One of the world’s leading experts on beaches has written to Newcastle City Council deriding its plans for a skate bowl on the sand at South Newcastle as “unsightly, inappropriate and hazardous”.
Professor Andrew Short, a Sydney University coastal geomorphologist who has written 12 books and hundreds of scientific papers on beaches, said in his letter last week that the skate bowl would “substantially increase public risk” and “substantially degrade” public amenity.
“It would be very irresponsible of the council to go ahead with such a hazardous and ill-conceived development,” Professor Short wrote.
His view was backed by Peter Evans, a coastal engineer with 39 years’ experience in NSW government agencies, who told the Newcastle Herald that the project was “wrong on so many levels”.
Mr Evans, who spent the last 20 years of his career based in Newcastle and retired in July as a senior team leader with the Office of Environment and Heritage, said in a Herald opinion column that the plan to put a skate bowl on the beach had left the coastal management profession “incredulous”.
“The proposal was the subject of much discussion at the NSW Coastal Conference held in Merimbula in November,” he said.
“I find it hard to comprehend how it has progressed as far as it has. It is clear that those responsible for coastal management within council have not been consulted at any point during project development.”
Mr Evans, whose job was to help councils manage their coasts, said Newcastle council was relying on a “first-pass assessment” from consultants which “did not purport to be a design report and did not seek to justify the proposal”.
The Coastal Management Act aimed to protect and preserve beaches, and it was “hard to see how a legitimate consent could be granted for this development”.
“The Bathers Way project is an excellent initiative … it would be a shame if it were to be marred by this ill-conceived proposal,” he said.
Professor Short, who has visited all of Australia’s 11,000 beaches, told the Newcastle Herald that he had never seen a proposal to build such a structure on a beach.
“The only other structures that cross a beach, to my knowledge, are stormwater pipes, and they were done in the past more than the present,” he said.
The council announced in June an $11 million overhaul of Bathers Way at South Newcastle beach, including a kiosk, an outdoor gym and a skate bowl protruding about 20 metres onto the sand. The project has attracted a $5 million grant from the NSW government.
The skate bowl sparked a quick backlash from some sections of the community, including local surfers, and Surfrider Foundation Australia placed South Newcastle on its “endangered waves” register.
Professor Short said he had been to South Newcastle many times, mapped it and written about it.
“I know the beach quite well, and I’m familiar with its history, like what happened in the ’74 storm when the whole beach got taken away,” he said.
“I’ve seen the plans; it’s only the skate bowl I’m opposed to.
“The overall concept is good, but the way the skate bowl protrudes onto a public beach in a location which is very hazardous, both to the bowl itself and to people walking along the beach where there’s waves washing against the bowl, I think it’s an inappropriate type of sporting structure to have on a public beach.
“I’ve done a lot of work with Surf Life Saving Australia on beach safety, so I’m familiar with the impact of structures on public safety as well. In large seas, that would be a hazard to anyone walking along the beach.”
He said the bowl would “essentially cut the beach in half”, impede lifeguards’ views of the southern end of the beach, increase beach erosion and be subject to “direct wave attack”.
The council has said other skate parks, including at Bondi and Alexandra Headland, cope with similar seaside conditions, but Professor Short said he was “not aware of any that are permanent structures on a public beach in Australia”.
“The Bondi one is up in the park; it’s nowhere near the beach,” he said.
“I know of no other skate bowl on a beach.
“There’s some in parks behind the beach, like Bondi, up high and dry, well behind the sea wall.”
The Alexandra Headland skate park is also in a park beside the beach.
The council said in June that coastal engineers had used 25 years of wave data to ensure the skate park would withstand heavy storms, and chief executive officer Jeremy Bath said three years of “meticulous design work” had gone into the plans.
I find it hard to comprehend how it has progressed as far as it has.Peter Evans, retired government coastal engineer
The council’s infrastructure director noted in a report to councillors in October that removing the skate bowl from the design would risk the $5 million in state funding and future funding opportunities. The council is also chasing state and federal grants for the next stage of Bathers Way, which includes rebuilding Newcastle surf club.
The infrastructure director said investigating changes would cost about $75,000 in consultancy fees, and changing the design would cost $300,000 in new documentation and delay the project by at least six months.
The council voted in October to “review and finalise” a coastal engineering report for the project and has hosted four drop-in consultation sessions this month.
Newcastle Surf Life Saving Club president Brad Kinniard said his club's stance was that the council could “develop your heart away” at South Newcastle “but stay off the beach”.