The Byron Bay beachfront and the groyne which Belongil Beach residents blame for serious erosion. The State Government has opened the door for them to protect their homes.
The Byron Bay beachfront and the groyne which Belongil Beach residents blame for serious erosion. The State Government has opened the door for them to protect their homes.

Council, Govt on collision course

Byron Mayor Cr Jan Barham fears the State Government’s planned new measures for dealing with coastal erosion ‘hot spots’, including Belongil Beach, will give property owners ‘unrealistic expectations’ about protecting their properties and the beach.

Putting the council on a collision course with the government, Cr Barham said the initiative showed a lack of understanding of all the issues involved.

Greens MLC Ian Cohen branded the initiatives as ‘environmental vandalism and economic suicide for the state’.

Mr Cohen said instead of adopting internationally supported strategies such as planned retreat, the Premier had caved into pressure-group politics and ignored coastal science.

However, the initiatives were welcomed by Byron Bay’s peak business group, Byron United, which said it would allow home owners to protect their properties.

The planned new measures include:

 A code of practice for temporary protections to threatened properties

 A requirement for councils to prepare emergency storm plans for ‘hot spot’ areas

 Additional council and ministerial powers to stop unapproved works

 Mechanisms for cost sharing

 Allowing property owners to apply to fully fund their own works where environmentally feasible and sustainable

Premier Nathan Rees said on Monday the initiatives would clarify the rights of councils and property owners and minimise the risk to taxpayers.

Mr Rees said they would ensure key councils had plans in place and existing home owners could act to protect their properties and share the financial responsibilities, subject to stringent environmental assessments.

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, John Robertson, said the government had identified the need to plan for rising sea levels and action was under way.

Mr Robertson said some councils had been working on their coastal management plans for more than a decade, when action was required now.

He said new powers would enable councils and the minister to issue an order to stop unapproved action likely to result in significant beach erosion.

Cr Barham said that according to media reports, under the government’s plans beachfront landholders would be required to pay for any defences, ensure the works did not transfer the erosion from one spot to another and commit permanently to paying for sand replacement.

She said the council had not seen any information on how this would be implemented.

Cr Barham questioned how the government was going to minimise the ongoing impacts from any such works.

"Byron Shire Council has already undertaken research into the viability of sand nourishment, which is a necessity for hard engineering works, in order to maintain public access to the beach,” she said.

"In our case, the appropriate sand source sits in Cape Byron Marine Park and will initially cost over $50 million to access and place on the beaches, with no guarantee of it not being washed away in the next storm event.

"If the State Government approves protection works, does this mean they will be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and management of environmental issues associated with the works?

"What happens when a beachfront property sells? Will the responsibility pass to the new landholder?”

Cr Barham also questioned whether the government would ensure public access to the beaches.

"The beach is an intrinsic part of our lifestyle in Byron Shire,” she said. “To lose a beach, to not be able to walk along the coastline, is a concern of coastal councils.

"Will the State Government ensure that the building of protection works will not result in the loss of beaches?"

Cr Barham said despite having written to Mr Rees in July this year offering information and the opportunity to meet and discuss the management of Byron Shire’s coastline, there had been no response.

Byron United said it was ‘delighted’ the State Government would intervene to allow home owners to protect their properties from the devastating impacts of coastal erosion.

“These government measures will mean we can now protect not just our own homes, but the precious Belongil Beach, the Byron township and the protected wetlands,” said Byron United vice-president Sevegne Newton.

“The government should be congratulated for taking a commonsense approach in allowing Byron residents and business owners the right to defend their properties.”

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