At its November meeting Surf Coast Shire Council adopted an updated version of the Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve Coastal and Marine Management Plan 2015-25.
In adopting the updated plan Council resolved to not proceed yet with a proposed elevated walkway following feedback received through the 2019 engagement period.
Under the Victorian Government’s Marine and Coastal Act, Council is required to update the plan every five years.
Given the current plan was developed to provide management direction for the Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve for 10 years only a minor update was required.
Prior to updating the plan Council undertook a survey of users of the Bells Beach reserve in July and August 2019, which attracted 502 respondents.
This feedback informed development of a draft plan which was placed on public exhibition in August and September 2019 and drew 379 survey respondents and six written submissions.
The draft plan proposed four updates:
- Clearer acknowledgement of the Wadawurrung as the Traditional Owners of Bells Beach and improved sharing of Wadawurrung history and knowledge.
- Upgraded stormwater pits in the Winki Pop and Hammerhead car parks to improve stormwater management.
- Changing the steeply sloping gravel pathway and wider gravel picnic area near the Hammerhead car park to a more stable surface.
- Installation of an elevated timber pathway to replace a section of degraded concrete pathway leading to the Winki Pop lookout.
Feedback on the proposal to further acknowledge Wadawurrung culture at the site was overwhelmingly supportive.
There was general support to upgrade the stormwater pits provided the replacements did not alter the appearance of the site.
The proposed change to the sloping gravel path and picnic area near the Hammerhead carpark received mixed feedback with one third of 2019 survey respondents saying they could live with the change and one third in opposition.
The fourth proposal – to build an elevated timber pathway to replace a degraded concrete pathway at Winki Pop also received mixed feedback. In 2018 there was broad community support but in the 2019 survey just over half the respondents did not support the proposal.
Taking into account feedback from both phases of the community engagement along with technical and environmental factors Council will proceed with the first three proposals but will not yet proceed with a proposal to build an elevated walkway.
Cr David Bell who is a member of the Bells Beach Task Force said Council had taken into account feedback received on the walkway proposal.
“Council is aware the elevated walkway has attracted opposition from members of the community, who have raised concerns about the visual impact of such a structure.
“We will take on board these concerns and not proceed with a permanent structure at this time.
We will seek to use the 2020 Rip Curl Pro as an opportunity to install a temporary structure at a similar height as the proposed permanent structure – which would be lower than the temporary structure installed at the site during previous editions of the Rip Curl Pro.
“Whilst this will be a temporary installation it will help people visualise the proposal and provide an avenue for further feedback on the idea.
“Bells has a spiritual significance for many and as the management body for the site we are fully aware of our duty as guardians to preserve the qualities that make it such a special location.
“People can be reassured the updates to the management plan do not represent a change in this philosophy.
Cr Bell said the community feedback about Waddawurrung heritage was encouraging.
“87 per cent of survey respondents understood that the Wadawurrung are the Traditional Owners of Bells Beach and it’s gratifying to see people are clearly keen to learn more,” he said.
“We’ve added specific mention of Wadawurrung in the overall vision, translated the vision and provided an acknowledgment in Wadawurrung language and will work with the Wadawurrung to better incorporate the Wadawurrung story into the reserve,” Cr Bell said.
The Council will now write to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change for formal approval of the Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve Coastal and Marine Management Plan 2015-25.