Scary Ground May Be Broken At Bells Beach

19 Sep 2016 11

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH | ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS

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If you’ve surfed Bells Beach — and lots of us have over the years — you’ll know that one of this sacred site’s great appeals is the lack of construction.

Yeah, there’s a toilet block and a carpark. But beyond that, there’s just paddocks and rolling hills dotted with the odd kangaroo. You can glimpse a couple of houses far across the paddocks to the north, but you’d have to be a pretty good hand with a rifle to hit ‘em.

But that might all be about to change.

A local landowner wants to build eco-resort style tourist accommodation for 10-12 people on land just across the road from Bells. The building as currently planned will be visible from both the Winkipop and Southside carparks, and will thus break entirely new ground for Bells.

SEE ALSO: Australia's Biggest Reef Is Given A Name & Voice

The plan’s been knocked back the Surf Coast Shire, but the landowner is planning now to take it to a higher authority — the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). And thanks to recent changes in Victorian State law, which have been loosened to allow such developments on rural land, the landowner stands a good chance of winning.

Local surfer groups, including Surfrider Foundation and the Bells Beach Preservation Society, are worried as hell. “It’s the precedent,” says surfer/author Richard Bennett.

He acknowledges that the landowner has a long history in the area. “They’re being very mindful, their approach is that of an eco-resort." But building regulations in this fire-prone area means lights on 24 hours a day and a driveway turning circle big enough for fire trucks — all adding to the development footprint.

And: do it once, and others will follow. This is a surf spot that’s brought surf-related income worth around $240 million a year to nearby Torquay*, all without any development in the Bells hinterland.

It’s exactly the sort of thing that led local surfers to help drive the formation of the Bells Beach Recreational Surfing Reserve back in the early 1970s. And, says Richard: “Again, it’s a precedent that the reserve was designed to stop.”

This could literally be the area’s last stand.

The VCAT hearing is on October 24. If you’d like to lend your voice to the Bells protection effort, CLICK HERE

*Figures from research done by the Surf Coast Shire.

Mystical Bells Beach, Photo uploaded by Tweddle

Mystical Bells Beach, Photo uploaded by Tweddle


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