Years in the making, Byron Council has now dumped its sensitive draft Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) underpinned by a controversial planned retreat policy and will prepare a new one from scratch.
The draft plan, coupled with the impacts on private property of the Main Beach groyne, has led to a series of court actions against the council which have so far cost Belongil Beach residents almost $3 million and possibly the same amount for the council.
The council’s acting manager of planning, Wayne Bertram, said a discrepancy between new coastal protection laws that came into play on January 1 and the Local Government Act had resulted in the need for a new management plan.
Mr Bertram said the council could have continued with its current draft plan under sunset clauses, but after extensive consideration had chosen to complete a new plan.
He said local government laws were not changed at the same time as the coastal protection laws were changed, resulting in a discrepancy between the two which created too much uncertainty.
“Even if the Minister for the Environment had gazetted the draft CZMP, council would have had to start preparing a new plan under the new laws because of the anomaly between the different sets of laws,” he said.
“Therefore, rather than dedicate any further resources to the old plan, given that it would have to be replaced quickly, council has decided to withdraw the old plan and get on with making a new CZMP under the new laws.”
Mr Bertram said the council had made submissions to the state government voicing concerns over the coastal law changes and the lack of concurrent change in the Local Government Act.
He said that unfortunately this advice was not heeded by the government.
“Preparing a coastal management plan under the new laws is a new process,” he said.
“While a considerable amount of the draft CZMP will be able to be recycled, the process will have to start from scratch.”
Mr Bertram said the new laws contained a more streamlined process with fewer steps and should not take as long to complete.
A report detailing the new process, what impacts it will have on other council projects and how it might be funded, will be put to an upcoming council meeting.
“It is regrettable that council has the expense and time of preparing a new plan, but the need arises from the state government change in philosophy and laws,” he said.
Mr Bertram said the council would be asking the state government to contribute towards the costs.
Despite calls from residents living in sensitive beachside areas to defer a decision, the council voted last May to adopt the draft plan and in September submitted it to the state government for approval.
But in February this year, the then Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Frank Sartor, called on the council to make several amendments to the draft plan.
The council voted to accept Mr Sartor’s directions, except for a condition that would align planning precincts with coastal hazard areas.
It argued this change would lead to increased development in high-risk areas such as Belongil Beach and a subsequent increase in risk to people and property, as well as the council and public funds in the future.
However, Cr Ross Tucker lodged a rescission motion which was carried at the latest council meeting, leading to the vote to withdraw the draft plan and to prepare a new one.
Prominent Belongil Beach resident John Vaughan said it seemed obvious the council had got “some decent bloody legal advice” in making the decision to scrap the draft plan.
“They should have known this five or six years ago,” he said. “It really has been such a waste.”
The decision to scrap the draft plan has been welcomed by the Byron Preservation Association.
BPA’s new president, Michael Siddle, said the time had come for an accounting of the millions of ratepayer dollars spent in pushing a plan that attacked a significant section of the community and which would have resulted in the destruction of council and state-owned infrastructure.
“Most of the people affected by this appalling scheme still have no idea of its effect on their property or their lives,” he said.
“If this plan is ever implemented, people will find it difficult and perhaps impossible to sell their houses. Who will buy a house which you might have to demolish at your own expense if this radical council decides it is too close to the sea?”
Mr Siddle said many hundreds of properties are affected by the CZMP in coastal communities in the shire.
He said the assets of a large number of shire residents had been badly damaged by a council which had contemptuously defied its legal obligation to protect its citizens and was putting at risk not only its own assets but those of the government of New South Wales.
Under the plan, the only part of the shire that would be protected from coastal erosion would be Jonson Street, Byron Bay, he said.
Mr Siddle said many thousands of staff hours had been wasted on preparing the draft plan and defending it in court.
“At the present time, council is facing five separate court cases over this plan,” he said.
“We believe the real cost involved in preparing, pursuing and defending this plan in court to be many millions of dollars.
“It’s time for Byron Shire Council to stop hiding the facts from the people who have to meet the costs of their outrageous plans. Let’s put an end to the lies and get the real story out, where the people can hear the truth for a change.
“And it’s time to call a halt to the concept of planned retreat."
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