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Byron Shire
May 19, 2022

Byron ‘heading over a cliff’ with coastal plan

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Byron Shire councillor Paul Spooner.
Byron Shire councillor Paul Spooner.

Chris Dobney

Byron Shire Council is forging ahead with its controversial Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) despite the dire warnings of one councillor that it is ‘heading over a cliff’.

Byron’s majority faction voted last Thursday to reject a rescission motion to hold back the plan, putting it on exhibition from last Saturday (May 21) for just 21 days for public comment.

ALP councillor Paul Spooner, who supported the failed rescission motion, said Byron residents deserved better than the ‘grossly inadequate’ timeframe for reading and digesting a plan that had been five years in the making.

He has described it as ‘impulsive’ and ‘short-sighted decision-making’ and posed the question, ‘Is this council operating in a fair and proper manner?’

As well as the highly controversial 1.6 kilometre rock wall slated for Belongil Beach, the CZMP also proposes an upgrade of the Jonson Street protection works and removal of the spur groynes.

But by contrast it maintains a watching brief on other parts of the coast, including North Beach and a ‘coastal hazard investigation’ of Lighthouse Road, Captain Cook car park and Marine Parade Wategos Beach.

Cr Spooner said council had been working on the CZMP since 2011 but that there were still significant shortcomings in the proposal.

‘We are talking about a very complex document, with many parts to it [and] a lot of research that’s gone into it,’ he said.

‘For the community to only have 21 days to absorb what this means for the shire and to comprehend what the implications of the plan are, I think is far, far too short. And it’s far too important a policy to be rushed through the community.’

Cr Spooner also criticised the consultation process as having ‘very limited community involvement through the Project Reference Group’, adding that ‘even the expertise that’s on there doesn’t have enough time to absorb what we’re putting out and we’ll be looking at adopting on June 29.’

Political motivations

And while the state government has called in all council CZMPs that are ‘nearly ready’ by June 30, Cr Spooner believes Byron Council’s motivations are ‘more political than that’.

‘I think its got to do with ensuring that we’ve got a document that suits the majority of councillors, in this term of council, being adopted

‘This is a document, however, that sets a policy up – not just for this council or the next – but for many years to come,’ Cr Spooner said.

‘We have a plan that will be put in place that will influence the management of the beach and coastal zone of Byron Bay – one of the most important environmental, social and economic assets of our community. We should get the greatest amount of community input possible before this decision is taken because it will be something that unfortunately will affect the whole community.

‘This decision should not be made on political grounds, as to who’s got the majority in the chamber of the time, it should be made in the best interests of the community,’ Cr Spooner said.

Economic implications

‘This is not just about a small stretch of beach at Belongil. This is actually about what it will cost this community going forward. There are economic implications in this report that I believe are not well thought through. We have question marks over what will happen with the construction of a rock wall at Belongil, about how that will be managed and how that will impact on the beach.

‘These things are not just a decision that’s taken and then we can tick a box and move on. There will be big implications if this plan is to go through. I would like to see at least a two-month time where people are able to absorb what’s in here and make reasonable comment.’

No plan B

Cr Spooner has also criticised what he believes are significant shortcomings in the plan, in particular what might happen to Belongil Beach once a sea wall is built.

‘If this plan were to go forward you’d be building a rock wall with an attitude of “wait and see what happens”. I don’t think that is appropriate for the coastal zone. I think that if you start to interfere with the natural processes in a coastal area you should at least have an idea what your plan B’s going to be if the beach disappears.

‘These are the questions that need to be explored before we go running headlong over the cliff in terms of both an environmental disaster and an economic disaster for this shire,’ Cr Spooner said.


The Jonson Street protection works are estimated to cost about $6.2 million in total and council would be seeking funds from the state government’s Coastal Management Program to implement the works.

The draft plan proposes a private/public funding model for the Belongil seawalls, with council funds directed towards works adjacent public lands. At a total cost estimated at $14.3 million, council’s proportion is estimated to be just over $1 million.

Suffolk Park, Brunswick Heads, New Brighton and South Golden Beach are also included in Part E of the draft CZMP BBE which is an Emergency Action Sub Plan for the Byron Shire Coastline, which deals with coastal erosion emergencies.

Community consultation

Upcoming information sessions include:

  • Tuesday May 24 (8am to 11am) – New Brighton Farmers Markets
  • Thursday May 26 (8.30 am to 10.30am) – Suffolk Park Shopping Centre
  • Monday May 30 (10am to 12 midday) – Brunswick Heads Library (outside)
  • Tuesday June 7 and Wednesday June 8 (9am to 11am) – Byron Bay Library (foyer)
  • Thursday June 9 (7am to 11 am)-  Byron Farmers Markets

The draft plan is available for inspection at Council’s Administration Office, Station Street Mullumbimby, at the Byron Bay Library and is also on Council’s website: http://yoursaybyronshire.com.au/coastal-zone-management-plan-byron-bay-embayment 


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  1. I started working my way through it yesterday. The amount of time for public exhibition is a joke because as well as reading the entire CZMP you also need to refer back to the Coastal Hazards document, where the original cost benefit analysis of a rock wall at Belongil vs planned retreat and other options sits. In the coastal hazards document it’s clear that the figures in the CBA are ‘rubbery’ and yet it’s based on this one analysis that the decision has now been made to construct a 1.6km sea wall at Belongil, with no consideration for what it will do to the beach, what type of sand nourishment will be needed to retain the beach (pump from Tallows and there will be a riot) and what the actual long-term effects on Elements of Byron would be (another law suit in the offing?). It’s a despicable decision and being rushed through to suit certain minority factions of the community – and stuff the rest of us.

    • Lucy have you read the document? It sounds like you are repeating propaganda read in the echo? The facts stated are incorrect. The rocks protecting private land at Belongil for example is 955m long. As you will also note without this protection the entire spit will be lost and town potentially flooded. Almost all of the 15 or expert reports since the 70s have recommended rock protection.

      • Hi David. I spent most of the weekend reading the document so yes. In terms of my opinion I studied an Environmental Science Degree at SCU majoring in Coastal Management so my opinions are based on my expert understanding of the situation formed both during my studies and as a resident here for the last twelve years. A little presumptive to suggest my comments were written without reading the document or bothering to form my own opinion. All I can ‘assume’ of your response is that you are one of the minority with a vested interest in the rock wall going ahead.

        • It just seemed odd that you were quoting the 1.6km figure that has been quoted in the Echo. You don’t need an environmental science degree to know that 40 years of a shock walls at Belongil have not destroyed Byrons beaches but have saved the spit, and a better walk properly designed to minimize erosion can only be a good thing – especially if the community doesn’t have to pay for this. Clearly Jan Barhams plan to create community divisions has worked because no one has a problem with the artificial rocks in town that have actually been proven to have been what has caused the realignment of Belongil.

  2. I think a correction is needed in relation to the costings for Main Beach and Belongil…..page 11 of the document shows at Table 4, the assumed private/public funding to be $4,818,648 of ratepayer monies “potentially payable within the next ten years.” In Table 10 page 145 states $4,568,648 will come from State Government which means the general taxpaying public, and $13,589,219 will be sourced from landowners. These figures exclude funding from Crown Lands for Main Beach and Belongil (Jetty site).

    These figures also exclude the monies already spent on addressing “Coastal Hazards Risk Management”.

  3. The majority of councillors back this plan because it makes sense. It has been decades in the making. The extreme green councillors will do whatever they can to stall / block / delay – which is all very political and not democratic at all. I read all the documents last night. Why is 21 days not enough for everyone else? Because those trying to destroy the Belongil spit know that if they can stall long enough the council will miss the deadline and all this work will need to be redone – at more cost to the community. The Echo is so obviously biased on this issue. People should read the reports and plan. This is a very good plan that requires Belongil residents to pay millions to upgrade existing walls to add a path for community use. With a watching brief and ability to change or even remove the walls if new research comes to light. Belongil needs to be protected as does the rest of the town which is all at risk.

    • The majority of councillors back this plan because they comprise the notorious pro-development ‘gang of five’ thanks to Rose Wanchap’s defection from the Greens and dare I say Greens values. Very few of the decisions rammed through by this voting bloc over this period of council actually benefit the long-term social and environmental values of the shire and its residents. There are no ‘extreme green’ councillors on the council – both Duncan Day and Simon Richardson are reasonable, moderate, literate men who care deeply about their community. 21 days is not long enough for those in the community to read and make sense of the substantial literature, background reports, attend information sessions, form an opinion and draft a submission. It just makes the ‘rush’ to get the draft off to the Department of Planning and Environment look incredibly cynical because of the upcoming council elections and the fact that time may be running out for the pro-development gang of five majority. There are many people positively itching to get their hands on this year’s ballot paper to see a return to a progressive and community-focussed councillor majority..

  4. Yes, well said Paul Spooner.
    As a resident I am appalled at the lack of genuine community consultation involving the CZMP.
    As a nominated Arakwal rep on the Project Reference group, I am but a token black! These councillors that are ignoring professional advice from leading experts and government agencies, they are never going to listen to my voice.
    If this plan is rushed through then ask yourself….. Will your favourite beach be used for pumping sand to manage the future upkeep of the Belongil rock walls?
    Suffolk Park, Brunswick Heads, New Brighton and South Golden Beach residents… you need more time to understand and have real input in the CZMP, I urge you to go to the upcoming community consultation sessions to find out more.

  5. Yes! It was scientific FACT 45 years ago, when I was involved in Fraser Island sand-dune protection (1971-74) that, to allow the natural shifting movement of sand, nothing should be built on a frontal dune, not even a fence, let alone a rock wall – or a house. When I came to Byron Shire in 1992, it was clearly stated in Byron Council planning regulations that only a demountable dwelling, capable of removing on a truck, was allowable on the Belongil. This had become law in 1998. Current Belongil home-owners must have disregarded this.

  6. Interesting, isn’t it that the very voices that want us to hurry up and spend millions of public $$ building the rock wall are the same ones trying to shout down community debate – or at the very least shut it down by giving the plan minimum required exhibition period.

  7. As I wrote previously is that of course the exhibited plan fails to comply with the relevant statutes, regulations etc

    I think the best course is for a citizens group to take the matter to the Land and Environment Court who will sort it out..

    My overall opinion without simplification, is that Council acted beyond power (ultra vires) by placing the Plan on exhibition without the relevant State Agency responses, as required by the Statuary regime.

    • You may remember that the state government wanted the CZMP finished 12 months ago and offered a monetary incentive for the Council to meet this deadline. So to say this plan has been rushed is incorrect.

  8. Skillweaver – the millions that need to be spent on the wall and maintaining the wall in front of private properties will come from 100% from private landowners. It is very important that this is understood by the community as those against the wall are blatantly lying to their community when they suggest otherwise. In fact Belongil residents will be paying for a public walking path under this plan. This is urgent because it has gone on too long and a significant part of Byron bay is currently at risk and in limbo.

    • David
      By venturing into this project without State sanction, all future liabilities will be with the Council. So even if the construction is funded by landowners (not surprising since it benefits only them), the ongoing liabilities and expenses for the inevitable maintenance will lie with Council. i.e. with all the other ratepayers who not only lose their beach, but end up paying to ‘shore up’ (pun intended) the ever-degrading rockwall. And of course the bill for compensation when this Council initiative starts eating away at Elements.

      About time you declared your interests…..

      (* …… I hear the faint roaring of the sea, but not much else)

      • Totally wrong on all counts.

        1. The CZMP needs to go to State Government for approval.
        2. The plan includes maintenance costs to be paid by landowners
        3. Of course saving the Belongil benefits the whole community. Have you ever been to the Treehouse? Know anyone studying at the College? Or had tourists spend money in your business or with your employer who are staying at Belongil? What about the community land being protected? How will you actually get to Belongil for a surf if Border St, Childe St and Manfred St are no longer there? And when the creek is breached and floods the town doesn’t that impact the whole community.
        4. I am more that happy to declare my interest. I live permanently at Belongil with my wife and kids (and pets!) and no one cares more about the state of Belongil beach than me.

  9. I knew a resident who grew up in Byron Bay in the 50’s and 60’s and he spent time watching the movements of sand around the old whaling jetty. He put his money on there being a long term cycle of sand movement (50 to 100 years) where sometimes there was much sand and sometimes very little. He was always worried about the approval of houses on Belongil Spit, and, as it turns out, the ‘demountable’ nature of all buildings then mandatory by Council meant little with a well funded legal opposition.

    I believe that it is also well known that rock walls and groynes erected to control the removal of sand by tidal waters cause the removal of sand in another place. What is the next beach to be ruined by sand removal? And as Paul has said, are the reasons for building the wall scientific or political? The answer to the second question appears fairly obvious.

  10. David. I take it from your comments that you are one of the landowners. Are you? And if so, how much money are you personally putting up?

    • Yes Skillweaver I live at Belongil with my family. Our property was built in 1985 – before restrictions were in place. I
      See the sand move daily, and there is more sand at Brlongil than there has been for a while. In fact there are old walls at Belongil almost completely buried by sand. I walk or run along the beach often and the beach is pretty consistent all the way to the pass. The only rocks that the waves hit (and therefore impact erosion) are the ones in town. To answer your question the CZMP states that landowners will need to pay $15,000 per meter. So I would estimate I’ll need to come up with $300,000 if the plan goes ahead as is. Before purchasing my land I was assured by an engineer, lawyer and even a councillor that my old rock wall from the 70s nor my house, land or rights to protect my property were at risk. Unless of course my property is purchased… I get very frustrated with the lies and misinformation being spread… People do not understand the issues nor so they realize the importance of Belongil to Byron Bay.

  11. You concerns and frustrations are not sufficient reasons to limit public involvement in this matter. The exhibition time on this is deplorable – if it’s such a good idea, give it the kind of open discussion something of this scale demands. I respect and appreciate Paul Spooner’s position on this.


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