Belongil Litigation Against Council Resolved

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Photo: Simon Richardson

Photo: Simon Richardson

TWO SUPREME Court litigation cases against Byron Shire Council have been resolved.

The first case was instigated by a group of Belongil property owners, the second by separate Belongil property owners.

In the first proceeding, the group of Belongil property owners claimed to have suffered significant financial loss and diminution in value of their properties as a result of Council’s historical acts, decisions and omissions relating to the works in front of the Jonson Street car park and generally in relation to coastal matters.

In the second proceeding, Belongil property owners claimed to have incurred significant financial loss and diminution in value of their properties as a result of Council’s acts, decisions and omissions during the 2009 storm event.

Both proceedings were defended on behalf of Byron Shire Council by its insurer who also negotiated the resolution in conjunction with Council.

Council and its ratepayers were not required to financially contribute to the settlement.

The resolution of the proceedings did not involve any admissions or findings of liability against Byron Shire Council.

As part of the resolution, Byron Shire Council has agreed to allow the property owners to retain any existing protective works adjacent to the Belongil properties in their current form.

Byron Shire Council’s legal services coordinator, Ralph James, stated however, that should the property owners wish to maintain, upgrade or replace the existing protective works, they are required to follow the usual approval process.

“The agreement allows the landowners’ time to submit applications to undertake lawful protective works at their own cost.

“Whether the landowners decide to apply to undertake works is a matter for them,” he said.

A development application for new coastal protection works would be assessed on merit, as per existing planning controls and the Coastal Protection Act.

Mr James said whilst the litigation has been ongoing for about six years, there have been many attempts to have the matter resolved.

“During this time, there have been significant changes to NSW State planning regulations within the Coastal Protection Act and the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure).

“As a result, an approvals process for coastal protection works now exists and allows property owners to construct protective works with consent.

“Similarly, our draft Coastal Zone Management Plan, which is currently before the NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage, allows an adaptive sea wall and walkway on a section of the Belongil beachfront

“The resolution agreement does not provide the property owners with greater or different protection than currently exists. Nor does it suggest any liability on the part of Council for the financial losses claimed by the property owners.

“It merely affords the property owners the necessary time to allow them to take steps to apply for lawful protective works, same as any other coastal ratepayer.

“The agreement reached to resolve the proceedings has no impact on Council’s planning controls regarding planned retreat.

“The resolution also ends what could be many more years of defending the matter and consuming Council’s resources.

“Whilst Council had the benefit of insurance cover in respect of the claims pleaded against it, the litigation was a significant strain on Council resources.

“Resolution of these matters will give the incoming Council clear air in discussing coastal protection matters,” Mr James said.

Further information on the draft Coastal Zone Management Plan for the Byron Bay Embayment and planned retreat can be found on Byron Shire Council’s website at http://www.byron.nsw.gov.au/coastal-zone-management-plan-for-byron-bay-embayment-draft  

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