THE NSW Premier will give beachfront property owners threatened by coastal erosion and sea level rises more rights to build sea walls and barriers to protect homes, despite fears it will severely damage some of the Australia’s best beaches.Announcing the new measures today, the Government will name 19 ”hot spot” beaches where owners are under threat from coastal erosion.They include Sydney’s northern beaches – Collaroy, Narrabeen, Mona Vale and Bilgola – Batemans Bay and Mollymook to the south, and Pearl Beach, MacMasters, Old Bar, Lennox Head and Byron Bay’s Belongil to the north.The measures will force councils covering the hot spots to prepare emergency storm plans; introduce a code of practice for ”temporary protections to threatened properties”; and give councils and the state government powers to stop owners building unapproved sea walls.But in a highly controversial move, the government will be able to override councils which refuse to allow beachfront residents to build defences. If residents are willing to pay to build the defences they will be able to appeal either to the planning or environment minister, who will decide if it is ”environmentally feasible and sustainable”.Nathan Rees said the measures would be enforced by laws to ensure ”existing home owners can act to protect their properties and share the financial responsibilities, subject to stringent environmental impact assessments”.The plans will put the Rees Government on a collision course with Byron Bay and other coastal councils. Byron council is involved in a long legal battle with owners at Belongil over demands to build a defensive barrier on the public beachfront.Andy Short, who has written extensively on the coastal crisis, said: ”My concern is that the Government is prepared to sacrifice some of the best beaches in Australia to save a handful of beachfront property owners who have known for decades they are in a high-risk area.” Professor Short said the plans were ”crisis management at its worst”. But it will become a key part of the Government’s response to sea level rises caused by global warming.The deputy director of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Simon Smith, rejected the claim that beachfront property owners would be allowed to build barriers at the expense of public beaches.”It’s not just, ‘I’ll build a wall, it’ll protect me and I’ll be right mate’,” he said. Owners would have to ensure the works did not transfer the erosion from one spot to another. Erosion studies show a sea wall built in one spot is likely to transfer erosion because sand tends to move from south to north.Owners would have to commit permanently to paying for sand replacement. He said the number of properties under threat was likely to rise hugely. ”The Opera House will be under water if we don’t make changes, so you have to prepare for that … People are still spending $3 million, $5 million or $7 million buying properties that have big risks.”
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