity to manage the foreshore when you build a town on the beach and mine the sand! Your idea that the town should simply be left to fall into the sea does not serve anyone. It is not a solution, only a spoiler for real solutions.

  9. Oh David, What on earth are you talking about? When has anyone suggested that Byron Bay was built in the wrong place? The State Government has said however, that the wall designed for the Manfred Street stretch is too big and Inappropriately placed. Therefore they would not help with the costs. Is this what you are talking about??!
    Yes, one day the sea will encroach towards Hayters Hill, but that is maybe hundreds of years away and not something you need to concern yourself about. What I am talking about, what I am always talking about, is preserving the health of the beach and township for as long as possible. The quickest way to destroy both, is to continue dumping rocks on our beachfront. There are so many ways to maintain what we used to have for as long as possible, but rocks are not one of them.

  10. David – I am not Jan Barham. I am not a Green. I am a local whose family have lived here since 1870. My opinions are my own and based on empirical evidence gained from observation.. You a wrong when it comes to rocks.

  11. Hi Jan.

    Jan Barhams’ council and the subsequent council commissioned detailed expert reports (all available on Council website) that all point towards the Jonson St wall being the main cause of erosion at Belongil. Belongil is a long term stable coastline. The political aspirations of some have warped their views into a religious fervour.

    It is now time for the community to work together. Rocks are natural, and they are used everywhere else in the world to stabilise beaches in dynamic areas (where towns are built). The beach at Belongil is a beautiful place – despite the rocks being there for the past 30+ years.

    What is your solution to protect against the threat outlined by the experts, that the public and private land at Manfred St is at serious risk, and that the sandbags are not enough?

  12. David. Where have you been for the last decade while alternative solutions gave been canvassed?? Rocks might be natural, but they are anathema to the health of a beach. All rock edifices built to ‘protect’ residential and business development worldwide have caused irreparable damage. The rocks at Main beach are just as nasty as the rocks at Belongil beach.They are not a solution, but an impediment, which scours the sand and destroys the beach and dunes. Have you not read of the mess businesses got themselves into when tampering with the beach at Noosa while in panic mode?? They now pay huge amounts annually to pump sand from the river to create an artificial beach to bolster their businesses, all the while causing flooding in riverside residential developments. From the Californian coastline to parts of Europe, people have learnt the hard way that rock wall do not work. You must have missed all those articles. But they have obviously come to the attention of even the State government which is now shying away from funding rock walls. As for the township flooding if the spit goes – this is also scare-mongering at its worst. Yes, one day, but not in our lifetimes. It will not be the sea which floods Byron Bay any time soon, but the flooding that will be created during storm seasons from inappropriate building on the protective drainage swamps that surround the Bay – aka West Byron. You on the spit, are more likely to be washed into the sea than washed away by the sea during bad weather. You need to watch your backs, not build rock jettys. Rest assured, when concrete is laid across the swamps, we will find ourselves under water frequently. What a mess we are in. It’s all wrong wrong wrong – rock walls removing our beaches and concreted swamplands flooding the delta. What will be left for people to visit????

  13. Jan, have you actually ever been to Belongil? There is plenty of beach there. And the rocks have been there for most of my lifetime. Much more sand in-fact than there has been for a long time. The notion that all ‘rocks destroy all beaches’ is hogwash. The old rock-wall at Belongil (with sand behind that goes right down to the car bodies) is currently almost completely buried.

    What is your solution Jan? If it is to remove the rocks from Johnson St ands re-instate the sand dunes where the town now sits – then that could work!

  14. David
    You must be much younger than I thought! When I was a girl there were no rocks OR residents on the Belongil dunes, just a few fishermen’s shacks. When there would be a big blow and the shacks would be flattened, the fishermen would walk away – not sue Council – and come back another day. Nobody ever built on the dunes because they were the necessary fortification for the swamplands, all part of the delta. All homes were built on the inland side of Childe Street. Even those knew their positions were temporary.
    The jetty and the fish co-op were on the sea side. Somehow or other Paul Hogan convinced the then Council to let him build on the dunes, and the others followed. After one big blow, the fledgling dune dwellers took fright and illegally started dumping rocks. Then the rot set in and the beach started to disappear. I’m afraid, David, you are the one who talks hogwash. If you spent time by the sea and watched the tidal ebb and flo and the way the sands shift and travel, you would soon see how much deeper the water always is around rocks. I was recently in Tasmania, on the east coast, in a protected inland bay. The water was shallow for miles, knee deep. But there were a couple of rocks. Around those rocks it was deep enough to swim. Enough said.
    You have obviously missed all the articles over the last decade from world travellers, engineers and marine specialists. They have all outlined the dangers of rock walls and highlighted the many misguided and failed attempts made to hold off the sea in other parts of the world. I don’t expect you to research all those articles, but you should try to read the one in the SMH a few years back about what happened at Noosa. They made the same fatal mistake and are now paying for it, and we seem to be blindly following down the same path. Nobody learns from history.
    Of course there is sand presently at Belongil beach. It’s taken roughly four years to gather in front of the rocks. For several years before that, we had to row past those homes! Regular annual visitors were constantly amazed that they could no longer walk the length of the beach they had always treasured.
    And before any of this happened, on my fathers last visit here, he shook his head sadly at the sight of the rocks at Main Beach. I didn’t understand then either, but I have lived it since and know he was right. “They have done the wrong thing,” he said sadly. “You must never put rocks on a beach because the sea will always come to the rocks.” He knew then that the beach would be lost to future generations, and it is coming to pass.
    I can’t educate you David. You have swallowed the scaremongering of a handful with invested interests and seem blind to the truth of the matter. All the locals who have lived here for generations know the town and beach are being destroyed for future generations by more recent ‘blow-ins’ who only want to profit from the place. But that is the way of the world, it seems. If you had been here long enough, you would definitely be in another camp than the one in which you stand. This reply is extremely long, so imagine what it would take to regenerate all the articles that have been printed previously, all the expert reports, all the knowledge. Too long, and I imagine you wouldn’t want to read them anyway. Rest assured, the next big depression and storm, the next big rains, and there will be no beach at Belongil for X number of years again. Meanwhile, as other profiteers concrete up West Byron, you will have to watch your backs, as I said before, because that will be where the real flooding will come from in your lifetime.


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