Nick Carroll: The Continuing Crisis at Bells

7 Oct 2019 16 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

An artist’s impression of how the peanut gallery from the water at Winki might look.

An artist’s impression of how the peanut gallery from the water at Winki might look.

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

A 60-metre-long elevated viewing platform at Winkipop?

When it comes to an Australian surf spot hedged about with potentially competing interests, they don’t come better than Bells Beach.

Once a barely visited coastal nook several k’s down from the holiday hamlet of Torquay, it’s now one of the world’s best known surf zones, the only one in Australia under legal protection as a recreation reserve, host to a WSL CT that regularly defines the global competitive year, home to a boardriders’ club and to an actively acknowledged Indigenous clan, and just down the pike from a suburban population explosion the likes of which the nation has rarely seen.

Just asking for conflict really.

Thus, a new battle is arising at Bells.

This time it’s over a 60-metre-long, 1.5-metre-high elevated walkway that the Surf Coast Shire is thinking of building along the lower rim of the Winkipop cliff line.

A concrete path currently traces the line of the proposed platform-style structure.

If you’ve been down there around Easter, you’ll have seen a similar — though 20 metres shorter — temporary structure in the same place. It’s set up and used by the World Surf League as a staging post for the Rip Curl Pro when it moves to Winki.

Which is no coincidence. Because this proposed, considerably larger, and very much more permanent structure is on the agenda at least partly at the WSL’s request.

The planned walkway has come to public attention as a result of two recent surveys conducted by Surf Coast Shire into the use of the Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve. The Shire manages Bells, which is on Crown land abutting the Greater Otway National Park to the west. It consults with the Bells Beach Committee (BBC), an 11-person group formed several years ago in the wake of concerns over the use of the reserve.

Shire staff say the BBC was fully consulted on the design of the walkway, including a tour of the WSL’s temporary set-up, and that public response to the 2018 survey supports it.

No doubt the current path is a bit dusty and in need of repair.

But there’s nothing like this proposed walkway anywhere else in the Bells reserve, nor in its neighbouring lands down past Bird Rock toward Jan Juc. It’s only ever been there in any form during the contest.

It’s also possibly contrary to the Bells coastal management plan, which specifically states there should be no further raised structures built in the reserve.

Oh, and in the 2018 survey, the one the Shire is using to support its proposal, the walkway was not actually shown — just the WSL’s temporary one, which, as we mentioned above, is 20 metres shorter. (Results from the latest survey, which does feature the design as in the pics accompanying this piece, have yet to be published.)

The Shire is already committed to $80,000 each year in various forms of support for the Rip Curl Pro. This does not include the cost of the proposed walkway, which you’ve gotta imagine will require a bit more than $80,000.

Among other things, the walkway’s elevation will mean that if you’re surfing Winki, you’ll be on full display to anyone on it. You’ll be able to look up from the lineup and see your audience!

Nobody had quite figured this out until Darren Noyes-Brown of the local Surfrider chapter did a bit of Photoshopping, based on the Shire’s own plan, and came up with the vision above and below.

The reaction was predictable. According to Maurice Cole: “We show that to people and they just say, ‘What the hell?’”

“I don’t think anyone’s got a problem with a temporary structure during the contest,” says Darren. “It’s more the spending money to make a permanent structure for a temporary need.”

And it’s yet another drama growing out of the ever-growing range of interests competing for space at Bells.

At the same time, future control of that space is currently up for question. A new coastal oversight body, the Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority, is being created by the Vicco government, apparently to consolidate Crown land management along the length of the coast.

The new authority could take charge of the Bells area as early as mid-2020, depending on the Shire’s response.

Maybe they should just make it a national park and be done with it.

An artist’s impression of the proposed walkway.

An artist’s impression of the proposed walkway.

An outline of the path where the proposed platform would be constructed.

An outline of the path where the proposed platform would be constructed.

Plan of walkway section.

Plan of walkway section.

Rough skyline view of elevated walkway/platform.

Rough skyline view of elevated walkway/platform.


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