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NSW Coastline Management Manual

New South Wales Government
September 1990

ISBN 0730575063

Section 1: Introduction


The coastline of New South Wales is a major element in the geographic, recreational, commercial and ecological fabric of the State. It is an area of unparalleled beauty, characterised by small pocket beaches bounded by rocky headlands in the south, and sweeping beaches of golden sand in the north. Coastal areas are major destinations for local, national and international tourists. More than 80% of the State's population lives and works along the eastern seaboard.

The coastline is under constant attack from the natural forces of wind and waves. In response to these processes, the coastline is ever changing: beaches and sand dunes erode and are rebuilt in response to wave action; sand dunes can migrate inland in response to wind attack; many sections of the coastline are receding and moving inland at significant rates. Man's activities in the coastal zone can exacerbate these processes.

The coastline can be a hazardous area to develop. Coastal properties may be at risk from beach erosion, shoreline recession, coastal inundation, sand drift and other hazards.

There are increasing pressures to develop coastal areas for tourism, residential, commercial, and recreational purposes. Not only is the pressure for coastal developments continuing, but the nature of such developments is changing. Modest weekend cottages are giving way to substantial brick homes and there is a growing trend towards the development of major coastal resorts that provide total holiday packages.

Coastline hazards are not a minor problem. Beach erosion accompanying storms of the early 1970's caused the loss of 20 houses and other assets valued at many millions of dollars along the central and north coasts. In addition, coastal communities suffered significant social and commercial disruption.

Studies in 1985 indicated that in New South Wales property worth $500 million could be exposed to coastline hazards during the next 30 to 50 years. The potential damage value, already greatly in excess of the 1985 figure because of property value increases, may escalate rapidly if appropriate planning and development control measures are not instituted. Moreover, the detrimental impacts of coastline hazards could be intensified if the global climate changes postulated to accompany the greenhouse effect eventuate.

New South Wales can ill afford the social and financial disruption associated with placing this level of development at unnecessary risk.


The coastline of New South Wales is used by various groups in society for a variety of different purposes. Aesthetic, recreational and ecological attributes are important factors in coastal amenity and use, as is the growing role of the tourist industry in economic and employment issues.

While management of the coastal area is primarily the responsibility of local councils, a number of Government agencies are responsible for policies relating to the coast and its environs.

In 1973, concern with the development and use of coastal lands led the New South Wales Government to introduce the Coastal Lands Protection Scheme. Under this scheme, 13,000ha of environmentally important coastal lands have been put into public ownership and in addition some 14,500ha of private coastal land is now subject to strict planning controls.

In 1975, the Government established the Beach Improvement Program. Under this program, funds were provided to assist councils to protect and enhance heavily used recreational beaches and their associated sand dune systems. Over the past 14 years, some $20 million has been spent on such work at popular beaches adjacent to centres of urban population.

In 1979 two legislative initiatives relevant to coastal management were enacted.

In 1988 the Government adopted the Coastline Hazard Policy. The objective of the Policy is to reduce the impact of coastal hazards on individual owners and occupiers of coastal lands, thus reducing public and private losses and to ensure that future development is compatible with the hazards. The Policy will be implemented through the Coastline Hazard Program (incorporating the former Beach Improvement Program) and by the production of this Manual, which will assist in the task of managing the coastline.

In 1990, the Government released the NSW Coast: Government Policy addressing a range of issues including coastline hazard management.


Works can be built to protect existing developments at risk. However, it has been recognised for some time that future increases in coastal damage can only be contained by ensuring that new developments take coastline hazards into account. In particular, it is essential that the type, location and construction of new developments are consistent with the risk and impact of the hazards. This can be achieved through various management options including effective land use zoning, the imposition of building conditions, dune management and the construction of appropriate protective works as part of the development.

A wide range of issues, interests and constraints affect planning and management of the coastline, of which coastline hazards is but one. Decisions relating to the management of coastline hazards should be made with reference to all relevant Government policies and other factors that affect coastal amenity and use. Social, economic, aesthetic, recreational and ecological factors all need to be considered.

The interrelated and sometimes conflicting nature of many of these issues, together with the different options for hazard management, indicate the need for an integrated approach to environmental planning and hazard management on the coastline.

Such an approach has not been successfully undertaken in the past because:

Fig 1.1 Storm waves, Narrabeen Beach, Sydney, 1976 (Courtesy of Dr A Short)

Figure 1.1 Storm waves, Narrabeen Beach Sydney, 1976 (Courtesy of Dr. A Short)


The integration of engineering and planning factors into coastline management plans is a complex process. Under its Coastline Hazard Policy, the State Government will make available specialist advice from various departments and authorities to assist councils in this matter. In particular, the principal relevant authorities and their areas of speciality are:


This Manual has been prepared to assist local councils in developing balanced plans of management for the coastline. It is also aimed at providing information to assist present and potential users and occupiers of the coastline understand the nature of coastline hazards and the options available for their management. The body of the Manual outlines the management system which is advocated in the Coastline Hazard Policy and which is the central issue in meeting the objective of the legislation proposed to provide councils with exculpation from liability. This section also provides a summary of the management options available to deal with coastline hazards and their relevance in two broad scenarios, namely in areas of "low" and "high" development.

Appendix A sets out the Policy as adopted by the Government.

Appendices B and Appendices C provide some background material on coastal processes and the hazards which may arise as a result. These appendices are not intended to be comprehensive or unduly rigorous. On occasions strict interpretations may have been sacrificed for simplicity of presentation. It is not intended that the material in these sections be a substitute for the carrying out of appropriate investigations or for the seeking of expert advice.

Appendix D provides details of a range of options which may be considered in developing the appropriate management strategy for an area of coast. No such list will be exhaustive nor can every possible circumstance be discussed. More often than not a combination of options will provide the optimum solution. The Manual should be considered the starting point for thinking about solutions to coastline hazard problems rather than a document that will provide an answer in each case.