One of the properties at Belongil
One of the properties at Belongil

Millionaire property owners’ failed seawall bid

THREE Byron Bay beachfront residents' bids to protect their multimillion-dollar properties with more than 900 tonnes of rock have been brought to a halt by a NSW court.

It is the latest court decision in a long battle for the Belongil Beach property owners, who have fought against the tide since Byron Shire Council installed a sea wall to protect the nearby town in 1964.

Brisbane retailer John James, former Seek.com.au director Bob Watson and Melbourne businessman Geoffrey Tauber lost their appeal in the NSW Planning and Environment Court on Friday.

Locals walk along the beach during a high tide, with water washing up to the rocks talks about the ongoing debate about what is to be done to protect homes and dunes from coastal beach erosion at Belongil, Byron Bay
Locals walk along the beach during a high tide, with water washing up to the rocks talks about the ongoing debate about what is to be done to protect homes and dunes from coastal beach erosion at Belongil, Byron Bay

Justice Brian John Prescott denied the appeal because the proposed expansion of sea walls would block public access and beachgoers would not be able to stroll past the rocks at high tide.

"During large wave conditions, especially with a rising tide and during storm events, sea water will come up to the repaired sea walls and limit, impede or diminish public access along and the use of the beach seaward of the sea walls," he wrote in his decision.

"The public will not be able to walk on the landward side of the sea walls to bypass the inundated beach or escape to safety."

Locals walk along the beach during a high tide, with water washing up to the rocks talks about the ongoing debate about what is to be done to protect homes and dunes from coastal beach erosion at Belongil, Byron Bay
Locals walk along the beach during a high tide, with water washing up to the rocks talks about the ongoing debate about what is to be done to protect homes and dunes from coastal beach erosion at Belongil, Byron Bay

In January 2017, the three property owners applied to the NSW Transitional Coastal Panel to dump more than 900 tonnes of rock along a combined 120m to stop the sea from eroding their properties.

The panel refused the application to bolster the existing sea walls at Belongil Beach in September 2017.

The panel decided the planned works did not show the wall would protect the land over 30 years, it would set an "undesirable precedent" and would "limit public access to, and use of, the beach".

In denying the appeal, Justice Prescott wrote: "The land owners submitted that because the proposed works are repairs to existing works, the repair works will have no adverse

incremental changes to public access or use of the beach.

Sandbags are placed on the dunes at Belongil Beach, north of Byron Bay in northern NSW, to protect against erosion. Residents and business groups in Byron Bay are calling for the NSW government to sack the beleaguered Byron Shire Council after the NSW Land and Environment Court overturned its coastal development policy of 'planned retreat'.
Sandbags are placed on the dunes at Belongil Beach, north of Byron Bay in northern NSW, to protect against erosion. Residents and business groups in Byron Bay are calling for the NSW government to sack the beleaguered Byron Shire Council after the NSW Land and Environment Court overturned its coastal development policy of 'planned retreat'.

"The land owners submitted that their current inability to repair the existing works is a public safety issue. The coastal engineers agreed that the existing works need repair and that public safety will be improved if repairs are carried out."

However, he wrote that "by reason of their size and extent, the resultant repaired sea walls in front of each of the land owners' properties will result in the alienation of significant parts of the public land of the beach and a concomitant limiting, impeding or diminishing of public access to and use of the beach."

Property owners along the exclusive Belongil Beach have been fighting to improve their sea walls for years.

In 2010, they filed a Supreme Court case against Byron Shire Council. They blamed the Jonson St groynes and sea wall that has protected the town centre since 1964 for causing erosion at their properties.

Byron Bay
Byron Bay

They provided council commissioned reports from the early 1970s that said the Jonson St sea wall had contributed to erosion to the north while trapping sand to the south.

"The end result is that there has been a void in management of the most iconic and internationally recognised part of the Australian coastline for decades; something for which responsibility lies at the hands of both council and the NSW State Government," Mr James told the Gold Coast Bulletin.

In 2016, eleven owners were paid $2.75 million and were allowed to keep their sea walls as long as Byron Shire Council did not have to pay to maintain them.

Mr James would not say what the property owners would do after Friday's decision as he had not yet received legal advice.

The Land and Environment Court has issued consent orders for six landowners, including Mr James, to complete different repair work of their respective sea walls.

Five of those consent orders were handed down on Friday and one in July.