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Byron Shire
November 27, 2022

State govt refuses Belongil seawall funding

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After two years of four-wheel drive [4WD] access restrictions to South Ballina’s beach, the Ballina Shire Council is to debate a review of the system this Thursday.

While the long-running saga of building a 1.1km Belongil Beach seawall may well have exhausted public interest, the significance of its outcome may have enormous implications. According to Cr Paul Spooner, adopting this Coastal Zone Management Plan Byron Bay Embayment (CZMP BBE) could send Council broke and force an eventual amalgamation.

Byron Shire Council is set to meet today and the majority of pro rock-wall councillors are expected to vote to forward the incomplete CZMP the state government for consideration.

From start to finish, it has been redrawn, recalibrated and rewritten, while questions regarding its legal standing and compliance with legislation remain unanswered.

The latest cost blowout is $4.8m, with the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) advising staff within a report that it will not commit to funding the plan.

Staff say in this week’s report, ‘Without the assumed funding from the NSW government via OEH, this then puts a different complexion on the extent of funding Council will need to contribute to the CZMP BBE, changing the funding model to landholder and Council contributions only.’

Those who have consistently pushed for the seawall are Crs Ibrahim, Woods, Hunter, Cubis and Wanchap, while those against are mayor Richardson, Crs Cameron, Dey and Spooner.

It also comes with great haste; there appears two reasons – council elections are looming and a new Coastal Management Act 2016 will soon become law and this CZMP was written to comply with soon-to-expire legislation.

Dept feedback

As expected, state government agencies have flagged major concerns over the plan – even before it gets formally considered. Within the agenda, staff have responded to feedback from department agencies and the public.

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment say they ‘do not believe [in] the inclusion of our organisation as a support organisation in the implications of these actions’.

Meanwhile the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage told staff that the draft CZMP ‘must make provision for protecting and preserving beach environments and beach amenity [as per the Coastal Protection Act 1979]… and is therefore unlikely to meet requirements for certification under the Act.’

In response, staff say, ‘Adaptive management principles provide provision for protecting and preserving beach environment and amenity.’

Cr Paul Spooner told The Echo that the staff reply indicates groynes and beach nourishment will be needed, and he estimates the total cost could be as high as $36,115,520.

Similar concerns are raised by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

They wrote, ‘The plan does not address the high potential for coastal erosion to occur within the Cumbebin Swamp Nature Reserve and Tyagarah Nature Reserve as a result of seawalls being built along Belongil Beach.’

Staff replied, ‘As per the requirements of the Environmental Planning Assessment Act 1979, investigations concerning impacts on coastal processes and the environment will be undertaken as part of the approvals process for the Belongil rock wall… In addition adaptive management principles provide for impacts to be investigated/mitigated in the future, if/when required.’

Public comment

Overall, staff say 50.65 per cent of the 689 submissions were against the CZMP BBE, while 46.59 per cent were for.

As for the Belongil seawall proposal, 44 per cent were against while 42 per cent were for.

The Echo asked staff for a breakdown of residents versus visitors but those data was not provided.

Director sustainable environment and economy, Shannon Burt, said the submissions on the draft CZMP were not weighted according to residents versus visitors.

‘Many submissions [were] emailed in, and had no address location. This is not an unusual occurrence,’ she said.

Legal advice

The status of long-awaited legal advice will also be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting. An original motion on February 4 sought explanation of legal barriers, legal avenues, previous advice and rulings, as well as financial implications implementing the planned retreat policy affecting ‘properties directly behind existing coastal protection works,’ as well as ‘Nearby properties and businesses approved by Council which may be impacted on by removal of the coastal protection CZMP…’

Staff say in the agenda they will recommend an alternative resolution.

Cost now doubled

Cr Paul Spooner told The Echo that the most recent developments see Council’s costs now doubled to $9,387,296, which is inclusive of all works planned within the CZMP BBE, not just the seawall.

He says after the new costings were reconsidered, it would put the Fit for The Future strategy ‘clearly at risk’.

‘There is no income to pay for this CZMP,’ he said.

‘Council would need to cut $10 million in existing programs and services over the next ten years to pay for this CZMP. This CZMP should be withdrawn.’

GM replies

When asked if this plan would put Council at serious financial risk, general manager Ken Gainger did not reply but told The Echo that should it be finally approved, Council will have to factor the costs into its Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP).

‘The plan is renewed regularly and the outcomes from the CZMP will have to be included in upcoming revisions. We will also be actively applying for funding support from the NSW government for forward programs.

‘Our aim is to remain Fit of the Future,’ Mr Gainger said.

The Echo asked Elements resort management, who would be directly affected by the plans, if they had sought legal advice but there was no reply by deadline.

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  1. Elements have their own rock wall DA in development for the mouth of the Belongil Creek. The lack of consideration in the CZMP gives them carte blanche.


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