THE HERALD'S OPINION: Council says Nobbys change rooms axed to protect children

EVER since details of the $1-million upgrade of the Nobbys Beach pavilion began to circulate through the beach-going community, Newcastle City Council appears to have been repeatedly warned that its decision to remove communal change rooms from the historic 1931 building would not go down well with the public.

But the lifesavers and lifeguards who tried to alert the decision-makers were apparently told it was none of their business, and to leave the matter with the council.

Even with the heritage-linked space constraints in the building, it seemed an odd thing to do – to remove a dedicated changing area when the very act of going to the beach, even in this age of casual dress, usually involves getting out of clothes and into swimmers, and back again.

There was no shortage of angry beach-goers on Nobbys on Tuesday, and nothing the Newcastle Herald could see in the way of signs to explain where the change rooms had gone.

There were rumours on the beach that the communal change rooms had been axed because of concerns over paedophilia, and when we approached the council, it confirmed that the safety of children was indeed a major concern, with council chief executive Jeremy Bath saying the need to protect children from being “inappropriately touched or photographed” meant the “days of the communal change room at Nobbys are gone forever”.

Mr Bath also said that “extensive public consultation found people felt getting more toilets into the existing space was more important than individual change cubicles”.

Whatever the outcome of the public consultation, it is surely unrealistic – in this age or any other – to expect people to change in and out of their clothes in a public toilet, even if that toilet is cleaned twice a day as the council promises.

And if the need to protect children from abuse is the major concern, then there are other ways around that problem. 

As one Nobbys regular said on Tuesday: “We’ve all seen what the Royal Commission found, but the response wasn’t to close churches, was it? So why are they doing this?”

The Newcastle Herald accepts that there limitations on the Nobbys site, but a project that starts with a fatal flaw –  the lack of a sensible changing area – will still be fatally flawed when the work is finished.

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