‘Planned retreat’ comes under fire

A surging sea threatens property at Belongil Beach during recent big seas.
A surging sea threatens property at Belongil Beach during recent big seas.
With houses at Belongil Beach again threatened by serious erosion, the concept of ‘planned retreat’ adopted by Byron Council as a way of dealing with the problem is copping some serious flak from various quarters, including owners of homes under threat at Belongil Beach and the peak Byron Bay business group, Byron United.

Owners of threatened homes say they will take legal action against the council if they aren’t allowed to protect their properties, and the business group said the council had failed to protect private and public land and called on the State Government to intervene and scrap the ‘planned retreat’ policy and allow home owners to properly protect their properties.

In response, Byron Mayor Cr Jan Barham said the concept of restrictions on coastal development had been around for decades and was not a new planning strategy for the shire.

Cr Barham said she was aware of community concerns about the planned retreat policy and what it meant for the shire.

She said coastal councils around Australia were facing increasing pressures in tackling coastal erosion from storm events and as far back as the 1960s the NSW Public Works Department (PWD) identified the need for development restrictions in coastal areas at risk from storm events.

 It was an issue, she said, that would only get more critical with rising sea levels.

Coastal erosion in the shire had been considered by the State Government, independent experts and the council for decades.

A history of cyclones and storms for this area of the coast could not be overlooked and now the very real impacts of climate change must be considered.

Cr Barham said that in 1978, planned retreat was documented as a possible management strategy by PWD in the Byron to Hastings Point Erosion Study and included in the State Government’s Coastline Planning Manual in 1988.

She said the council had adopted the Byron Local Environment Plan and Development Control Plan (DCP) in 1988.
The DCP had included Part J for development on coastal lands with the planning document identifying erosion precincts and defining the limits for development in response to erosion threat within those areas, she said.

A public hearing was held prior to the adoption of the 1988 planning instruments.

Cr Barham said that at the time of the adoption of planned retreat, Byron Council was under planning administration from the State Government.

“We have inherited a planning tool from the NSW State Government and council has consistently reviewed the strategy in light of further expert reports and studies,” she said.

“Council has considered all options that are available to address coastal erosion.

“In recent years council has recommitted to planned retreat as other options failed to address the wide range of issues that council must consider when addressing coastal hazards.

“As recently as 2006, council unanimously voted to accept the highly regarded Cape Byron sand lobe scoping study and consequently resolved to abandon any further investigation into sand nourishment.”

Cr Barham said the sand lobe study had revealed the complexity of accessing the sand deposit for beach nourishment to support the option of engineering works.

She said the purpose of the study was to examine the potential of the extraction of the sand deposits which sat in more than 20 metres of water off Cape Byron.

Cr Barham said that after considering various options in the Coastline Management Study (WBM 2004) and the complexities revealed in the sand lobe scoping study, the council had resolved to abandon any further investigation into sand nourishment and reconfirmed its commitment to planned retreat for parts of the Byron Shire coastline.

“For years we have advised that certain coastal areas of the shire have a degree of risk from coastal erosion,” she said.

“In the Belongil area we are also dealing with a narrow sand spit. We have Belongil Creek on one side and the ocean on the other.”

Cr Barham said the council placed restrictions on consents to new developments and additions to existing structures.

 She said conditions of approval also identified the need for structures to be demountable and the trigger for removal or demolition was identified.

Information on coastal hazards was also placed on Section 149 Certificates to inform prospective buyers of restrictions, she said.

People who bought into planned retreat areas were informed of the restrictions for development. They purchased with knowledge of the risk.

She said the council was now completing a draft Coastal Zone Management Plan which addressed the shire’s coastal zone from the Tweed-Byron Shire border to the Byron-Ballina Shire in the south.

A report will be presented to the council today and will recommend that the draft Coastline Management Plan be put on exhibition.

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