A coastal residents group has accused the Baird government of leaving the door open for councils to strip property rights from thousands of Hunter residents.
The NSW Coastal Alliance was concerned that the government’s plans could enable councils to order demolition of private properties under threat from coastal hazards such as sea level rise, flood, erosion and storms.
The government defended the plans, but alliance spokesman Pat Aiken described them as “draconian and unworkable”.
Mr Aiken claimed they would cause “property prices to plummet”.
The alliance was particularly concerned about references to “managed retreat” in a draft coastal management manual, which accompanies the government’s draft coastal management bill.
NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes said there was “no policy of managed retreat”.
Mr Stokes said the draft bill “does not contain a single reference to any type of ‘managed retreat’”.
However, the coastal alliance received legal advice that the draft bill would make it compulsory to comply with certain parts of the manual.
This legal advice found people could be made to demolish their homes without compensation.
The government had asserted that any demolition or loss of properties would occur only in rare and extreme cases, where lives were at risk.
However, the alliance said this was not made clear in the government’s plans and it was concerned that such decisions would be left in the hands of councils.
The government believed it would be irresponsible not to outline all options, including the prospect of some properties being demolished and abandoned to the elements.
The government’s draft manual does include options for protection of property from hazards, such as seawalls and levees.
Under the draft plan, councils could also adopt a “wait and see” approach to risks and “set triggers and thresholds” for action.
However, the alliance’s advice from coastal engineers suggested the government’s plans would make it “virtually impossible” for vulnerable properties to be protected.
Despite this, Mr Stokes insisted that “residents can protect their homes”.
The minister added that residents could “apply to councils to build protection works on private or public land in the same way they can for other natural hazards like flooding or bush fires”.
The alliance was concerned that the government could introduce legislation for “ambulatory boundaries”.
This would allow property boundaries to shift with nature without compensation.
The government said this was “not part of the current reforms”.