Planned retreat defendable, say Byron council staff

belongil-stairs-rocks-featimageA Byron Shire Council staff presentation to last year’s NSW coastal conference has put forward a supporting argument for planned retreat at Belongil, claiming that it is a legitimate position that the council can defended in court.

And while council’s media spokesperson says that the presentation does not present a position on ‘planned retreat’, it’s a stance deeply at odds with the majority five councillors.

Last week they voted to go into confidential session and have authorised multinational law firm Norton Rose Fulbright to sign consent orders in the NSW Supreme Court ‘between Ralf Lauren 57 Pty Ltd and others and Byron Shire Council and Reserve Number 82000.’

It’s a settlement shrouded in secrecy, owing to its being before the courts; however, The Echo understands that the $100m claim by 16 Belongil landowners started in 2010 and is for damage they say was caused to their properties by Jonson Street protection works.

During morning public access, Suffolk Park resident Donald Maughan was ejected by the councillor majority after he requested to stay.

During his speech, both Crs Cubis and Woods began speaking among themselves, distracting from Mr Maughan’s speech.

The mayor stopped Mr Maughan mid-speech and asked Cr Cubis to stop swearing ‘like a thug’, whereupon Cr Cubis began arguing.

The mayor replied, ‘Can you just stop swearing? It’s not a footy club room.’ Cr Cubis then launched at the mayor regarding the issue of confidentiality, and accused the mayor of trying to ‘suppress this’.

It was all going nowhere, but thankfully at that point, Mr Maughan said: ‘It’s only a 15-second comment, and I don’t see any problem with the community having 15 seconds. Can I start again?’

He continued, ‘Councillors, I am here as a representative of the Community Alliance for Byron Shire (CABS).

‘We are led to believe that there is a discussion and a vote on a motion that could have significant financial impact on the long-term viability of Byron Shire and thus the community of Byron Shire.

‘The details of this motion/discussion are being withheld from the community and I would like to be a witness as a community representative and request permission to be able to listen to these discussions.’

Conference paper

So what’s in the conference paper? The report shows from 1989 to 2006, various court cases were instigated by landowners against Council around planned retreat, and all were won by Council.

The report identified that of the 31 beachfront properties at high risk of erosion, there are 12 properties without restrictions [properties to which the post-1988 planned retreat policy does not apply], ‘and seven with only partial restrictions.’

The lessons from this, according to author Catherine Knight, is that ‘The use of DCP [development control plan] provisions to give effect to the LEP [local environment plan] was upheld, and, ‘because of significance of threat, it is right to warn purchasers using the S88E instrument.’ Ms Knight also argues that litigation had decreased over time.

She says, ‘Developers have taken Council to court, but Council has been successful in defending its decisions.’ Ms Knight also warned against ‘creating legacy issues.’

• Council’s media spokesperson says Ms Knight’s presentation, ‘provides a summary of the historical application of coastal hazard planning provisions in Byron Shire, to help inform the discussion about coastal hazard management.’

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