Independent Ballina Shire Councillor Jeff Johnson says he isn’t giving up hope for reduced 4WD access to Seven Mile Beach.
A majority of Ballina Shire councillors last month voted against Cr Johnson’s idea of restricting access to local residents and the council’s permit structure to six and twelve-month renewals.
But Cr Johnson says he’ll revisit options to change the permit structure later this month when the council budget is tabled.
‘There is general support to remove the single day and weekend passes,’ Cr Johnson told The Echo on Tuesday, explaining that an increase in fees for the longer permits could help compensate revenue losses and continue to cover costs of rangers employed to monitor Seven Mile Beach.
Record numbers of 4WD weekenders to Seven Mile Beach
Figures included in the Ballina Shire Council’s ordinary May meeting agenda showed out of 3,721 permits issued in the 2020-2021 financial year, a record of more than 3,000 were one-day passes.
Council staff notes said most permits were used on weekends, ‘with late morning to early evening typically being the period of highest volumes for entry to and from the beach’.
The scheme earned the council $114,000 that year.
The Ballina Shire Council’s current permit scheme allows for a maximum validation period of six months and last year those passes accounted for less than ten per cent of all issued: 309.
Cr Johnson said he was concerned the state government’s closure of South Ballina beach about six months ago would increase the number of 4WD vehicles heading to Seven Mile Beach, particularly from, he wrote in explanatory notes on the motion, ‘outside our area’.
‘Hoons from QLD disrespecting other beach users and the environment’, says councillor
‘A key reason for the closure by the NSW Government of the beach south of Ballina was the hoons coming down from QLD and disrespecting other beach users and the environment’, Cr Johnson wrote, ‘having a “locals only” permit system removes the risk of 4WD tourism and large numbers of vehicles heading to Lennox to access the beach’.
Cr Johnson later told The Echo of social media groups in Queensland promoting the long beach as a 4WD ‘adventure’ destination and videos online showing the drivers’ subsequent irresponsible behaviour.
‘We certainly don’t want to have scenes like there were down at South Ballina, where you get long lines of cars from 4WD clubs coming down there and camping and really making a mess of the place,’ Cr Johnson said.
Cr Johnson said restricting 4WD permits for Seven Mile Beach to Ballina Shire registered vehicles would also improve compliance with the council’s existing ‘Guidelines for 4WD vehicles on Seven Mile Beach’.
Manual v machine 4WD permit system
But council staff disagree, and last month wrote in agenda notes that the machines currently used to issue tickets couldn’t determine whether the user was a Ballina Shire resident or not and a new manual permit system would have to be introduced.
Staff then wrote of a ‘risk’ the change would ‘lead to increased non-compliance with respect to having a permit’.
This would then create ‘increased enforcement demand’, staff wrote, ‘not necessarily achieving less beach use and a loss of the short-term pass revenue’.
Staff said major non-compliances ‘such as dune impact’ weren’t regularly observed and that ‘from an operational perspective’ the permit system was working well.
Coastal Reserve PoM a chance for greater beach protection, staff say
They said the council was reviewing its Coastal Reserve Plan of Management [PoM], and community consultation would seek feedback on preferred uses of Coastal Crown Reserves, of which Seven Mile Beach is one.
Staff also listed alternative suggestions for ways the council could reduce the number of 4WD visitors to Seven Mile Beach, including closing it during peak holiday seasons and putting an end to short-term pricing.
Cr Johnson supports the idea of changing permit prices but told The Echo the Coastal Reserve PoM process would take too long and he hoped to win support for a change to the system this as early as this month.
‘In the future, I see there being an app or electronic key, so that only permit holders can actually get through the access gate, which will stop the situation you have now where vehicles can go down there without a permit,’ Cr Johnson said.