Both sides of politics vote against the Wamberal community

Today Abigail debated the matter of the horrendous Wamberal seawall proposal. Unfortunately both sides of politics maintained their refusal to listen to the science, which is so clearly telling us we need a planned retreat!

Abigail said: 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (16:40): I move:

(1)That this House notes that:

(a)in 2022, Central Coast Council Administrator Rik Hart resolved to build a Terminal Protection Structure [TPS], also known as a seawall, along the entire length of Wamberal Beach from Terrigal Lagoon to Wamberal Lagoon;

(b)in 2023, council and a group of pro-seawall Wamberal Beach property owners prepared and presented a joint development application [DA];

(c)thousands of surrounding lagoon and wider district residents have objected to the construction of a seawall for years;

(d)the proposed Wamberal TPS seawall does not satisfy the State environment policy [SEPP] or the Coastal Management Act 2016 objects (part 1, section 3), the objective of which is "to manage the coastal environment of New South Wales in a manner consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development for the social, cultural and economic well-being of the people of the State"; and

(e)ample scientific evidence concludes that seawalls can obstruct habitat migration, negatively impact biodiversity and result in habitat loss, result in major disturbances in sediment transport seaflow, block access to people living with disabilities in the area, and drive sea surges into surrounding lagoon properties.

(2)That this House notes the Stop Wamberal Seawall campaign by community group Wamberal Beach Save Our Sand [SOS] which calls for:

(a)a comprehensive State Government environmental impact study [EIS] to be ordered into the flooding effects that a proposed Wamberal Beach seawall would have on Terrigal and Wamberal lagoon environs;

(b)a thorough State Government investigation of how the proposed Wamberal Beach TPS (seawall) progressed to its current status and investigate council's apparent dismissal of advice by Professor Andrew Short, USYD, and the Jacob Marsden 2017 New South Wales State Government Wamberal Beach Cost Benefit Analysis that seawall end effects would cause increased lagoon flooding;

(c)the New South Wales Government to act to prevent the Central Coast Council proceeding with their joint seawall development application [DA] until the abovementioned EIS and administrative review have been conducted and publicly reported, and a newly elected council is put in place in September 2024;

(d)the New South Wales Government to immediately stop the transfer of public land along Wamberal Beach to council, noting that council requires ownership of that land for its TPS DA co-application;

(e)upon completing the abovementioned EIS and review, an investigation of all possible solutions to sustain Wamberal Beach, including adaptive approaches, that would not increase risks to beach amenity or lagoon properties and ecosystems;

(f)the New South Wales Government to work with council to ensure council provides the community with more economically sustainable adaptive strategies that satisfy the objects of the Coastal Management Act 2016, including expert consideration of natural dune stabilisation and sand nourishment options; and

(g)an appeal at the Land and Environment Court to overturn existing Wamberal Beach seawall, DAs that contravene case law such as Egger vs Gosford Shire Council, as those developments would endanger adjacent dwellings, and because the previous decision to consent to seawall DA was not made on merits.

(3)That this House calls on the Government to act urgently in response to the Wamberal SOS petition by taking the actions requested.

Yesterday I tabled a petition in this House calling for the proposed Wamberal seawall put forth by Central Coast Council administrator Rik Hart to be halted. That petition was backed by the calls of thousands of Central Coast residents whose homes and community are under threat. Wamberal has been vulnerable to coastal erosion for years as one of 15 coastal erosion hotspots in New South Wales and one of hundreds across Australia. The Central Coast Council, which is currently under administration and has been prevented from democratically holding local elections for several years, is tasked with managing accelerated coastal erosion caused by climate impacts and rising sea levels. A high seawall was proposed by a few select property owners and supported by council after the beach and nearby homes experienced significant dune erosion in 2020, but a seawall is so clearly not the only option, and it is far from the right option.

Back in the 1970s when Wamberal was thrashed with storm-induced coastal erosion, the State Government had the then more cost-effective opportunity to buy back the land and restore it as a frontal dune. This idea was buried along with the problem at hand, and developers continued building more properties on the coastline. Today we are faced with the same problem but we have a greater understanding of the full spectrum of coastal erosion and predicted sea level rises—and increasing houses at risk. One thing that has remained constant is that no wall will ever stop the ocean. It will not stop the ocean's currents from reaching the shore. A seawall is intended to reflect incident wave energy back into the sea to prevent coastal erosion hitting a certain area of the shore and the homes that surround it. But a seawall only directs that energy, the current and thus the associated coastal erosion further along the coastline to the end of the seawall, making it someone else's problem. How can anyone possibly think that spending millions of dollars to shift erosion to a different part of the beach is a sensible option?

The Wamberal Beach management options report prepared for the Office of Environment and Heritage in 2017 to analyse cost-benefits of options to manage erosion delivered several recommendations. The key recommendation was that a seawall should not go ahead because it is one of the most costly options. The report found that of all the various types of seawalls, none of them would provide any net public benefit for the Central Coast community. It concluded that a planned retreat is the only sustainable, cost-effective and sensible way forward. It has a cost-benefit of seven to ten times more than any of the other options. Not only is it cost effective but also, instead of attempting to control the current—to control nature—a managed retreat allows the shoreline to move inland and ensures that natural coastal habitats are preserved.

We can look at seawalls in Stockton, Collaroy, Byron Bay, the Gold Coast and Harvey Bay in Queensland, Bridgewater Bay in Victoria and Henley Beach in South Australia to see that a seawall is not wanted by the broader community and actually ends up destroying the beach. In all those cases communities furiously objected to seawall proposals for clear and obvious reasons. But the bureaucrats decided that they knew what was best for the beach and, more accurately, wealthy landowners, and pushed it through anyway. The difference here is that the proposed Wamberal Beach seawall is not just a couple of hundred metres along. The proposal is for a massive seawall stretching over a kilometre across the entire Wamberal coastline. If this seawall gets built, what is next? The erosion will only get pushed further down the coastline. It will only kick the can down the road. Is the Government going to build a seawall across the entire east coast of New South Wales or just across the entire Central Coast?

The requests of the Central Coast community are very clear: The State Government must intervene and ensure that the effects of a proposed seawall have been thoroughly investigated through an environmental impact study and must take the lead with a sustainable coastal adaptation plan that looks after the environment and community in the long run. I thank community group Wamberal Beach Save Our Sand for its tireless dedication to this issue. Its members have been staunch advocates for the Central Coast community and environment in the stark absence of a council that democratically speaks for the community. We cannot continue to put the interests of private property above public beaches and public needs. A seawall would have devastating long-term impacts in completely eroding the entire Wamberal Beach and beyond. The science before us has indicated for a long time that the only sustainable, long-term solution to managing coastal erosion is a planned retreat. It is well past time that the Government began acting in the best interests of the community and the environment, and recognise that building a seawall at Wamberal is madness. I commend the motion to the House.

The debate happened as follows: 

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (Minister for Climate Change, Minister for Energy, Minister for the Environment, and Minister for Heritage) (16:45): On behalf of the Government, I thank the honourable member for bringing this issue to the House. It is a complex issue and there are divergent views on how to resolve what I consider to be a wicked a problem. The New South Wales Government acknowledges the diversity of views regarding the proposed seawall at Wamberal. We also acknowledge the advocacy of community groups on the issue, including Wamberal Beach Save Our Sand led by local residents Mark and Corinne Lamont. The Minister for the Central Coast met with them recently to hear their concerns, and he continues to speak with them.

The Government cannot support the motion in its current form due to the planning process inaccuracies contained within it. The Government is seeking to amend the motion to urge Central Coast Council and its administrators to work constructively with all residents, particularly around Terrigal Lagoon, to address community concerns. On that basis, I move:

That the question be amended by omitting all words after "That" and inserting instead:

this House notes that:

(a)in 2022, Central Coast Council resolved to build a Terminal Protection Structure [TPS], also known as a seawall, along the entire length of Wamberal Beach from Terrigal Lagoon to Wamberal Lagoon;

(b)there are a range of views regarding the situation at Wamberal relating to beach erosion, with some Wamberal residents signing a petition opposing the proposed structure;

(c)a group of Wamberal property owners and the Central Coast Council intend to lodge a development application that will go through an independent assessment process under New South Wales planning laws;

(d)as part of that independent assessment process, extensive public exhibition and consultation are required, including relevant environmental studies; and

(e)urges Central Coast Council to work constructively with all residents, particularly around Terrigal Lagoon, to address community concerns.

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW (16:47): I lead for the Opposition in debate on this motion and confirm that the Opposition will support the Government's amendments and therefore will support the amended motion. For the benefit of the House and members who may not be aware of the intricacies of the issue, I provide some background information on the Wamberal seawall. Wamberal was highlighted as a coastal erosion hotspot in the early 1970s and is highly vulnerable to coastal storms and their impact on housing along the beach, public infrastructure including roads and, notably, the Wamberal Surf Life Saving Club. A conservative estimate of the value of the infrastructure and assets in the area is $750 million—no small sum.

In 2016 and 2020, large storms caused the partial collapse of homes, significant damage and the exposure of asbestos dumped in the ground below houses. The continuation of that scenario is clearly unacceptable and mitigation processes need to be implemented. Through the Coastal and Estuary Grants Program, Central Coast Council received $207,500 in 2018 for assistance in designing a seawall and the implementation of beach nourishment programs. Subsequent to that funding being provided to council, in the 2020 storm event the beach was left covered in hazardous rubble and debris.

The seawall has had a long history, and it is good to see that the Government has finally come around to common sense on the issue. However, during the last election, the Labor candidate in the Terrigal electorate ran a disingenuous scare campaign around the seawall, posing for Instagram photos in front of other successful seawalls with a thumbs-down gesture, leaning into an anti-wall stance that was repudiated by the electorate in March and even campaigning with signs during the election, including waving placards on Terrigal Drive saying that he would stop the seawall. Obviously, being a Government comes with more responsibility than being a candidate, and waving anti-seawall corflutes on the side of the road just is not enough. I am glad to see that the Government and, indeed, the Minister for the Central Coast, are acting more responsibly than some of their former candidates on what is an important issue for the Central Coast community, and particularly for the electors of Terrigal and the residents of Wamberal.

To address the 2016 storm, the Gosford Beaches Coastal Zone Management Plan was certified in May 2017 to address coastal management actions for Wamberal Beach. The plan recognises the need for a terminal protection structure and sand nourishment. The process certainly has not been rushed. Studies for the Wamberal seawall were finalised in 2021 after three rounds of community consultation, with the key point being engineering design requirements for a constructed seawall. Manly Hydraulics, after its engagement to develop concept plans for solutions, including coastal assessment and a cost-benefit analysis, developed engineering design requirements for the seawall, which have been adopted by the Central Coast Council. The engineering design requirements for the seawall are extensive. If any of the criteria are not met, the proposed seawall will not be approved by council.

The seawall proposal is a matter for a joint development application between council and landowners. The New South Wales Government has no legal authority to interfere with development applications for the Wamberal seawall, which is why the motion in its original form would be entirely inappropriate. The seawall petition aims to illegally influence council's decision-making and development application process, by calling for State Government intervention. The local community will have ability to make their voices heard in the usual fashion once development applications are lodged during the statutory 28-day exhibition period. It is most likely the project will go to an independent Joint Regional Planning Panel, absolving council of any conflict of interest as per the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Conflict of Interest) Regulation.

The Hon. TAYLOR MARTIN (16:50): I will be supporting the motion, if the Government amendment is successful. A seawall at Wamberal has been a long‑term issue. Homes were in danger of falling into the sea during the July 2020 storms. A massive emergency response was required, which involved 2,400 tonnes of large rocks, over 2,000 tonnes of rock bags and 4,000 tonnes of sand being placed along Wamberal Beach in an emergency situation. The foundations of some homes were visible, hanging above the ocean just metres below, while others had damage to their backyards and decks. This was not the first time that storms had threatened homes at Wamberal. It happened in 2016. It happened in 1978 and resulted in great devastation that many local people remember, with homes falling into the sea.

The issue is well known to the Government. One of the homes there at one stage belonged to Eddie Obeid and was where the so-called Terrigal sub-faction was formed back in the day. Some of the problems of asbestos on Wamberal Beach have been traced back to that property, according to media reports over the years. As a regular swimmer and surfer, and having been on surf patrol at the other end of the beach at Terrigal, I personally made numerous calls to the Central Coast Council over the years to report exposed fragments of asbestos on the beach and in the water. One time on the beach, I ran into a mother whose young daughter had taken fragments home and used the asbestos as chalk on her driveway, which was extremely distressing.

The building of a terminal protection structure, or seawall, along with sand nourishment is the adopted solution to coastal erosion at Wamberal Beach. It is described in the Gosford Beaches Coastal Zone Management Plan. It is my understanding that the seawall is to be located as far landward as possible, to reduce interaction with coastal processes and maximise the available beach width. The homes adjacent to the beach are not the only properties that will be protected by a seawall. There are hundreds of homes behind the beachfront row, and three quarters of a billion dollars in public assets, including electricity, NBN, water and sewerage, roads, and of course the Wamberal Surf Life Saving Club that will also be protected by this terminal protective structure or seawall. Studies were finalised in 2021 after three rounds of community consultation.

I understand that some local people, including the Wamberal Beach Save Our Sand [SOS], are concerned about potential impacts of a seawall. I know the member for Terrigal is supporting those people and those groups to ensure that their concerns are heard by council. He has been an exceptionally strong voice on this issue for a while now. I also understand the State Government intends to have a review of the proposed wall, although when I put a question on notice in regards to this in July, the Government could not, or would not, say when the review would be conducted, what the terms of reference might be, who would be chairing it or how long it would take. I understand the Wamberal Beach Save Our Sand group were contacted by the member for Gosford, who said that is not actually the Minister's view; that is just a departmental response. At its core we need to ensure that individuals have the opportunity to protect their own home and the beach that we know and love.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (16:54): In reply: There are times in this place when the disconnect between what political parties and politicians are thinking and what the community is thinking and feeling is so stark. Obviously, I live right near Wamberal Beach. That is my community and my area. When I walk along and I speak with people in my area, there is not a single person I come across who does not understand what is happening when it comes to climate change and the oceans and our beaches. Yet in this place there is this continued obsession with trying to control nature, to ignore the science and to double down on the mistakes that we have been making decade after decade, failing to recognise that we have a situation here that we cannot, and should not, be seeking to control. That is why we got into this mess in the first place. We need to accept the science. We need to look at the evidence, and the evidence is telling us that if we build a 1½‑kilometre seawall along this precious, beautiful beach, we will push the problem up into Terrigal, to businesses, to other houses, and to all of the houses around the lagoons.

I have spoken to my children. I love doing this because they give the best answers. If water is hitting a beach and it is eroding the sand, and then we put a wall there, what will happen to that water? The water gets shifted down until it gets to whatever other bit of sand it is going to erode. It is just being pushed down. Unless the Government's plan is to have a seawall for the entire length of the New South Wales coast, setting up at Wamberal a 1½‑kilometre seawall will erode that beach so that no-one else can use it, and wreck the shops at Terrigal and wreck everyone else's homes, just to protect a handful of very nice homes on the top of a sand dune—homes that should never have been built there.

It is complete madness for the Opposition to say that the Government has no legal authority to intervene, as though the Government does not make laws in this place. That is absurd. The Government could pass a law this week or next week that actually prohibits the building of seawalls because the Government has spoken to the community, listened to the scientists and spoken to the average year 4 child and asked them what they think would happen. The Government should realise that this is not what it should be doing. A seawall is absolute madness to anybody who is not in this place. I think people need to get out more. The Greens will not support Labor's amendment. It completely undermines the basis of the original motion; it just undoes it.

To rely on a planning system as though it is some independent thing that the Government has no control over and cannot change is ridiculous. To think that that will somehow deliver the right result, given the previous planning decisions under the current planning laws, is absurd. Then to be hiding behind an administrator of the council, who has been appointed by the government of the day and can be removed by the government of the day—because we do not have a democratically elected council on the Central Coast—is absurd. It is incredibly disappointing that the parties in this place cannot recognise common sense and science, and cannot listen to what the community is telling them.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR (The Hon. Emma Hurst): Ms Abigail Boyd has moved a motion, to which the Hon. Penny Sharpe has moved an amendment. The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Amendment agreed to.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (The Hon. Emma Hurst): The question now is that the motion as amended be agreed to.

Motion as amended agreed to. 


Read Hansard for the full transcript here.

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