Council ordered to fix Belongil
RATEPAYERS will have to fund works to protect multi-million dollar properties along Belongil spit from coastal erosion under a NSW Land and Environment Court ruling handed down yesterday.
In a ruling on a battle between the council and Belongil residents John and Anne Vaughan, the court ordered works keeping part of Belongil spit from washing into the sea will have to be maintained and, where necessary, repaired by Byron Shire Council.
The council was also ordered to rebuild sand dunes behind a line of ‘geobag’ sand bags to their height and shape before the May 2009 storm.
It was that storm that triggered the Land and Environment Court action, when the Vaughans challenged an injunction preventing them from doing their own protection work on the beach. Under yesterday’s ruling the Vaughan’s are ‘entitled but not obliged to maintain and repair’ the sand bag wall.
The ruling has placed a cloud over parts of Byron Shire Council’s ‘planned retreat’ approach to coastal erosion by giving weight to pre-existing development consent over planned retreat.
In the case of the Vaughans’ Manfred Street property and the neighbouring council-owned property, that meant failing to comply with a 2001 development consent the council had issued to itself when it built the sand bag wall as an interim protective measure.
The ruling gives weight to the existing consent instead, potentially creating legal problems for the council when planned retreat comes into conflict with an existing development consent.
Yesterday’s ruling contains another potential bombshell for Byron Shire ratepayers, also giving the Vaughans leave to sue the council in the Supreme Court for damages if they wish.
Those damages could be significant. In a letter written to the council during the May 2009 storm, Mr Vaughan writes the ‘failure’ of the protection work had caused him to lose ‘a significant amount of property’.
Mr Vaughan yesterday said he and his wife were yet to make a decision on that.
“It’s a symphony of possibilities,” he said.
Byron Shire Council general manager Graeme Faulkner said the ruling did not undermine ‘the long term strategy of planned retreat but reaffirms that works not already the subject of an existing consent, must be notified to Council and approval obtained before commencing’.
Mr Faulkner said the development consent that required the council to maintain protection works at and next to the Vaughans’ property would last only until the council had a long term coastal management strategy formally in place.
Legal costs associated with the case would be paid by the council’s insurers.