Call to ‘sack council’

The serious erosion in front of John Vaughan’s Belongil Beach home.
The serious erosion in front of John Vaughan’s Belongil Beach home.

A call has been made for the State Government to sack Byron Council in the wake of a Land and Environment Court-approved agreement between Belongil Beach property owners, John and Anne Vaughan, and Byron Council over beach erosion protection.

The call has come from the Byron Preservation Association president, Geoff Tauber, who said the outcome was good news for Byron Shire residents, business owners and visitors to the shire.

 Mr Tauber said the long-running ‘politically motivated campaign by the council, involving a lengthy and groundless legal battle’, had been conducted at great expense to the shire’s ratepayers and had been undertaken without their consent.

“The State Government should sack the council and ask the Ombudsman to hold an inquiry into whether council’s conduct was lawful,” he said.

Under Monday’s court-sanctioned agreement, the council will monitor, maintain and repair interim beach stabilisation works on its land in Manfred Street at Belongil Beach adjacent to the Vaughans’ property and will re-establish sand behind the existing geotech sand-bags in line with its own development consent of November, 2001, to the height and shape of the dune before the major storm in May last year which triggered the court case.

Also under the agreement, the Vaughans are ‘entitled but not obliged to’ maintain and repair the geotech sand-bag wall in front of their property.

The council’s general manager, Graeme Faulkner, said the outcome was not a ‘win’ for the Vaughans, it was an ‘agreement’ not determined by the court.

 Mr Faulkner said the council didn’t consider the agreement undermined its long-term strategy of planned retreat in dealing with coastal erosion, nor did it affect any other private or public Belongil properties.

He said it reaffirmed that works not already the subject of an existing consent must be notified to the council and approval obtained before work started.

According to council records, the original development consent at Manfred Street allowed for interim works consisting of geotech sand-bags and sand fill, he said. It did not permit hard materials such as rocks being placed on the beach.

The development consent at Manfred Street was valid until such time as the council had in place a long-term management strategy such as a coastal zone management plan.

The agreement confirmed the council would be responsible for monitoring, maintaining and repairing the interim beach stabilisation works at Manfred Street until the long-term management strategy was adopted.

Mr Tauber claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars in ratepayer funds had been spent taking a resident to court for simply trying to defend his property, while other local projects had been starved of funds.

“This entire farcical situation never needed to go this far, cost this much or cause so much damage and heartache,” he said.

However, while the court made no determination on costs, Mr Faulkner said all the council’s legal costs associated with the case now and in the future would be met by insurers – not ratepayers - except for a $12,500 excess incurred since June 29 last year.

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