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Byron Shire
May 26, 2024

Byron’s iconic surfing beaches still under threat

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This aerial photograph, taken on February 21, 2015 shows the affect of high tide and erosion at Byron Bay's Main Beach. Photo Norm Sanders
This aerial photograph, taken on February 21, 2015 shows the affect of high tide and erosion at Byron Bay’s Main Beach. Photo Norm Sanders

Hans Lovejoy

Byron’s world-renowned surfing beaches and related ‘tourist activities’ are at risk owing to Byron Shire Council’s relentless push to create plans that favour coastal protection structures, a state government department warned again recently.

But the warning appears to have made no difference to council’s right-wing controlling faction, who again barrelled through with yet another motion to continue on the path of overturning the planned retreat policy in favour of ‘protection works’.

Structures such as rock walls are known to erode beaches over time.

At last Thursday’s council meeting, the controlling faction ignored staff recommendations that sought clarification over a newly announced coastal management framework.

Instead, Cr Sol Ibrahim again produced a last-minute lengthy motion – written in the lunch break – which aims to continue the preparation of a Coastal Hazard Management Study Byron Bay Embayment.

The project is led by consultants Water Research Laboratory (WRL), who the left-leaning councillors point out are employed to engineer and build coastal protection works and therefore are potentially biased against planned retreat as an option.

Cr Ibrahim’s fellow councillors Woods, Hunter, Cubis and Greens turncoat Wanchap all voted without explanation or debate for his motion.

The plans have been continually dogged by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), who say the cost benefit analysis (CBA) of WRL’s plans is inadequate and, if done correctly, could demonstrate that planned retreat is the most cost-effective outcome.

The Echo understands that OEH will ultimately decide whether to accept Council’s CZMP plans, which will then be gazetted by the minister.

A recent meeting held on the Gold Coast with OEH, WRL and Byron Shire Council staff thrashed out the problems raised by OEH, with WRL accepting the issues raised.

The latest cost to ratepayers in redrafting these issues is $13,500, and comes on top of similar cost blowouts from last year.

The OEH had previously offered to prepare council’s cost benefit analysis for free.

The report from the meeting notes OEH uncertainty surrounding major cost components and called on WRL to explore within its cost benefit analysis the ‘engineering options, retreat and an adaptive strategy’.

It was acknowledged that sand nourishment, which is replenishing the expected loss of beach sand owing to rock wall type structures, is a ‘critically sensitive component.’

Serious doubts expressed by OEH

Within the meeting’s minutes it reads, ‘OEH expresses serious doubts about feasibility of the… options proposed.’

It’s a position supported by legislation – OEH noted that within the Coastal Protection Act 1979, ‘CZMPs are to make provision to protecting and preserving beach amenity and managing associated impacts for proposed construction of protection works.’

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  1. Only Belongil Beach is under consideration within the current CZMP. It is simply wrong to generalize to all of Byron’s iconic beaches. What the photo above also shows is that Main Beach has greatly benefited from the Jonson St protection works, which hold the sand and provide the town with a wide beach. In fact, there are protection works in front of the surf club which are now completely covered because of the Jonson St ‘headland’. The options for Belongil Beach also include measures to hold sand and widen the beach.

    The previous Council purposefully left inclusion of the Jonson St protection works from the planned retreat policy. Why? Maybe because they knew most people would think it ludicrous to remove them and expose the town to storm erosion. Most people would say ‘well sure there’s no beach in front of the car park and pool anymore, but the benefits outweigh the costs’. Why then is it okay to expose the entire Belongil suburb to the same erosion? It is not only the beach-front properties that will go; it is the restaurants, motels, and B&B’s.

    The CZMP we are preparing asks this same question. What are the benefits and costs of a variety of options, such as doing nothing, pulling all the rock walls down, or improving them? These options will be presented to the community for consultation.

    What was passed at last Thursday’s meeting was the tightening of the staff timetable to make sure the draft CZMP goes out for pubic consultation a few months earlier. It is also totally wrong to say OEH comments have not been acted on. This is the 3rd time we are taking the Cost Benefit Analysis back to our consultants to incorporate the latest 11th hour feedback from OEH.

    No decision was made regarding planned Retreat whatsoever last Thursday. The Mayor sought to halt the entire process, contrary to staff recommendation. He wanted legal advice about whether it is actually lawful to implement the Greens planned retreat policy! My resolution included getting legal advice concurrently with completion of the Draft CZMP. The Mayor wanted to halt three years of staff work and miss yet another Government deadline for completion of this CZMP. The last Greens controlled Council did exactly the same thing and wasted four years of Council work. In fact, Byron Shire Council has been working on the CZMP since 2000! I think it is high time it was finally finished in 2016.

  2. The dunes at belongil are a joke. Tourists staying at premises beyond the dunes have created new illegal walking tracks. Nobody cares nothing gets done to stop it. So who cares. Btw, I left byron in October. Rarely come back. What a s***hole it has become. But as long as the shops make a quid everything is ” cool “. Pffft


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