State action needed to fix Stockton erosion

NSW Government action and funding are needed for a long-term solution to Stockton's worsening erosion issues. There is no quick fix to this longstanding threat, but it's now more urgent than ever – as parts of the suburb sit on the precipice.

Council took leadership on this issue, recently meeting with members of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and the NSW Government's Coastal Panel to work towards the best viable solution to protect Stockton. On Wednesday the council will hold an information session to update the community, inviting other agencies to ensure everyone is on the same page. The meeting will bring together the council, OEH, Lands and Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, Mission Australia and Hunter Water to provide an update on Newcastle's Coastal Zone Management Plan. The gathering at Stockton RSL will also canvass current erosion management issues, the childcare centre, recent repairs to the Mitchell Street seawall and remediation of the old landfill site.

The council has been calling for action at Stockton for more than a decade. A study done 10 years ago recommended an artificial headland with beach nourishment to solve the suburb's shoreline woes, but our 2009 funding request to the-then premier was met only with instruction to reconsider the proposed works. Council  reviewed all potential options in a draft Newcastle Coastal Zone Management Study, which proffered extension of the Mitchell Street seawall northward – with beach nourishment to the south – as the best financially viable solution. 

The council adopted the Newcastle Coastal Zone Management Plan in November 2016 and submitted to the Department of Planning. In it, the council identified other options to protect Stockton, including beach nourishment, an offshore breakwall, an artificial headland and an artificial reef.

But the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) rejected the plan, citing the need for a cost-benefit analysis and further interaction with other government agencies.

This leaves us in a tough position as a council because the cost of a genuine long-term solution is beyond the revenues of a local government.

These are complex issues that need a collaborative approach from all levels of government together with the community.

Meanwhile, the most recent incidence of erosion has forced Stockton Early Learning Centre operator Mission Australia to dramatically reduce its play area. Last month's weather event also exposed a new environmental hazard in the old tip at what used to be Hunter Water's Stockton sewage treatment plan.

While we are frustrated by the lack of action, we will continue to work with OEH, the community and researchers to find the best technical and most cost-effective solution. 

I assure the people of Stockton that the council is doing all it can. After the June 2016 east coast low, when access ways between the surf club and the breakwater and dune vegetation were destroyed, we rolled up our sleeves. The rock seawall and dune we built to protect assets stood up to last month's worrying events.

The Mitchell Street seawall was built from 1989 to 1990 in partnership with the state government and a sandbag seawall was formed in front of the surf club in 1996 (both were repaired in 2010). 

In 2009, a large sand nourishment program was undertaken with the Port of Newcastle, when clean sand dredged from the mouth of the Hunter River was placed off Stockton Beach.

Council has an ongoing partnership with the port to continue this.

As all this shows, we've long been doing our bit for Stockton. And we will continue to fight for a long-term solution.

Nuatali Nelmes is the Lord Mayor of Newcastle