After weeks of sustained pressure, councillors at the last Ballina Shire Council meeting voted unanimously to close the 4WD access track at Patchs Beach. They also agreed to write to the state government to request that South Ballina Beach be closed to the general public driving 4WD vehicles.
Councillor Eoin Johnston said that council had been frustrated by a lack of response from Crown Lands (which also holds jurisdiction over some of the affected areas), so moved a Notice of Motion to close the beach access point which Ballina Council controls, at Patchs Beach.
He said it was the only practical thing council could do to demonstrate its determination to address the 4WD problem.
Chicken or egg?
Some councillors expressed their frustration with the state government’s failure to assist council by limiting access.
Other speakers suggested that council needed to clearly show its position in order to encourage the state government to support them.
Cr Keith Williams seconded the motion to close the beach. He said, ‘It’s clear there are significant environmental impacts from the irresponsible behaviour of some users, but also from sheer numbers of vehicles on the beach.’
Cr Phillip Meehan spoke about public safety and the destruction of pied oystercatcher habitat. ‘We need to save the area from the open slather,’ he said. ‘On a busy day like the other Sunday, it’s quite diabolical. We shouldn’t be tolerating it.’
Phil Hilliard made a submission on behalf of the Fisherman’s Coop. He spoke against the motion, saying ‘the short term effect of restriction will mean short term costs.’
Risks to families
Patchs Beach local Rebecca Howard spoke in favour of the motion. She said that as a parent with a young family, she relied heavily on the beach, but it was ‘very dangerous ‘ at times, especially with the 4WD track adjacent to the walking track.
She said locals had noticed that many birds had returned and the bush began to regenerate during the COVID-19 lockdown, when 4WDs were not on the beach.
Ms Howard also said there had been more beach fishing, and it had been safer for families to be on the beach and play cricket and volleyball knowing there weren’t 4WDs coming and going at speed.
Kids could run freely, which meant less concerns for parents.
‘The big issue for us is safety, for our community,’ she said. ‘Families like ours go to the beach daily, that’s our place, and we’d like it to be a safe area.’
Cr Williams agreed, saying ‘The community of Patchs Beach should be able to use the beach in front of the village without the fear of being run over.’
Councillors acknowledged that other 4WD entrances to the southern beaches would remain open at this stage, but agreed something had to be done immediately, although, as Cr Johnston put it, ‘This is not going to be a solve-all.’
Cr Benjamin Smith spoke from the Wardell perspective, saying he has been ‘generally supportive’ of closing the beach but there hasn’t been consensus on it until now. ‘People have seen the beach closed through COVID and are happy with the result,’ he said. ‘This is an appropriate measure but we may need to tweak it in future.’
Councillors Sharon Cadwallader and Jeff Johnson spoke in support of the motion.
Cr Cadwallader said, ‘I think most of us have seen what happens with these 4WDs hooning around. Well now we’re doing something, and I think it’s great.’
Cr Williams said, ‘This is a great first step to represent our bonafides. If we focus our efforts on closing that access, it would be a start to closing the rest of the beach. We would be defending our community and the community of Patchs and Wardell.
‘This is a great first step but we really need to push that beach closure if we can,’ he concluded.
The motion was amended with Cr Johnston‘s consent to write to the State Government to request the closure of the beach to 4WDs.
It was clarified that the closure would not include authorised persons, such as Jali traditional owners and professional fishers.
Photos David Lowe