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Developing war for prime coast

15 January 2001

The West Australian

The WA coast is a mess, according to the State Government's new draft policy on coastal zone management released late last week.

Local governments cannot, and do not, stop four-wheel driving and illegal camping on beaches. The State Government has made things worse by cutting funds for coastal management.

Bad planning and environmental ignorance mean erosion is a big problem at Mandurah, Cottesloe, South Fremantle, Bunbury, Busselton and Esperance.

And taxpayers are paying the price.

The draft policy on coastal zone management is couched in cautious terms: the Government's objectives are to protect, enhance, conserve, maintain and restore the coastal environment, while mitigating, avoiding, recognising and minimising problems.

The underlying message is reasonably clear.

The draft policy says: "Reasonable demands of housing, tourism, recreation, commercial and other activities along the coast should be accommodated."

But it warns that developments should only happen if they can be "done within the bounds of ecological sustainability and within standards which are acceptable to the community".

The policy may provide hope for WA's increasingly vocal protesters whose favourite coastal haunts have become battlefields in the fight over development. At Leighton Beach last year, 5000 people turned out to protest against a $100 million redevelopment of the old railway marshalling yards into 200 prime beachfront residential blocks.

After continuing public protest the plan was scaled down dramatically.

At Gnarabup, west of Margaret River, a group of residents has fought fiercely against a housing estate by the beach - to the point of taking government departments to court.

At Smiths Beach, south of Yallingup, criticism is growing over plans for a residential and tourism development, including an outdoor festival area, village and community centre.

Other targets include Bunker Bay, Moses Rock, Indegup, Moore River, Ningaloo and a host of other locations chosen for tourism and residential projects.

According to the latest Tourism Development Register, more than 10 projects worth between $10 million and $200 million have been proposed along the coast.

The reason for all the development is simple - demand.

Between 1971 and 1990, the number of people living on the coast bordering the metropolitan area climbed 600 per cent.

In the next 20 years, the demand will be strongest in the South-West, where the population is expected to increase 60 per cent.

Busselton Shire Council chief executive Michael Swift said the council had dealt with many of the most controversial proposals with increasing population in mind. "We have had pressure to expand Yallingup and to develop Smiths Beach and Indijup and put a full-blown townsite at Moses Rock," he said.
"We decided Smiths Beach would be used to accommodate development pressure and relieve other sites." Mr Swift said the shire did not want a single band of development stretching between Dunsborough and Busselton but decisions had to be made about accommodating growth.

Conservationists and locals fear too many developments will destroy the fragile beauty of the coast.

Margaret River conservationist Rod Whittle warned the situation at South-West coasts was coming to a head.

Mr Whittle said the protest groups were mobilising and planned to escalate the campaign against development during the State election.

"I think there is now general community opposition to the over-development of all these areas," he said.

"We are holding a general meeting of groups in the next week to find some common ground. With the election coming, we want to produce a list of planning reforms that we would like to see."

It may be a force greater than the conservation movement, which determines if coastal development in WA is limited.

In June, a United States Government report sent shivers through US developers after finding 25 per cent of all buildings within 152m of the coast could be eroded within 60 years.

Department of Transport senior coastal engineer Peter Boreham said the situation in Australia was not quite as drastic. But he admitted that erosion was a threat to some coastal development. "Coastlines are always eroding. There are hundreds of kilometres eroding on the south coast between Albany and Esperance," he said.

Copyright 2001 by West Australian Newspapers Ltd. This report is for information only. No charge for such use is made and the material is not being used for commercial purposes. The text has not been modified from the original report.

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