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Byron Shire
March 28, 2023

Rock wall hits brick wall: Byron coastal plan delayed

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A Byron environmental group is taking legal action against the proposed Belongil rock wall. (file pic)
A resident protest against Belongil rock walls at an earlier Byron Shire Council meeting. (file pic)

Chris Dobney

Byron Shire councillors have pushed the pause button on council’s rushed draft Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) albeit possibly only for a week.

Although the plan was passed by the majority pro-development councillors at Byron’s extraordinary general meeting yesterday, a rescission motion, which requires only the support of three councillors, means it will now be considered again at next week’s full council meeting.

The rush has been due in part to a state government requirement that councils with CZMPs that are ‘almost ready’ should have them submitted by June 30.

But according to the state’s own assessment, Byron’s plan is far from ready.

And even if it was passed in its current form, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has indicated the state would reject it.

According to a review of the plan prepared by OEH’s Ben Fitzgibbon on April 27, ‘the furnished draft CZMP is still somewhat preliminary and requires more work before it goes out for public exhibition…’

‘In any case, based on the information provided OEH considers that the draft CZMP does not currently meet a standard which would be considered necessary to meet the requirements for certification under the provisions of the Coastal Protection Act 1979,’ Mr Fitzgibbon wrote.

Cost benefit analysis inadequate

Not for the first time, OEH took issue with the cost benefit analysis (CBA) prepared by council’s consultants and designed to prove that building rock walls are more ‘cost effective’ than ‘planned retreat’ (essentially doing nothing).

To add insult to injury, council refused an offer of assistance by the OEH in preparing the CBA and, at the behest of Cr Sol Ibrahim, instead paid its private consultants to come up with the result that the office now finds inadequate.

Mr Fitzgibbon wrote that the CZMP ‘provides summary results of the CBA, but does not provide underpinning details necessary to undertake an assessment of the analysis’.

He added that a detailed analysis of the previous CBA by OEH in late 2015 also ‘identified significant issues in the analysis.’

‘Addressing these issues, using council data available at that time, indicated that the sea wall option would not be the preferred option,’ he continued.

‘Answering these questions would require significantly more information than has been made available in the CZMP. As a result it is not possible, at this time, to provide an assessment on the nature and quality of economic analysis in the CZMP,’ Mr Fitzgibbon concluded.

No surprise

Dailan Pugh, who is the community representative on the CZMP’s Project Reference Group, says the OEH feedback has come as no surprise.

‘Byron Shire Council’s reckless haste to prepare a Coastal Zone Management Plan for Belongil Beach has resulted in a shoddy and legally inadequate plan. The Office of Environment  and Heritage’s description of its being “somewhat preliminary” and “requiring more work” is being too kind, Mr Pugh said.

He added that the draft plan ‘does not even satisfy the most basic requirements of Section 55C of the Coastal Protection Act:  to protect and preserve beach environments and beach amenity, maintain undiminished access to beaches, and manage increased erosion of the beach in front of the wall and to the north.’

‘It is already obvious that the existing ad-hoc seawalls are causing erosion of Belongil Beach in front of the walls, the sand spit to the north, endangered littoral rainforest, the Belongil shorebird roosting site and Elements resort,’ Mr Pugh said.

‘Council’s intent to build new seawalls and then to wait 15 years before considering how to mitigate the impacts is totally outrageous as it is obvious that erosion of the beaches will dramatically increase with council’s proposed walls.

Scamming the community

‘Any council that intends to get rid of a priceless public beach, generating 20 million dollars per annum in tourism revenue, must have rocks in its head.

‘Council is scamming the community by pretending that the rock walls are all they will need, so that they can avoid admitting the full costs.

‘It is disgusting that they are using a pretence of “adaptive management” to avoid having to admit that it will cost tens of millions of dollars for sand nourishment to mitigate the impacts of their walls and potentially many more millions as compensation to Elements for increasing erosion of their property.

‘My involvement on the Project Reference Group has been a sham, with four short meetings and little chance to discuss issues. Most of my comments have been ignored,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately council’s indecent haste to finalise their plan means that public exhibition has been shortened and public submissions will get scant attention.

‘The whole thing is a done deal, the community are just window dressing,’ Mr Pugh said.

Vested interest

Suffolk Park Progress Association president Donald Maughan echoed those sentiments during public access in a swingeing attack on the National Party-aligned councillors who passed the plan.

He told them they were elected ‘to represent your community not to be the lackeys of the vested interest lobby.’

‘This CZMP you are proposing to submit to public display is unprofessional, ill informed and not representative of the Byron shire’s [community].

‘And it is not fit to go on public display,’ he said.

‘Stand up show some fortitude, crawl off the laps of your vested interest mates and protect the shire.

‘You are accountable. You are on show. But unfortunately you are not representing the community of the shire if you pass this CZMP,’ Mr Maughan said.

Council responds

Council’s director of sustainable environment and economy Shannon Burt, told Echonetdaily the timeframe for preparing the draft Coastal Zone Management Plan for the Byron Bay Embayment (draft CZMP BBE) ‘has been tight’.

Ms Burt noted that Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments were made on the ‘incomplete draft’.

She said the incomplete nature of the draft plan ‘was made clear to the reviewers in the project reference group’, and was ‘clearly documented’ in the accompanying April 7 council report.

‘As part of the consultation, council will meet with the OEH and discuss any outstanding concerns.’

She said the draft CZMP BBE has been put together ‘in accordance with legislative requirements.’

‘To date, the draft document has been informed with expert assistance via many studies and reviews. Plus it has had input from key stakeholders via our project reference group and state government agencies,’ Ms Burt said.

‘Like many key local government plans, the community and stakeholders will have varying feedback on its content.

‘Council welcomes feedback and when the draft CZMP BBE goes on public exhibition, it will offer an opportunity for the broader community to make their own submissions on the draft CZMP,’ Ms Burt said.



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  1. Down on that now infamous depleted Bilongil Beach a cold draught comes waving on from the East as the chill winter winds of protest blow from the ocean onto the sands with gritty determination.
    The draft Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) is now paused as it is still up in the air but poised as it was passed on Thursday by the majority of pro-development councillors at Byron’s extraordinary general meeting.
    In that passing, the minority councillors found their protest was passed over as they are still between a rock and a hard place, and in that hard place the thought arose that a rescission motion could rise and be put on the table as such a motion only requires the support of three councillors meaning that that rescission motion will be considered at next week’s full council meeting. Attendance required.

  2. The debate in Chambers was a travesty. Councillors Richardson, Spooner and Cameron spoke, not against the CZMP going out on public exhibition, but bringing it to a standard that would address its inadequacies, some of which had already been identified by officers of the State Government, before putting it out on public exhibition.

    Councillors had been given the minimum of mandated time to read the full 471 page report before making its decision. This task alone would have taken a mammoth effort not only the physical act of reading, but also comprehending what had been written!

    What Council will now put on exhibition is a plan that will commit ratepayer to $4,818,648 contribution to the capital costs of a contentious rock wall with no funding source identified. (see Table 10 page 144). Far more telling are the paragraphs on page 12 of the report wherein it stated that:

    ” Council will also be required to consider the Council Improvement Plan (CIP) that was submitted in respect of the Fit for the Future response. This plan which has projected outcomes for Council up to the financial year ended 2019/2020 does not include any financial implications of the CZMP Byron Bay Embayment.

    Council will need to therefore identify additional revenue sources to fund its contribution or will need to reprioritise existing expenditure to this project for its constructions and ongoing maintenance over the timeframe identified to which the vast majority is over the next ten financial years.”

  3. Another skewed article from the Echo Full of scaremongering from only those who are pro retreat.

    What about quotes from those elected councillors, staff or experts that have put many thousands of hours into this 500 page plan? No, we couldn’t let any facts get in the way of some good propaganda could we?

    Comments like this don’t really help the argument against properly planned protection: “Any council that intends to get rid of a priceless public beach, generating 20 million dollars per annum in tourism revenue, must have rocks in its head”

    A bit of a stretch to say the least… I’m not following how improving the existing adhock protection that has been there for decades and adding a public path is going to destroy the beach in the 1km section at Belongil… Let alone ALL of Byrons beaches that generate that revenue? Really?

    It’s time the focus on ‘Belongil’ stopped. Anyone who actually lives in Byron bay and visits the beaches daily knows that the sand comes and goes. The gutters and sand banks move down the bay from little wategos right past Belongil and keep on going. Most of the walls at Belongil never get wet so how they are speeding up erosion is beyond me. Planned retreat (or not) should apply consistently to the whole bay (and Suffolk eventually) not simply the section at Belongil (which is now fairly stable) where erosion was exacerbated by the building of the rocks at the car park. Is the community prepared to eventually loose the road at wategos, The surf club, the caravan park, the swimming pool, the beach cafe? That’s what you are fighting for is you are fighting for planned retreat. Once there is a precedent, hey why not move the whole town to Mullum?

    The town of Byron is either protected or not. Belongil is not only part of the town, it is the oldest part of the town as it was the first land subdivided in Byron.

    • David, The people who wrote the other comments put their full names to them. I’d like to know which part of that article is factually incorrect or is propaganda. If the process for managing our coast had been done through public consultation– there was only one community member on the Project Reference Group — then whatever outcome the CZMP comes up with is, by it’s nature, grievously flawed.
      This CZMP is so clearly driven by vested interests and not about the best long term interests of the Shire.

  4. Totally agree with David. Some time ago the Echo published an article where an expert on sand erosion and rock protection walls, said that they couldn’t predict how much sand would be lost or over what time span which means there may be way less beach erosion than people fear.

    There have also been many reports in the Echo, protesters placards and a nice colour A4 flyer that came to my house that all said we would lose our beaches, NOT our beach (Belongil).

    I suggest the pro retreat / anti rock wall advocates all gather at main beach and remove all rock walls and other man made protections and leave all the town to the same fate they propose for Belongil if all things are to be equal.

    Fact is, huge swathes of land were lost back around 2001 right next to the main beach rock walls at the Sun caravan park and without the rock walls the ocean could have been into the pool and the beach front carpark.
    It is also a fact that the sand bags at Belongil have been in place a long time and we still have beach and while some sections are under water at high tide, that was also the case before any protections were installed.

    One other point, my recent google search of Australian height datum puts both Mullumbimby and Byron Bay at an average of 5 1/2 metres above sea level. With very recent accelerations in global temperatures and the consequential sea levels rises that are now predicted at quite possibly 120 cms 100 years from now, the argument over beaches may be redundant by then as they will all be under water.

  5. David,
    Re Pro-retreat.
    Have you been watching David Attenborough’s “Great Barrier Reef” and the explanation of why Qld has the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is fairly young, only about 1000 years old and is more than 1000 kilometres long and extends150 kilometres out from the shoreline into the Pacific Ocean.
    The farthest point out into the Ocean of 150kilometres on the edge of the Continental Shelf was where the Coastline once was. All the shoreline is now flooded and is on average about 35 metres deep covered by salt water. That is called Land Retreat against the Ocean.

  6. Cate, so the Echo has found two people from the anti protection brigade and has based the whole article around their quotes. What about comment from actual experts making the recommendations, or others from the group so it’s a balanced article? How is upgrading existing protection going to destroy all of Byrons beaches? What evidence is there that the councillors who have supported this much needed plan are ‘pro development’ and ‘national party aligned’? And what exactly are the vested interests? Isn’t it the first job of all councillors to protect the town including the whole suburb of Belongil? And doesn’t the plan use some information from the previous CZMP which was also years in the making. This has hardly been rushed. I’d say 30 years is a long enough process. I have never met a councillor but It’s pretty obvious that these comments are sweeping generalizations designed to turn the community against a plan they have not yet had a chance to even view. The rocks only increase erosion to the north if they are groynes and actually in the water (like at the carpark). Quite to the contrary the rocks at Belongil show just how much they have stopped the erosion. And why does adding my full name make any difference? And what exactly are you proposing? Not to have a CZMP in place at all? Or to waste more council resources on yet another plan? Or are you one of those that simply wants to see your fellow community members homes and businesses destroyed so you can say I told you so?


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