The Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP) will this week quietly decide whether temporary coastal protection works at Clarkes Beach will be allowed to remain there for a further five years under the authority of two government agencies.
The NRPP is an unelected body that overrides the consent authority of councils and decides on large DAs and certain ‘designated developments’.
In July 2021, following months of severe erosion at the iconic beach, two large linked buffers made of around 630 geobags were installed in front of Beach (restaurant) and Reflections Holiday Park.
The buffers were intended to protect the restaurant, holiday park, and a collection of Aboriginal middens from the ever-encroaching ocean. They were meant to be temporary, but now two government entities have submitted separate development applications (DAs) seeking to keep the structures in place for at least a further five years.
Govt seeks govt approvals
The first application, for the geobag buffer located in front of the Clarkes Beach caravan park, has been made by Reflections Holiday Parks, the government-owned corporation that manages the park.
The second, covering the buffer in front of the cafe, has been made by Crown Lands.
The NRPP’s decision has significant implications for the short and medium-term future of the site.
However, it will be made behind closed doors, rather than at a public meeting.
A spokesperson for the Department of Planning said this was because public meetings were only held for ‘contentious matters with significant community interest and where there are ten or more objections’.
‘Council has confirmed both development applications received no public submissions; therefore, there were no objections.’
The spokesperson also said that NSW Crown Lands had held an online community workshop on July 9, 2021, prior to the lodgement of the development application, ‘to give the community further opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback’.
But Byron Greens Councillor, Duncan Dey, said that the matter was of sufficient public interest to warrant a public meeting, even if there were less than ten objections.
‘What we have here is basically a situation where government is applying to government,’ Cr Dey said.
‘To have a situation where that process is happening behind closed doors really lacks transparency’.
Cr Dey also questioned whether retaining the buffers for another five years, and possibly longer, was in keeping with the policy of ‘planned retreat’ from rising sea levels.
‘I completely understand the need to protect the caravan park and the cafe, but people need to recognise that beaches come and go,’ Cr Dey said.
‘The sculpting and re-sculpting process is never over.
‘I think what we need is a more practical and streamlined process for moving buildings and other structures back from the shoreline to an area where they’re not at risk… This isn’t the first time we’ve faced an issue like this and it definitely won’t be the last.’
However, Byron Council, whose written assessment of the applications will be a key part of the NRPP’s decision-making process, found that both proposals were ‘in the interest of the public’.
‘…They will avoid negative social and economic impacts in the short term, and will not have significant environmental or cultural heritage impacts, subject to the proposed conditions,’ the Council submission said.
‘It is considered that the reports and assessments provided with the application have satisfied the relevant matters within section 4.15 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.’