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Byron Shire
May 9, 2021

Belongil rock wall: the tail wagging the dog?

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Dear Minister (Rob) Stokes: As a local resident, I spoke at the last Byron Shire Council meeting against the draft Coastal Zone Management Plan and I continue to oppose its passage.

The ocean is an uncompromising enemy and any decision to protect a narrow sand spit is likely to prove prohibitively costly and ineffectual, however noble one’s intention and should be considered judiciously.

Personally, I cannot form a view as to whether building a wall would, or would not be a wise decision, given the inadequacy of documentation presented by the council.

The more I read the documentation submitted which includes a vast amount of raw detail, the more questions are raised rather than answered.

I do not find a convincing case has been made for the proposed rock wall and find disturbing both the unbending attachment by the majority of councillors who favour it and their inordinate rush to enact it without completing a comprehensive impact statement.

Their apparent attachment to reversing the Planned Retreat strategy at all costs makes one wonder if the majority councillors’ objective is to establish a strategy which will justify their imminent decision to capitulate to the ongoing legal action by Belongil landowners.

If  so, this would be the tail wagging the dog.

My point is that we should establish the truth and the alternatives even if later we are forced to  capitulate to vested interest on pragmatic grounds.

I would like transparency in decision making so that decisions on coastal management are not founded upon myth.

After decades with Price Waterhouse Consulting, I would suggest a plan is only as good as the process used to develop it.

For this reason professionals use a time-honoured process which culminates in a plain English report to the stakeholders, summarizing the issues and arguing the case for the preferred option, supported by an accessible ‘pyramid’ of supporting information.

Without this, it is really not possible for stakeholders to ask probing questions and test the quality of the process. Well-structured documentation is not just evidence the job has been done but an integral part of doing the job.

The lack of effective process by the council in developing the CZMP is evidenced by the incomplete, inadequately structured documentation which has denied the community and the elected council members themselves a proper justification for the preferred option.

It has also guaranteed the resulting fiasco, in which the issue has become politicized and the truth lost, resulting in a bitterly divided community.

For this reason I suggest the plan as submitted is unsafe. It seems to be based on terms of reference and a process designed specifically to avoid inconvenient truths.

It selected an unpalatable solution without properly completing the necessary research and consequently should be rejected and reworked before re-submission.

I further suggest that the minister explore with the council the following questions:

  1. On numerous occasions local residents have objected including one occasion when more than one thousand turned out to rally against an earlier rock wall initiative. Why was it that whilst developing the CZMP there was extensive consultation with property owners in favour of a rock wall and zero consultation with any of the multitude of concerned residents who objected? How could this happen? What process did the Council go through whilst exploring alternatives to ensure all voices were heard? How did it fail so badly? Who is accountable for this failure?
  1. In the face of disagreement between its professional advisers, why did the council not bring them face to face so that agreed ground could be separated from dissenting opinions? If this was done, why is it not in the documentation?
  1. The draft CZMP documentation is vast and much is impenetrable without hours of research and education in coastal management issues. Why was there no digestible management summary presented explaining in plain English;
  • All alternatives possible
  • The assumptions made
  • The pros and cons of each alternative
  • The full costs on a comparable basis
  • The short and long term impacts and risks of each alternative
  1. Why after the three week public viewing when it was noted in the council meeting that the draft plan had been developed without appropriate consultation, that the brief public viewing was inadequate and that even so it had clearly identified major lacunae, particularly in relation to sand relocation feasibility, costs and alternatives, did the council push ahead and adopt the plan leaving so many questions unanswered?
  1. In the light of the fact that publicly requested answers on such key issues of substance have still not been supplied, does the council still believe they have consulted effectively and that they have met the requirement for public consultation under the Act?
  1. What has the council done to assess the full spectrum of legal implications and costs of the alternative strategies, given Cr Rose Wanchap’s assertion that Planned Retreat would cost the council tens of millions of dollars? What are the potential legal costs of the preferred as well as the other alternatives? This question is unanswered.
  1. To what  extent has fear of litigation by vested interests distorted the decision-making process? If so, will it result in an ongoing ‘stand over’ by such interests, locking the council into an unsustainable strategy?
  1. On what grounds was the plan expressly limited to a 15-year time frame and constrained as to scope by its terms of reference? How and by whom were such terms determined?

It is  of great concern that such a critical decision has been taken apparently so glibly in the face of a flawed process with  the majority councilors unwilling to adequately answer objections.

It is not just a question of crying foul because people don’t like the decision but the reality that a lack of due process, politicization and over-simplification have made it impossible for stakeholders to satisfy themselves that the proposed decision is appropriate.

Finally, this decision is critical as it will set a precedent in balancing public versus private interests and short versus long term strategies  in relation to coastal management nationally, a public policy challenge likely to grow exponentially with ongoing sea level rises.

I thank you in advance for your consideration of my concerns.

Art Burroughes, Mullumbimby

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  1. Well said. The CZMP is an inadequate document.

    I encourage everyone who made a submission to council to send that submission and all other concerns by email to Rob Stokes and Niall Blair (Planning and Crown Lands).

    There is no direct email address for either minister, only an online contact form.
    Please forward your submission and your concerns about CZMP to the following links:
    Contact Minister for Planning: https://www.nsw.gov.au/ministercontactform/contact-minister-planning
    Contact Minister for Land and Water: https://www.nsw.gov.au/ministercontactform/minister-blair
    You can upload documents up to 5MB so please send a copy of your submission to Council too!

    To think that the council is in a secret meeting today because of legal claims and damages by a group of owners whose Belongil properties have increased since the 1970s from tens of thousands of dollars to multiple millions of dollars? Strange times.

  2. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story! There were not 1000 people at a rally opposing the rock rock wall. There were about 100 tops – I have a photo. But hey tell Stokes whatever you like to oppose the rational solutions used in the rest of the world.

    Of course the spit can be protected. It all ready is, and it’s not like we are talking about protecting a spit built over a river mouth in a cycle zone like Noosa. I was there this week and thier beach is 5 times wider in parts than main beach and thier rocks are covered with sand. All because the community there works together to solve these problems.

    Art, you say you can’t form an opinion as to whether a rock wall is a good idea. Well the council first resolved to develop a CZMP 19 years ago, and this CZMP is the culmination of all that work from many councils. Planned retreat was tried and failed. The existing rock wall cannot be removed, so this is a good plan. Make the owners pay to bring the wall to a proper standard which limits erosion and increases amenity, and include adaptive management measures so that future councils can adapt the plan as needed. As a former consultant you would know that ‘done is sometimes better than perfect’. And that trying to stall plans for 20 years plus is not really very sporting. Councillors were elected and 5 out of 8 have them support this CZMP. They all come from different backgrounds. Are they really all wrong? Or is it just the reporting of the facts in the Echo that is wrong? This is a good CZMP that strikes the right balance and accepts the science, reports, judgements and failures of previous attempts at a CZMP. We can’t wait another 20 years for a coastal management plan. That would be crazy.

  3. Who is really lying David.?
    I counted 4 councillors
    who voted against your gang of five.
    Their names are Dey, Richardson, Spooner and Cameron. That is four councillors who have presented sensible research on this CZMP. Four David not three.
    I too have photos of the rock wall protest. Maybeyou were not there but we counted over 1000.
    Planned retreat has not failed David. What did not worked out In your interests is that ignoring council direction to build a demountable home on a coastal erosion zone has left those homes vulnerable.
    The despicable 100 million dollar blackmail of council to save these precious homes.is the real truth David.
    Ruth Winton brown


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