Byron Shire Council in NSW is taking action to prevent residents of Belongil Beach, on the fringes of Byron Bay township, from protecting their houses against the encroachment of the sea.

There are those who see this as the Green-dominated Council taking sides with Nature (Good) against Property Owners (Bad). Whatever you think of that there are important issues at stake in the tussle that is currently taking place in tiny little Belongil Beach.

Recent storms have caused severe erosion along much of the coastline of northern NSW, resulting in the loss of beach sand and dune formations.

At Belongil Beach yesterday, Council compliance officers prevented a resident, John Vaughan, from using a machine to place stone to protect his property in Manfred Street from waves that were threatening his home. Council then went to Court, seeking a permanent stop work order that will have the effect of preventing Mr. Vaughan from protecting his home.

Belongil Beach is a mixed community with some very expensive homes intermingled with those who have lived in the area for many years.

One of them, a retired abattoir worker named John Callanan, wrote the following open letter which has been circulated today:

John Callanan to Cr.Basil.Camer., Cr.Patrick.Mor., Cr.Simon.Richa., Cr.Tony.Heeson, Cr, Woods, Staples, Tucker, Tabart, re URGENT REVIEW

Mayor and councillors,

Some of you are new to the (un)planned retreat policy, some are not.

Some of you are really keen to serve your community as best you can, willing to help out when others are in need, and it shows.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am on the board of the Northern Rivers Community Foundation and Byron Uncle, am a leader within the Pathways Foundation and I financially support all of the above and many more groups and individuals in this region.

I know what it is to commit to serve others. I started work at the Belongil abattoir in 1972 and have loved this community ever since. And now I am lucky to live on the Belongil.

All of that aside, for those of you who are not really clear on what happened on the Belongil recently here is a brief summary as I witnessed it:

  • A few years ago council placed interim sandbag protection in front of Manfred street and John Vaughan’s property.
  • These works were designed by a Sydney engineering firm, but council placed less than half as many sandbags as was specified.
  • During the recent storm the bags failed and water washed through devouring the sand dune behind and threatening John and Anne’s home.
  • John Vaughan then asked the police and the Minister for state emergency to take immediate action to stop his home being washed into the sea.
  • He received polite letters saying — no help as council was already providing all necessary assistance to him? I have copies of the correspondence.
  • Tuesday John organised rocks and a machine on site to place them with his legal counsel advising him on what he could do. About an hour later council compliance officers arrived and stopped all works, they wouldn’t even let him save two beautiful old pandanus trees from the sea while the machine was within reach of them!
  • Council are today and tomorrow in court seeking a permanent stop work order — John and Anne’s home can then be taken by the sea. If it was a bushfire disaster it would be akin to having council officers in the bush with firelighters!

But there is a bigger picture than just John and Anne’s home:

  1. There is the resultant flooding of the township if the sand dune is breached. We saw that last week.
  2. There is the threat to John Vaughan’s neighbour’s home, then his neighbours and so on. Some of his neighbours have lived here since well before the original planned retreat policy was devised — how do you retain one home while the sea breaches in from the side, how do you keep water and sewerage lines while roads are breached?
  3. There is the loss of Manfred Street itself which is the only access for about 16 other homes.
  4. There is the fact that council have several engineering reports that they have commissioned warning them that the rock wall in front of the swimming pool and car park at Main Beach, Byron Bay, will cause and is causing exactly the problem that we are now facing at Belongil. I have read these reports.
  5. There is council commissioned engineering reports which recommended FULL rock protection of the sand dune NOT (UN)PLANNED RETREAT. I have read these also.
  6. There will be the loss of a significant amount of affordable housing that has evolved at Belongil over the years.
  7. And lastly there is not one resident asking for the rest of the community to pay for this protection. Belongil residents are willing to pay for their own protection.

Please take the time to review what is really going on here now, see the big picture and think for yourselves about the whole planned retreat concept. Where did it come from? Who benefits? Who split this community? Who is really pushing hard for it and why?
I would be happy to discuss this with any of you.

With the best intention,

John Callanan