Cr Jeff Johnson’s latest motion to limit 4WD vehicle numbers on Seven Mile Beach failed to get the numbers to progress at the last Ballina Shire Council meeting.
The suggestion was to switch to 12 month only 4WD permits, to be available from council offices in Ballina, with a new gate/electronic key system to stop non-complying vehicles from accessing the beach.
Geoff Wegg from the Lennox Head Residents Association spoke in favour of the motion, saying that 20% of the users of the beach (people in 4WD vehicles) were causing 100% of the problems, including safety issues and environmental damage.
While some councillors argued that the motion was premature, saying they wanted to wait for the Coastal Plan of Management to be completed before deciding what to do about beach access, Cr Jeff Johnson said the situation needed to be dealt with urgently, with 4WD user numbers on Seven Mile Beach rising sharply since the closure of South Ballina Beach to most vehicles.
He said single day 4WD permits had gone up by over 50%, with council cameras showing half the vehicles on the beach had no permit at all. Cr Johnson said this situation was expected to worsen with school holidays.
Council staff said the final coastal plan of management was not expected to be available until late 2021 or possibly 2022.
Cr Sharon Parry, who seconded the motion, said ‘I have always felt that having four wheel drives on our beaches is a bad idea for the environment. Since we’ve closed South Ballina Beach people have said to me, “It’s so unfair… I’ve been doing that since I was five years old and all this sort of thing.”
‘I do accept that a lot of locals do love to go fishing, and to take four wheel drives on to the beach, and that’s not necessarily damaging the environment, but there is lots of evidence of damage, over the course of this council, and I believe something has to be done,’ she said.
‘I don’t think we should sit back until September, to take some action… I do think we need to seriously keep in mind coastal areas, and need to protect them. We’re the guardians of those areas, and they are being eroded as we sit here,’ said Cr Parry.
Wait or act now?
Cr Phillip Meehan said he wouldn’t be supporting the motion as it was premature, although he shared many of Cr Parry’s safety and environmental concerns about the situation on Seven Mile Beach. Mayor David Wright also said he wanted to wait.
In response, Cr Jeff Johnson suggested there was already more than enough alarming data for council to act, noting that while 2611 4WD permits for Seven Mile Beach were issued in 2019-20, 3721 had already been issued in 2020-21.
‘In April alone, council reports show that there were 2883 vehicles recorded crossing the traffic counter,’ he said. ‘It’s pretty clear that there has been a dramatic increase since the South Ballina Beach was closed.’
Cr Johnson noted that the 4WD issue had been a growing problem for many years, with ‘at least fifteen speakers’ driving a unanimous resolution to support the latest motion at the latest Lennox Head Residents Association meeting.
In the end though, the motion couldn’t quite get the numbers to proceed, with Crs Wright, Meehan, McCarthy, Cadwallader and Smith opposing the votes of Crs Parry, Johnson, Willis and Johnston.
Cr Keith Williams was not present at the meeting.
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