We watched this week as Noosa Council tied itself in knots attempting to deal with the complex issue of adapting to Climate Change while avoiding conflicts of interest.
Navigating the new definitions of “declarable” conflicts and the most serious “prescribed” conflicts is something our Councillors need to take very seriously.
This is particularly so since a well-funded group calling itself the Eastern Beaches Protection Association, EBPA, has held numerous meetings with Council, while publicly attacking the Coastal Hazards Adaption Plan, the CHAP.
In her declaration, Councillor Amelia Lorentson said her brother was a member of the EBPA’s executive and owner of a beachfront house in Sunrise Beach. She also declared she had a friend on Noosa North Shore who could be directly affected by the issue.
Councillor Karen Finzel – in her declaration – said another EBPA executive member donated $1666 to her campaign, her share of a donation to the team that she was associated with when she was elected.
In both cases Mayor Clare Stewart lost her bid to have the Councillors fully included in debates and voting on the CHAP.
Instead, the remaining Councillors voted to allow Ms Lorentson in the room for general discussions about the CHAP, but to exclude her from debate and voting on “issues regarding the private estate along the Eastern Beaches and Noosa North Shore”, and in the case of Ms Finzel, “that she does not participate in the debate nor vote on issues regarding the private estate along the Eastern Beaches.”
We are left with the extraordinary situation where Councillors Lorentson and Finzel can debate and vote on matters affecting Noosa including the Eastern beaches and cliffs, but must leave the room if there’s discussion affecting the private homes a few metres away.
We will watch with interest as they tread this very, very fine line.
WHAT IS THE CHAP? ( an explanation from veteran PBCA community advocate and former Barrister Barry Cotterell )
The CHAP (Coastal Hazards Adaptation Plan) is planning for the inevitable consequences of climate change (when the extent and timing of the coastal hazard is unknown).
For some years now Noosa has allowed building on the sand cliffs overlooking the ocean beach.
Now we have multi-million dollar houses built on multi-multi-million grains of fine sand which are subject to erosion from wind and rain.
When you add the impacts of climate change – sea level rise, storm surges and ground saturation from increased rain – you need to have a plan to deal with the hazard to life and property.
Who would be opposed to planning for such events?
Some owners, including some who have recently purchased these multi-million dollars properties are opposed to regulation of what they can do on their land, but these same people may be the first to use their wealth and connections to seek to claim compensation or lobby for changes to the legislation when their properties are affected.
Coastal hazards are not a recent phenomenon. The 1967 Beach Protection Act recognised Beach erosion as a problem and, from 1984, these properties have been subject to a building control line which prohibits building within 15 metres of the seaward boundary of the property.
Over time, some owners have engaged accommodating experts to find exceptions to this rule allowing them to “keep up with the neighbours’ alignment”.
Thankfully, the land between the high tide mark and the boundaries of these properties has been maintained as State land with the Noosa Council as trustee to provide a development buffer and to provide for the natural processes to continue.
So while the owners of these properties can rely on “existing rights” which the law recognises, those rights do not allow owners to build further into erosion prone areas.
While the law may recognise their boundaries, the forces of nature don’t make this distinction.
While some would like to defer, and thus defeat, the CHAP by challenging the science, it is agreed and set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change and the Federal and State governments. The Council is simply implementing the planning strategy.
Some would like to deflect planning by pointing to other things the Council could or should do instead. And they lobby for delay based on the uncertainty of when the hazard might occur or its extent being unknown at that particular location.
When all things are considered, not much will change in the short-term. The existing owners will be undisturbed unless they want to build seaward of the building control line.
Then, as now, their application to do so would require extenuating circumstances for both the State and the Council to grant approval, and is unlikely as the State has now toughened its stand against development in erosion prone areas.
After CHAP, hopefully the community will be better informed and better prepared to meet the hazard resulting from climate change as it inevitably increases.