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Byron Shire
March 28, 2023

Byron coastal plan ‘rushed and incomplete’

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A Byron environmental group is taking legal action against the proposed Belongil rock wall. (file pic)
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Given its track record, the Byron Shire Council’s majority faction will be keeping its steady course into ‘inevitable uncertainties’ at this Thursday’s extraordinary meeting called to consider its highly contentious and incomplete coastal zone management plan (CZMP).

National Party-aligned councillors Sol Ibrahim, Di Woods, Alan Hunter, Chris Cubis and Greens defector Rose Wanchap are all expected to vote to for the CZMP to go on public display, despite it not including comment from experts within the state government.

It’s the first of two extraordinary meetings planned, which Echonetdaily understands is because councils with near-complete CZMPs have been instructed to submit by June 30.

It’s also expected the Coastal Protection Act 1979 will be repealed on June 30, giving this CZMP less legal certainty.

The second extraordinary meeting is on June 29, just one day beforehand, which presumably gives enough time to lodge the plans to the state government.

Additionally, council elections will be held in September, and that adds to the pressure to complete their agendas.

On the assumption the meetings will be rubber stamped and put before the public, Cr Duncan Dey (Greens) has flagged his concern that such a short time frame will not give the public enough opportunity to comment and will put unfair pressure on staff assessing public submissions.

Former Greens mayor Jan Barham, who is now an upper house MLC, has raised serious allegations of improper process and legal issues.

Major financial burden unknown

Ms Barham says plans to build a 1.6km rock wall at the Belongil is ‘deeply flawed’.

She says the report ‘omits vital information regarding the state government’s position on the coastal plan.’

‘The community is being denied the right to know the advice of Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and whether the minister [responsible] for Crown Lands is willing to give approval for the building of the rock wall on public land, Ms Barham said.

‘The impact of rock walls is well known: there is ample evidence that the placement of hard works on the coast causes the loss of a sand beach and creates erosive effects on adjacent lands.

‘The plan also fails to properly identify the Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) requirement and disregards the potential for a major financial burden on the community in the future in addition to extensive construction costs,’ she added.

‘This flawed and dangerous plan [by the ruling council majority] is yet another example of the disregard and disrespect for the community of Byron Shire.’

Ms Barham also raised concerns that Council’s general manager, Ken Gainger, allowed such poor process to proceed.

‘It defies belief that the general manager would allow a report to be presented to the elected council for decision making and to the community with so many failings that include: inconsistency with current coastal planning legislation; a lack of state government advice; the absence of legal advice in relation to future risk and legal action; and the dangerous future risk of losing the beach, which is the priority draw card for the tourism industry.

‘The draft CZMP fails to consider the impacts on the Belongil estuary and also ignores the significant impacts on the environment including the roosting, nesting and feeding sites for endangered migratory birds, putting at risk the obligations under international treaties,’ said Ms Barham.

Staff replies

Echonetdaily asked Council staff whether the short time frame available to assess such important information was a concern to them and whether they thought it would compromise their ability to do a competent job.

In reply, director of sustainable environment and economy, Shannon Burt, said staff will be assessing coastal submissions ‘as they are received’.

‘It’s a tight time frame that has been set by Council and the introduction to Parliament of the draft Coastal Management Bill, adds complexity. However, we will be doing everything we can to achieve the current deadlines,’ she said.

Planned retreat $40 million: Cr Ibrahim

The chef architect of the draft CZMP appears to be Cr Ibrahim.

He has previously claimed that it has taken ‘too long’ for a CZMP to be adopted, although there is evidence that previous attempts that were produced and ready to be gazetted were inexplicably withdrawn amid legal threats by Belongil residents.

Echonetdaily asked him how pushing an incomplete CZMP upon residents and pressuring staff to assess submissions in a short time frame aligned with Council’s stated aims within its Community Charter for Good Planning.

Cr Ibrahim replied that the last CZMP adopted under the Greens-led council ‘chose planned retreat, despite the results of its cost benefit analysis and hazard study recommending coastal protection.’

‘The previous Project Reference Group (PRG) did not have a single landowner representative. Submissions against planned retreat were ignored. That Council did not even commission advice as to the legality of planned retreat despite Council being a respondent to multiple claims for negligence, Cr Ibrahim said.

‘By contrast, this council does have community and landowner representation on the PRG. We have exceeded the required community consultation at every stage of the process.

‘This Council has taken heed of the clear recommendations of our expert consultants. Our cost benefit analysis, which is fully compliant with OEH advice, proves that planned retreat is unaffordable, with an estimated cost of $40 million to implement.’

Cr Ibrahim said the council was one year behind a ministerial direction for completion of this CZMP.

‘Councils with near-complete CZMPs have been instructed to submit by June 30, 2016,’ he said.

‘The pros and cons of the limited practical options for management of Belongil beach are the most debated of any issue in this Shire. Persons wishing to make a submission are encouraged to do so as soon as possible.

‘This Council is going to resolve a complex problem that has a history spanning half a century or more,’ Cr Ibrahim said.

He added that there was ‘no ideal solution.’

‘We can only do what is affordable and lawfully achievable. Planned retreat is neither of these,’ he said.

Cr Ibrahim maintained Belongil beach would ‘remain safe and accessible outside of severe storm events.’

‘People enjoy Belongil beach and the nearby services with the existing ad-hoc poor quality protection works.

‘Their enjoyment can be heightened with construction of vastly improved access and public walkways paid for by property owners. Modern engineering design will increase sand volumes and reduce the impact of storm events.

‘The rest of the Belongil community, the homes, restaurants and accommodation will be protected. Planned retreat will achieve nothing positive. No proper safe access, no public walk ways or viewing platforms, no wheelchair access. Only years of costly protracted legal battles that will never achieve a solution,’ Cr Ibrahim said.

What’s a CZMP?

The CZMP lays out a long-term plan for beaches around the Byron Bay area, and reflects the ‘current understanding of sea rise projections (0.4m for 2050 and and 0.9m for 2100).’

Coming in at 459 pages, Byron Shire’s CMP is available online within council’s extra agenda.

It begins with warnings from staff of unknown factors and variables, such as funding opportunities and yet to be determined agreements and management arrangements with landowners.

Under its coastal zone management program, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) says it ‘aims to reduce the impact of coastal hazards and maintain the ecological health of our estuaries while accommodating population growth. The program has a long history of state and local government working collaboratively on coastal zone management.’

‘Under the Coastal Protection Act 1979, coastal zone management plans can address risks from coastal hazards, such as coastal erosion, as well as managing threats to estuary health. These plans also need to address the projected impacts on climate change, including projected sea level rise, on coastal erosion risks and estuary health.’


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  1. This has been going on for decades. Jan Barham is upset her ridiculous plan was illegal and will try and stall anything constructive happening – forever. Good on the current council for working hard to solve a complex problem despite a lot of misinformation being spread. Belongil landowners are proposed to pay for the solution. Ouch. Planned retreat can never work, and where does it stop? Does the whole town eventually need to retreat? Or are rocks in front of some properties OK? You build a town on the beach and mine the sand, and it eventually needs engineering solution – just like great beaches all around the world in populated areas. Belongil has had rocks for decades. These will just be properly designed rocks with a walking path added. If done properly as part of a bigger plan most of the rocks will be under the sand most of the time. The whole area will be a vast improvement on what it is now. All the scaremongering about rocks destroying the beach and the surf is ridiculous. So much sand moves past Belongil. The sand was completely gone in front of many areas of rocks a month ago due to heavy seas – with old car bodies exposed for the first time in years. But in only 3 weeks the sand is already back. For example, sections of the old Byron Erosion Trust wall were were 3 meters high 3 weeks ago, and now this part of the wall is almost buried.

  2. It is ludicrous and mischievously deceptive to suggest that ‘Cr Sol Ibrahim is the chief architect of the CZMP’. This is a 459 page document, supported by many more hundreds of pages of technical work conducted by external experts in coastal engineering and environmental processes, as well as economic analysts. Five Councillors have accepted the conclusion of these paid external consultants that protection works funded by private property owners are the only viable and achievable option. A far cry from a single Councillor being a ‘chief architect’.

    Secondly, this issue has nothing to do with the National Party! Suggesting that the five Councillors supporting the recommendations of CZMP management study are all National Party aligned is a nonsense designed to foment political polarization. Surely this longstanding problem deserves calm and reasoned debate free from exaggeration and politicization?

  3. OMG, it is quite obvious that if the plan goes on exhibition without state Govt submissions.

    then it’s flawed and does not comply with the Act,The Act stipulates that submissions from State authorities must be attached before exhibition, the Council solicitor must have surely told them that

    It will be a lawyers picnic in the LEC and Court of Appeal meanwhile the Councillors can face the scrutiny of the electors come September

  4. Jan Barham (and her predecessors) embarked upon and progressed a “policy” of planned retreat which could never be legally implemented as a valid coastal management strategy under NSW legislation.

    That is the simple reason planned retreat has never been implemented.

    My expectation is that Jan Barham (and her predecessors) never sought any legal advice on this point, nor with respect to the legal impediments to the practical implementation of planned retreat.

    As a result, successive Council administrations have wasted about $100 million in hard expenses and resources (in today’s value) in an exercise in futility, and divided the community in the process.

    In the interim, Byron Shire has been held hostage to a vacuum of coastal management for the last thirty years as a result.

    Jan, I challenge you to provide any legal advice you obtained with respect to “planned retreat” to Hans Lovejoy. I am certain Hans will be happy to publish it as it will certainly educate the current debate amongst the Echo’s readers.


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