Byron Shire Council has settled two long-running court cases brought against it by separate groups of Belongil landowners.
But the council says ratepayers will not be required to fund the cost, which has been borne by its insurers.
As part of the resolution, council has agreed to allow the property owners to ‘retain any existing protective [beach] works in their current form’ but if they want to ‘maintain, upgrade or replace’ them, they will have to seek council approval.
Council says the resolution did not involve any admissions or findings of liability against it.
Nor does it have any impact on council’s policy of planned retreat.
Two separate groups of Belongil property owners instigated the Supreme Court litigation, the longest of which has been running for six years, despite what council says were ‘many attempts to have the matter resolved. ’
In the first proceeding, the group claimed to have ‘suffered significant financial loss and diminution in value of their properties as a result of council’s historical acts, decisions and omissions relating to the works in front of the Jonson Street car park and generally in relation to coastal matters.’
The owners in the second proceeding claimed to have ‘incurred significant financial loss and diminution in value of their properties as a result of Council’s acts, decisions and omissions during the 2009 storm event.’
Byron Shire Council’s legal services coordinator, Ralph James, said the agreement ‘allows the landowners time to submit applications to undertake lawful protective works at their own cost.’
‘Whether the landowners decide to apply to undertake works is a matter for them,’ he said.
Mr James said that during the years of litigation there had been ‘significant changes to NSW State planning regulations within the Coastal Protection Act and the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure).
‘As a result, an approvals process for coastal protection works now exists and allows property owners to construct protective works with consent.’
No greater protection
Mr James said the resolution ‘does not provide the property owners with greater or different protection than currently exists. Nor does it suggest any liability on the part of Council for the financial losses claimed by the property owners.’
‘It merely affords the property owners the necessary time to allow them to take steps to apply for lawful protective works, the same as any other coastal ratepayer.
‘The resolution ends what could be many more years of defending the matter and consuming council’s resources.
‘Whilst council had the benefit of insurance cover in respect of the claims pleaded against it, the litigation was a significant strain on council resources.
‘Resolution of these matters will give the incoming council clear air in discussing coastal protection matters,’ Mr James said.
He also took the opportunity to spruik the council’s controversial Draft Coastal Zone management Plan, which is still being evaluated by the Department of Environment and Heritage and ‘allows an adaptive sea wall and walkway on a section of the Belongil beachfront.’