Northern Beaches Council To Consider Extending Collaroy Seawall
It's been labelled an "abomination", the "ugliest edifice built on the coast".
And, it might be about to get bigger.
A group of beachfront home owners are pushing to extend the controversial Collaroy seawall on Sydney's northern beaches. A Development Aplication (DA) before Northern Beaches Council would see two additional sections of vertical wall built — 50 and 30 metres in length — straddling the South Narrabeen Surf Club.
The applicants hope the seven-metre high structure will protect their homes from the types of swells seen in 2016. That event saw a swimming pool topple into the ocean and frantic sandbagging to prevent luxury beachside properties from collapsing.
It was the catalyst for the construction of the first 210m stretch of seawall in 2021. At the time, some locals feared the wall would come at the expense of beach amenity, describing it as "totalitarian architecture", an "abomination" and the "ugliest edifice built on the coast".
Those concerns still linger today. The new proposal would guard five beachfront properties but leave the area in front of the South Narrabeen Surf Club without the same protection.
Erosion in front of the club has already been so serious that lifesavers have been unable to launch boats, potentially impacting the ability to conduct rescues.
"The neighbouring surf clubs on either side of South Narrabeen, have to come up and support the lifesavers there with their rescue craft and it's not always an effective option," Surf Life Saving NSW chief executive officer Steven Pearce said.
Angus Gordon, a Narrabeen-based coastal engineer, said additional measures would be needed to protect the surf club if the vertical wall goes ahead.
Without them, "it would mean that the area where the club is here would erode more than normal, so you'd get a double whammy from the two walls".
Northern Beaches Council dismissed suggestions it would approve work that would threaten the surf club. A spokesperson said it was "absolutely planning capital works" to protect the surf club, but is awaiting the outcome of the DA for the wall extension.
Richard Barnes is one of the landowners behind the DA and is prepared to spend $250,000 to build his section of wall. He purchased the property from his great aunt when she died in the 1980s, and is in the process of constructing a new house on the block.
"We do have a right to protect our houses, everyone has that right," he said. But he concedes it's a "lot of money" to pay for the luxury of living with the ocean on his back doorstep.
"In the value of the property, it's a worthwhile investment."
Eighty per cent of the total cost is being funded by residents, with the remaining twenty per cent split between the state government and local council.
Local surfer Terry Fitzgerald is among those concerned about the effect the vertical structure could have on the beach and surf.
"It all revolves around the movement of sand up and down the beach, and the effect of the lack of sand in the wave action zone on the surf itself," he said.
But the wall's engineer, Peter Horton, said the choice of a vertical or sloping wall makes "little difference" to the impact on the beach.
"The proposed seawall will not interact with waves for most of the time, so can hardly be expected to significantly alter the beach profile," he said.
Kristen Splinter is a coastal engineer with the University of New South Wales's Water Research Lab, which has been studying the coast at Collaroy for more than forty years.
"With any beach, and Narrabeen's no different, we see periods of erosion and times when the beach comes back again," she said. "[After the 2016 event] that beach naturally did recover a lot within a year."
The creep of the Collaroy seawall raises difficult questions about coastal management more broadly.
"This ocean isn't going to stop coming just because you build a wall, it will eventually go over the top and where are we then?," Mr Fitzgerald said.
The Newport Surf Club is also exploring plans to construct its own seawall.
Dr Splinter conceded it's an invidious decision for policymakers. "Do we either retreat and allow a beach to naturally take its course, but that obviously has a cost potentially involved with it and politics," she said.
"Or do we find a way to hold the line, and that can be a variety of different engineering solutions from beach nourishment out to more hard structures as we're seeing in Narrabeen right now."
A council spokesperson could not give a time frame on when a decision would be made.
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