The Land and Environment Court has rejected a bid by three Belongil residents to repair the sea walls in front of their beachfront homes, on the grounds that it would restrict public access to the beach and foreshore.
In the latest chapter in the ongoing Belongil sea walls saga,Chief Judge Brian Preston dismissed an appeal by wealthy landowners John James, Bob Watson, and Geoffrey Tauber on December 21.
The landowners originally applied to the NSW Coastal Panel to undertake the repair works in January 2017 but received a ‘deemed refusal’.
They then took the Panel to court, arguing that they were simply seeking to repair the existing sea walls and so there would be little or no additional impact on public access or use of the beach.
They said the works would in fact improve both public safety and access to the beach, and protect public property, as well as their own homes.
However, Chief Judge Preston found that the sea walls had been unlawful in the first place because they were built without development consent.
This nullified the residents’ argument.
‘By law, the sea walls should not exist on the beach,’ Chief Judge Preston said in his judgment.
‘The landowners’ argument that the repaired sea walls will not result in any additional limiting… of public access to or use of the beach… is based on, and seeks to take advantage of, the unlawful existing works and use… it is to be rejected.’
The Echo understands that the Coastal Panel’s view is that building hard structures such as rock walls on beaches erodes them over time.
No sand-loss mitigation plans have been put forward by the landowners.
Belongil resident John Vaughan, who has campaigned for the rights of beachfront property owners for many years, said Judge Preston’s finding that the beach walls were unlawful was ‘clearly nonsense’.
‘Tauber’s wall was installed after Council’s 2000 injunction failed, and works were allowed by the court to continue,’ Mr Vaughan said.
‘Watson’s wall – built circa 1976 – was installed by the Byron Erosion Trust… with the full knowledge of Council. No DA [was] requested or apparently needed.
‘The Walker’s meatworks wall [next to Mr James’s property] was known [about] and consented to by Council in 1976 – no formal DA demanded or required at the time.’
Mr Vaughan said each of the walls had been built in response to Council’s construction of the Jonson Street groyne to protect Main Beach and the town centre itself in the early 1970s.
‘Ignoring the impact of Council’s Jonson Street works and sheeting home the blame to the residents’ walls… is an extraordinary finding,’ he said.
‘It also essentially says to Belongil residents: “You can’t repair your sea walls even if you’re willing to pay for it yourself”.’
The court’s decision has brought renewed calls for the release of a coastal plan of management so that beachfront property owners across the Shire have clarity around what measures they can and cannot take to protect their homes from coastal erosion.