Why Is Newcastle City Council Planning to Build a Skate Bowl over an Existing Beach? – Nick Carroll

3 Sep 2018 46 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

Hang On, That's a Beach!

Check out the pic.

It’s an illustration of Newcastle City Council’s proposed $11 million revamp of its South Newcastle skate park. Pretty whiz bang stuff! Nice that the council is spending up on youth.

But! It also involves a large piece of South Newy Beach being concreted over. (See the comparison pic for a sense of what that means.)

It’s kinda staggering. Or maybe “insane” is a better word. It’s the word used by Ian Goodwin, associate professor of climate risk at Macquarie University’s marine research centre, when CW asked him about the project. “Just insane really,” Ian says. “If you or I wanted to do that, there’s no way we could.”

Why not? Fact is, the best protection for Australian coasts in an era of sea level rise is to get structures off beaches, not continue building on ’em.

Sea-walls are known to force erosion on beaches when they’re set too close to the high tide line. Destructive wave action is amplified, constructive wave action is blocked. The sand travels elsewhere and does not return.

But once the sand is gone, there’s no buffer for wave energy. And every now and then, wave energy will reach levels well beyond the ability of a sea wall. Result: expensive destruction.

All this is not difficult to grasp. How many swimming pools to do you need to see slipping into the South Narrabeen shorey to understand it?

Novocastrians know about this stuff. Twice in the past 50 years, the area has seen large ships driven into beaches by major storm surf: the Cygna at Stockton in May 1974, and the Pasha Bulker at Nobby’s in June 2007.

Their council also knows about it. Their very own coastal hazards study, completed in 2014, makes it very clear that complete beach erosion has occurred on Newcastle beaches in the past, partly due to seawalls and other human structures erected in less knowledgeable times. And that Newcastle’s beaches are already ill-equipped to deal with future sea level rises, because already, there’s nowhere for the sand to go.

As a result of that study, they’re spending up to $2 million in coming years protecting council assets like surf clubs from storms and sea level rises to come.

Coastal inundation lines out to 2100 in the council’s study of nearby Stockton Beach, if translated to South Newy, show that a heavy storm will put the whole skate bowl proposal underwater.

So why would they knowingly pursue something like this?

South Newcastle Beach surfer Bernie Wilson is one of a small group of people who’ve been asking all the questions. He estimates the concreting will take up some 650-700 square metres of sand space, on a beach already at ongoing risk of erosion.

Bernie has requested a range of information from Council, including a dimensioned site plan, an environmental impact statement and a State government department report. Council has informed him that none of these are yet available.

This is despite the council informing other interested parties that the project has already been re-designed to take surf action into account. And despite the drawing that’s already been released (see pic) as part of the plan’s unveiling.

So, like, which is it? Is it designed, or isn’t it?

Newcastle’s very forceful Mayor, Labor’s Nuatali Nelmes, is said to be all on board with the project. Maybe it’s that simple. Many politicians have their Canute moments at times.

Trouble is, this isn’t just a Newcastle thing. The same questions overhang all the nation’s coastlines. As the world at large struggles to even discuss actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and delay climate change, the thinking at national level is turning to mitigation. In other words: we can’t stop it now, we might as well try to soften the effects.

But if a council can do the opposite just like that, what’s the point?

“It would provide a bad precedent in every way,” says Ian Goodwin. “Other councils would feel like they could do things like it. And it would make it hard to argue against a private development in a similar situation. They could capitalise on public policy failure.”

Bernie, along with Surfrider Foundation staff and other concerned locals, has requested a meeting with the Mayor and Council officers in charge of the project. That meeting is expected some time late September.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and the NSW Minister for Planning may also have something to say on the matter. Here’s hoping some kinda sanity prevails.

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