Tomorrow is the deadline for public comment to Ballina Shire Council on the future of 4WDs on Seven Mile Beach, after a string of complaints about hooning behaviour, dune damage, and other issues.
Council is inviting beach users and other interested parties to contribute their thoughts on their Four Wheel Drive Access to Seven Mile Beach policy, via this survey.
4WD traffic on the beach has increased markedly since the closure of South Ballina Beach to recreational vehicles. After years of wrangling between different authorities, that decision was finally brought on by unacceptable environmental damage and safety issues affecting other beach users.
The updated Seven Mile Beach policy ensures the beach north of Lennox Head will remain open all year round, but replaces the one day permit with a seven day permit. What do you think?
Do 4WDs and beaches mix?
Lennox-based Cr Kiri Dicker told The Echo: ‘$22 (the current cost of a day permit) is a small price to pay for a pastime that evidence shows is so damaging to our beach biodiversity.
‘I challenge the suggestion by some that 4WD tourists make an important contribution to our local economy, since they represent such a tiny proportion of overall tourists. We need to seriously start asking ourselves “what kind of tourists to we want to attract to the Ballina Shire?”
‘We need to promoting sustainable tourism, not just tourism for tourism’s sake,’ said Cr Dicker.
Although Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader has gone on the record declaring her support for 4WD beach access to continue, particularly for those who can’t access the beach in other ways, some community members have argued strongly for 4WD access to be limited.
Revenue or recreation?
Geoff Wegg, President of the Lennox Head Residents’ Association Inc, told Ballina Council late last year that he was ‘appalled and dismayed at the lack of depth and detail’ in staff recommendations, especially in respect of the environmental damage and safety issues, which he said had not been addressed.
‘The direction of their recommendations appears to be revenue based despite the fact that “the Ballina Coastal Reserve (R1010068) was created for the purpose of public recreation and coastal environmental protection”.
‘The report states that during the survey period there were almost 7,000 vehicles accessing the beach,’ continued Mr Wegg.
‘A conservative estimate of other beach users is between five and ten pedestrians to each vehicle access, so between 35,000 and 70,000 people accessed the beach during this period.
‘The staff report acknowledges that there is “conflict with other beach users and inappropriate driver behaviour”.
‘The issue of safety for pedestrian beach users does not seem to be a concern either as it does not rate a mention. Is this because they do not generate revenue?
‘Most 4WD users are responsible and do not create problems, however it is the small ratbag element that needs to be deterred from using the beach in an irresponsible manner. The introduction of an effective plan of management should aim to reduce the number of 4WD vehicles on the beach.’
Mr Wegg said the replacement of one day permits with three day permits would have no effect on the day trippers, as Seven Mile Beach is the first beach accessible to 4WD vehicles south of the Queensland border.
Environmental concerns ignored
Cr Simon Chate told The Echo, ‘At the December ordinary meeting when Ballina Council debated this, there were no environmental considerations whatsoever taken into account.
‘Twice I tried to introduce the idea of night time beach closures for turtle breeding season – between November to April – but at both times there was very little support.
‘Personally, I would like to see some environmental care included in our final policy,’ said Cr Chate. ‘I don’t want to stop the 4WD access – I see that as excessive and unrealistic – but I would love to minimise the potential impact to our wildlife and the beach environment.
‘We need to act to ensure 4WD drivers keep off the dunes and are able to avoid breeding and nesting sea turtles.
‘We need to ensure our drivers go no further than the Northern border between Ballina Shire and Byron Shire.
‘We need to consider more visible signage and possibly some form of physical barrier such as bollards at the northern end of Ballina Shire,’ said Cr Chate.
‘By removing shorter term permits, including the seven day permit, we promote less frivolous use of the beach.’
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