IT'S a structure that nobody loves the look of .... but that's the closest you'll get to an agreement over the Collaroy-Narrabeen beach seawall.
Born from the debris and disaster of the violent storms that battered the northern beaches in 2016, it's an attempted solution to a problem residents are running out of time to fix.
But in Australia, a continent used to wild weather, is a coastal wall the right option?
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Renowned coastal engineer Angus Gordon doesn't think so when asked about the imposing seven-metre high concrete structure. "This is like stepping back into the late 1800s," he told the Review. "It's going to be an unforgivable legacy for future generations. There were better ways of dealing with this. I'm a coastal engineer of 50 years experience and we're known for building structures, well I call this brutalist engineering. I think it's a giant step backwards."
The seawall is not a new concept for the peninsula. Back in 2002, there were successful demonstrations from the community against this very idea.
Gordon is one of a few prominent voices alongside Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches leader Brendan Donoghue and Professor Andrew Short who aired their grievances publicly.
What's different about this project is that, well, it's not really a project. Rather than being built as a single structure, the Collaroy seawall is in actuality a series of small Development Applications (DAs) by beachfront homeowners.
For Gordon, this gets to the heart of this issue, the conflict between private property and the environment. "You need to look at balancing the issues between the public and private benefit," he said. "Unfortunately the way this has been handled is looking only at private benefit. This is a very unbalanced decision. Coastal management means achieving a balance, not a bias."
Before 2016, plenty of fierce storms lashed the northern beaches. Why has this only happened now?
HOW THE REVIEW HAS COVERED THIS STORY SO FAR:
Gordon says a change to government process via the 2016 Coastal Management Act has paved the way for less environmental oversight. It's something he should know a lot about, being involved in its creation to replace the old Coastal Protection 1979 Act and serving on the NSW Coastal Council for years.
"The rules have changed. Under the old 1979 Act there was a coastal panel and structures like the Collaroy Sea Wall went to the panel," he said.
"When the 2016 Act came in, the government felt that the responsibility should be passed back to councils. Coastal Council no longer has that determining power in the Act. Councils have very good and hard-working people but they just don't have the background to understand these issues and what needs to be considered. If the Collaroy seawall had gone to a government coastal panel of independent experts I think you would have got a very different result."
Northern Beaches Council is in the unenviable position of balancing the need to protect homeowners with a newly-appointed coastal management responsibility.
Council told the Review they consulted locals in 2014 and 2016 and that they meet standards. "The need for seawalls at Collaroy-Narrabeen has been discussed in a number of strategies for many decades and is widely accepted," a Council spokesperson said.
The current framework, including private seawalls being approved through Development Applications, was comprehensively consulted on in both 2014 and 2016 in relation to Council's coastal zone management plan (certified by the Minister) and Council's policy."
In responding to queries about a moratorium and independent review into the structure, Council was blunt in its belief that higher levels of government need to be more involved in coastal protection.
"This is a matter for the state government, however Council has consistently advocated for more involvement from the NSW and Commonwealth governments on the challenging issue of coastal protection rather than leaving it all to local government to address," they said.
In response, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment defended the current Act that allows for private landowners to protect their property as part of the broader coastal protection strategy implemented by Council.
"Northern Beaches Council is the consent authority for coastal protection works at Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach," a department spokesperson said. "The Government supports the detailed studies and the development and implementation of the Coastal Zone Management Plans including the extensive community consultation."
For now, the seawall slowly creeps north. But it's unlikely locals will give up their fight anytime soon.
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