Emergency protection of coastal properties – can we or can’t we?

Guest Post by Helen Monks

On 1 January 2011 the Coastal Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2010 commenced (NSW). It includes guidelines for emergency management of coastal erosion. In an about-face or (at worst) clarification of landowners’ rights to protect their properties, people now have a limited right during an emergency.

Equally Councils have a new framework including increased penalties for breaches for management of protective works during and following the event (eg a major and erosive storm or flood). Where landowners have protected their properties (eg via sandbags or dumped rocks), Councils can levy a coastal protection service charge.

The cost of such protection can be shared, particularly if it is intended that the works remain in place following the event. In some instances, landowners can be required to remove the protection following the event, in order to restore public amenity (eg access along a beach).

The Act’s provisions will roll out to the following schedule:

• by January 2011: a Coastal Panel will be established with mixed Ministerial nominees and Local Government & Shires Association representatives; it will become the consent authority for emergency works if no management plan (see below) is in place
• early 2011 (which may be interrupted by the March State election): the Minister (DECCW) will advise the Councils of the Act’s provisions and required tasks
• about April 2011: Councils’ emergency action plans are to be submitted to DECCW: these will clarify what landowners and the Council can and cannot do and the circumstances
• about October 2011: coastal zone management plans are to have been prepared by Councils (based on coastal zone management studies, including hydrological studies) and submitted to DECCW.

Note that Byron Bay Council has been using the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 for over 20 years to prevent loss of public amenity on Belongil beach (which results from the installation of sea walls and similar structures, whether on private or public land) and to permit natural ocean processes (cyclical erosion and accretion of the coast) by refusing to allow landowners in one of the State’s erosion hot spots to protect their properties from loss during storms.

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