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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Byron councillors ‘betray community’ on rock walls

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A protest against the proposed Belongil rock wall took place on Wednesday September 8. (picture: taojonesphotographer.com)
A recent protest against the proposed Belongil rock wall. Community groups have been further outraged with an extraordinary proposal for a kilometre-long rock wall with a walkway on top which was pushed through yesterday. (Photo: taojonesphotographer.com)

Luis Feliu

Community groups have been outraged by yesterday’s approval by the majority pro-development faction of Byron Shire Council to proceed with a controversial plan for the Belongil rock wall to stretch for a kilometre, with a walkway along the top.

Members of various groups at council were shocked when the plan to proceed with the next stage of the rock wall was pushed through, with Cr Sol Ibrahim leading the charge for the proposal, which hundreds of locals say will only benefit millionaire landowners and local real-estate agents.

The Community Alliance for Byron Shire (CABS) says the latest approval for the rock wall under the Draft Coastal Zone Management Plan is ‘woefully lacking in detail’.

‘The council motion promotes a preferred plan to build a rock wall at Belongil stretching for a kilometre with a walkway along the top – presumably because it will be needed when the beach disappears because of accelerated erosion caused by the wall,’ CABS spokesman Donald Maughan said.

The approval was rammed through by the National Party-aligned Crs Alan Hunter, Di Woods and Chris Cubis, supported by Cr Ibrahim and Greens ‘turncoat’ and realtor Rose Wanchap.

’The only beneficiaries of this proposal are Belongil landowners and real estate agents,’ Mr Maughan, the president of Suffolk Park Progress Association, told Echonetdaily.

‘Council has put forward rock walls as the best option for the Bay, based on a cost benefit analysis that has already been strongly criticised by the state government,’ he said.

‘This proposal does not count the social or environmental costs or the impacts on tourism and public amenity.

Byron Shire Cr Rose Wanchap, a real-estate agency owner, deserted the Greens early on in her council career, and has sided with the National Party aligned faction ever since.
Byron Shire Cr Rose Wanchap, a real-estate agency owner, deserted the Greens early on in her council career, and has sided with the National Party aligned faction ever since.

‘They want this CZMP signed, sealed and delivered by the end of June and it is woefully lacking on every level.

‘Council has refused to even consider the mouth of the Belongil estuary and the impacts on it of their proposed works yet it is a key part of both the coastline and the beach.

‘Their preferred option will transfer erosion from Belongil beach onto the estuary, ignoring the importance of the estuary for marine ecosystem functioning and as a roosting, nesting and feeding area for a multitude of threatened birds.

Scientific evidence ignored

‘Additionally this proposal has chosen to ignore the inevitable impacts of rock walls in creating erosion to the north, particularly at the Elements resort, which will likely result in compensation claims by those landowners.

‘The five [majority] members of council have chosen to ignore all compelling scientific evidence that proves that rock walls exacerbate beach erosion and intend to overturn a 30-year policy of “planned retreat”.

‘They are ignoring good science and good management and introducing a dangerous precedent that will lock ratepayers into footing the costs of stabilising Belongil and compensating landowners into the future until the rising seas overwhelm our puny but expensive defences.

‘Since 1988 the community has continued to support “planned retreat” as a response to coastal erosion.

‘Council’s preferred option takes no account of the results of council’s own stakeholder engagement by consultants Umwelt (2014).

‘According to Umwelt’s report the highest level of disagreement (68 per cent) was with the statement: “If I had to choose between a rock wall (to protect built assets) and maintaining a sandy beach, I’d go for the rock wall”.

Byron Shire councillor Sol Ibrahim repudiates claims by CABS that the council is not living up to the Community Charter for Good Planning it signed up for in 2014. Photo supplied
Byron Shire councillor Sol Ibrahim has pushed for the contentious rock wall since elected to council.

‘This is another example of planning done without regard to the future, to what the greater community wants and what is best for our treasured natural environment,’ Mr Maughan said.

An observer at the council meeting, Jan Hackett, told Echonetdaily after the decision that ’our council is a joke’, with ‘five recalcitrant councillors who lock out general community discussion and are puppets for profiteers and the wealthy few’.

‘The gang of five talked nonsense, admitted often they didn’t know what they were talking about, obfuscated and laughed at proceedings and any opposition to their opinions,’ Ms Hackett said.

‘As we all know, any broad expert advice or community input was locked out of their so called “deliberations” on this long expected and certainly pre-made decision.

‘It was always a foregone conclusion that this impediment to common sense would be built, as this was the definitive purpose for which at least one councillor had been voted onto council.

Conservative Byron Shire Cr Diane Woods, voted for the rock wall.
Conservative Byron Shire Cr Diane Woods, voted for the rock wall.

‘They conferred only with Belongil residents and discussed solutions only with a group whose business is to build rock walls.

‘No other expert advice or historical precedents were taken into account.

‘There was no consideration given to beach loss, no consideration or care for the damage this will do to the ecosystem that is Belongil estuary, no consideration for lost revenue in tourism as our beaches are depleted and broken, no consideration given to sand replenishment and maintenance costs which ratepayers will have to share in future years.

‘They simply don’t care that they are downgrading public amenity and enjoyment of a fragile and long loved stretch of the coast.

Ms Hackett said the five majority councillors ‘will all be long gone when the community reaps the poisonous harvest of their cowboy politics’.

 

 

 


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11 COMMENTS

  1. A totally one-sided report based entirely on quotations from unqualified ‘spokespersons’ claiming to be the voice of the whole community. It would be far better if the Echo read the CZMP documents and provided the community with a complete set of facts. As for who sides with who, look at the minutes of meetings. The most aligned group in the Council are Crs Richardson, Spooner, Cameron and Dey.

    Cr Wanchap votes according to her best judgement. She studies the Agenda diligently, attends virtually every workshop, and asks questions of staff before and during meetings. She is as committed as any Councillor could be, and she has paid a huge personal and financial price over the past four years.

    What the Greens won’t accept is that it is a breach of the Local Government Act for any Councillor to vote according to party lines. Doing so is a form of Councillor misconduct. There should be no party politics in Local Government. People who vote for the Greens, or any other party, in Local Government are being conned if they are told they can expect that only party policy will apply. Cr Wanchap was effectively kicked out of the Greens because she complied with her legal obligations as a Councillor and voted independently. Despite the irrefutable truth of this, the community sees story after story suggesting she has done something wrong (to put it very mildly). She has not!

    Planned retreat in Belongil is so dumb, that is is ridiculous that it is even still being debated. It is absolutely un-achievable, both legally and financially. It is a pipe dream. There is no “plan” for the retreat that could possibly work, and there never has been. It is simply too late to turn back time. Council is about finding practical achievable solutions to complex problems.Council should never be about class warfare or pie in the sky dreams. This 15 year saga has cost the ratepayers $millions in useless plastic sand bags and court cases. There are already rock walls protecting Wategos and Main beaches, as well as the entire Byron township.Why isn’t anyone screaming about these? No one is trying to wall up an undeveloped beach, or approve new dwellings on the beach. Council must find a balance between the rights of its ratepayers and the community at large. Both groups matter, and sometimes its not possible to please everyone.

    • Rubbish, Sol! How much is this going to exactly cost the ratepayers, Sol? Your rich mates at Belongil beach will be thrilled about the walkway above the rocks. An opportunity for thousands to have a good look into the backyards of the rich and famous.

      More rubbish from the gang that loves rubbish.

  2. Sounds like a nice community development. Will there be room for cyclists. Nice to open up more beachfront access for community use.

  3. I have often visited Byron Bay, almost every year for the past 12 years (usually for about 2 weeks) and during each visit I have seen the erosion of beach from previous visit.

    One of my favorite activities while holidaying in Byron is to take a nice walk from Main beach all the way to Tyagarah Beach. Sometimes when tide is too high I would have walk Belongil and start my walk from there. If this beautiful beach gets eroded away there would not have much reason to holiday in Byron Bay.

  4. If the community groups are so concerned with the rock wall, they could offer to buy all the impacted real estate and allow nature to work its magic.Of course this collection of groups would not do this as they are mainly just envious of those that have bought there.
    By not allowing the rock wall the CBD of Byron Bay could be inundated in a very high tide on a regular basis. The wall in front of the CBD should be removed if the rock wall is not built so as natural processes can recommence.

  5. Well CABS guys, in the end, When the Positive Change for Marine Life tried to crowd fund for an injunction and court case for a stop work on the rock wall. You guys were strangely silent and certainly didn’t offer to put your money where your mouth. The crowdfunding raised only $325.
    This political group CABS that makes out it has a monopoly on the whole Byron Bay community viewpoints is really overreaching and history shows that you have not garnered as much broad support for your ‘planned retreat’ for Belongil only as you moot .

    There are many of us in the community that would like a balanced CZMP that recognises the value of the built environment and our ocean environments.
    The Byron Coastline management plan has been 18 years in the making so there are reams and reams of documents to waft through. Community consultation happened at every stage and submissions were sought at every exhibition of CZMP documents..
    Also, in 2001 Byron Shire Council ratified the Belongil Estuary Management Plan 2001, which is worth a read, as noting the existing environmental pressures and impacts on the nesting bird habitat. Acid sulphate seepage from crown land drains runoff , chicken farm nutrients and industrial estate drains, storm water drainage (pollution) Sewerage treatment overflow and the regular Artificial opening of by heavy machinery.

    After 18 years the Byron CZMP is ready for timely implementation. I for one thank the Councillors who have supported due process and voted for this outcome.

  6. Not sure what Cr Ibrahim’s rave about the Greens above is about – maybe a pre-election spray. Seems a bit silly in this context trying to malign the Greens when this issue is not about party issues but about community.

    The supporters of this plan keep saying that it has been 10 or more years in the making. What they neglect to say is that the previous CZMP was scuttled, for reasons unknown, the day before it was to have been adopted by Council. Rumours are that legal action was threatened. That CZMP had planned retreat as its preferred option.

    This pro-engineering CZMP is only as old as this Council. The pro-rock councillors only have a majority because of the defection of Rose Wanchap, who so few people voted for it’s a disgrace. They do not represent the progressive vote of the Shire and the majority of the people.

    You cannot gauge what the people of Byron want if you don’t ask them. Oh but you did! and then you chose to ignore them. Council’s own stakeholder engagement by consultants Umwelt (2014) did ask and, according to Umwelt’s report, the majority of the community REJECT the engineering of our beaches. The highest level of DISAGREEMENT (68%) was with the statement: ‘If I had to choose between a rock wall (to protect built assets) and maintaining a sandy beach, I’d go for the rock wall’.

    If this CZMP is so great then why was it conceived in secret? – the last one had a large amount of commmunity input with many community members involved in its drafting.

    The legal case mounted by Positive Change for Marine Life was not pursued because lawyers advised that it would be an endless litigation process given the continued legal challenges that landowners at Belongil would likely mount. Everyone knows they have a lot of money and will never stop pursuing what they want. They would have litigated an excellent community organisation into bankruptcy. Sadly when it comes to legal challenges the person with the most cash wins. The best democracy money can buy.

    Trying to discredit CABS is a bit foolish – the group has 13 member associations which covers a lot of people. Has anyone seen any community groups jump up to support the over-development 5 councillors?

    Cr Ibrahim should explain to the community why the Office of Environment and Heritage rejected the Cost Benefit Analysis of planned retreat versus beach engineering as seriously flawed. He should also explain why the 5 councillors rejected the OEH’s offer to do the CBA for the council – free of charge.

    It is clear that the reason for the lack of transparency is that there is no way that this appalling draft CZMP would ever be accepted by the people of this Shire – it completely lacks credibility.

    The person above who says that we are just envious is being a bit silly and I wonder if they are a landowner at Belongil. The politics of envy does not come into this. Fairness and prudence however should. Why should the community buy the houses of people who made bad decisions in the full knowledge of the likely implications? Nearly all the people who bought there have known since the mid 1980s that their presence on the spit was with a ‘buyer beware’. I myself nearly bought a place there in 2000 on Manfred Street. My partner and I saw the document from Council that said in the event of erosion/inundation that we were on our own and would have to abandon our property as Council could not be expected to protect our property. At the time we knew little of the history or about dune erosion. We looked into it and thought that was fair enough and decided not to buy. It is selfish to expect other people to pay for your choices … and also to expect the community to forsake a public asset for the same reasons.

    Like climate change deniers funded by corporations, look at the science and then look at where the money is. It’s not hard to see who and what this CZMP is about.

  7. This is a practical and sensible step forward. I live at Belongil and when we purchased our little family house (and paid $200k + in stamp duty to the state government) I was advised that there was no requirement for the house to ever be removed as it was built prior to when these restrictions came in. I was also advised that the wall in front, built decades ago by the Byron Erosion Trust (with council input) was also not going anywhere. Legally or structurally. Fortunately we do not live in a totalitarian state so it’s just as difficult to remove me from my house as anyone else who lives in Australia. Those wishing for Belongil residents to be removed should be careful what they wish for. I have seen the sand go quickly but it always comes back – and the beach is great out the front. Often wider than parts of main beach and certainly easier to walk along at high tide than the section between main beach and the pass. I love Belongil how it is. I’d really not prefer the wall to change nor would I like a concrete path going through my backyard. However the CZMP proposal from what I have heard so far – is sensible as it opens the area up more to the public and makes the spit sustainable for the future. Protecting the beach is also important and I am sure the beach at Belongil can be easily maintained longer term with modern engineering solutions. From everything I know – things can either stay as they are or be improved as per this new plan. Planned retreat is not an option. It would be far more constructive if people put forward ideas rather than personally attacking their neighbors and councillors who work hard for the community. Read the documents when they are released. The echo should be ashamed of spreading such propaganda disguised as journalism.

  8. The only thing in the above article which sounds like it will definitely result in the destruction of Belongil beach is the so-called “planned retreat” policy that CABS supports.

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