by Luis Feliu
NSW planning minister Rob Stokes has thrown a spanner in the works of the controversial Belongil rock wall project, rejecting funding for the second stage of the works.
The proposed beach access walkway and revegetation, as part of stage two for the interim rock wall at Belongil, will not be funded by the state government, Mr Stokes told Greens MP Jan Barham this week.
The works are part of stage two for the stabilisation project which Byron Shire Council is pushing ahead with. Construction contracts for stage one of the 103-metre rock wall at Manfred Street were signed just this week.
Ms Barham, a former Byron shire mayor, says denial of state government funding for the works due to the impact risks ‘should be enough for Byron Shire Council to halt the project’.
In the latest twist to the rock-wall saga, Mr Stokes told Ms Barham that stage two was not eligible for funding because council had not redesigned the works to address concerns by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and NSW Coastal Panel.
In his letter to Ms Barham, the planning minister said the grant made to council under the NSW Coastal Management Program was still ongoing as council had met two milestones for the grant and could claim the third milestone (for detailed design and the review of environmental factors) once completed.
But Mr Stokes said that under the funding agreement, stage two was not eligible until a revised plan for the works element of the project had been approved by OEH.
‘Both OEH and the Coastal Panel have previously advised Byron Shire Council of their concerns about the scale of the proposed interim works, impacts to public safety and the adjoining coast, beach access and amenity, and the need for long-term maintenance,’ Mr Stokes said.
‘In addition, the proposed interim works could compromise the long-term management strategy for this area, which is being developed in the Coastal Zone Management Plan for the Byron embayment.
‘As Byron Shire Council has chosen not to redesign the works to address the concerns raised by OEH and the Coastal Panel, funding under 2012-13-CM-0034 cannot be used for the interim structure currently proposed by council,’ he said.
Mr Stokes told Ms Barham that under the new administrative arrangements of the Coastal Protection Act 1979, the OEH continued to have lead responsibility for the act within government, but reports directly to the planning minister on coastal management issues.
Ms Barham had originally written to environment minister Mark Speakman about her concerns over the rock wall, but her letter was referred to Mr Stokes because he said ‘this matter falls within my portfolio responsibilities’.
The Greens MP has raised the issue in parliament recently, calling for the government to oppose the works, and made an adjournment speech on the issue.
She told MPs that Byron Council had resolved to build the rock walls to protect private properties without a NSW government approved Coastal Zone Management Plan.
She said the walls had been identified by the NSW Coastal Panel as ‘potentially causing increased coastal erosion and impact on adjoining Crown land, the loss of the beach, and impacts for public safety’, as well as on tourism.
This morning, Ms Barham told Echonetdaily that Mr Stokes’s comments had ‘confirmed community outrage over the council’s decision’ to build the rock wall.
‘The decision of council to use the Infrastructure SEPP as an approval process does not preclude the requirement for the state’s approval for works on public land or the need to be compliant with planning processes,’ she said.
‘The planning minister has raised the point that these works may compromise future management of our important coastal lands.
‘The denial of the state government’s financial support for the works due to the impact risks should be enough for council to halt the project.
‘The lack of state funding support has meant that council is using public funds for a project that may jeopardise future coastal planning and lacks the openness and transparency expected by the Byron Shire community.
‘The government’s stated position about the potential impacts of the work on public land is disturbing and raises concerns about the motivation and professionalism of the staff to proceed with the works.
‘I will be meeting with the planning minister next week and will continue to raise the community’s concerns and to seek the transparency and long term sustainable planning that the community deserve for our precious coastline.’ Ms Barham said.
Byron Shire Council’s infrastructure services director, Phil Holloway, said this week that the contractor could start the works within the next four weeks.
The rock wall will replace an ageing geobag structure which currently connects two stretches of rock wall built by residents against council’s wishes in the 1990s.
Council said the geobags were only intended as an interim short-term measure, but they’ve been in place for over 10 years.
Conservative councillors voted to push ahead with the plan following the defection of former Greens Cr Rose Wanchap to their ranks earlier this year.
Stage one of the works include the main wall construction, with the Manfred Street beach access to be closed during this time.
A council spokesperson said the total cost of the project was made up of: $907,000 in the 2014-15 budget, an additional $60,000 from yesterday’s (July 30) council meeting and $300,000 from private landholders.
The spokesperson said council’s $967,000 for the interim works had been allocated from the following council funds:
* Beach protection works – $90,000
* Coastal rectification works – $241,500
* Infrastructure services 2013/14 carry over reserve – $140,000
* Infrastructure renewal reserve – $458,000
* Employee entitlements reserve- $37,500
Mr Holloway said there was ‘currently no state funding for the works, however the NSW Office of Environment will be asked to reconsider funding $300,000 towards the project’.