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NSW Coastline Management Manual

New South Wales Government
September 1990

ISBN 0730575063

Section 3: The Management System


Implementation of the Coastline Hazard Policy generally involves the formulation and execution of a coastline management plan. Such a plan should ensure that:


The steps involved and issues to be considered in formulating a coastline management plan are depicted in Figure 3.1. In broad terms they include:

The development and implementation of a coastline management plan is the responsibility of local councils with the assistance of relevant Government agencies. Figure 3.1 provides a ready reference to the interrelationships between the various elements of the management system.

Figure 3.1 Elements of the Coastline Management System


Sec. 3.3



Waves, Storms, Water Levels, Currents, Sediment Transport, Dunes, Entrances, Climate Change


Erosion, Recession, Entrance Hazard, Sand Drift, Inundation, Slope Stability, Stormwater, Climate Change

Sec. 3.4


Sec. 3.5


Sec. 3.6



Sec. 3.7


It is unlikely that any council will have a sufficiently high level of experience and expertise in all the diverse areas of consideration required for coastline management. Consequently, the experience of state authorities in the fields of coastal engineering, planning and dune management will be available to councils.

Given the complexity and range of issues involved in the development of a coastline management plan, the most appropriate means of coordinating and disseminating advice is through a coastline management committee. Such committees would be formed by councils.

The principal role of the committee should be to assist council in the development and implementation of a coastline management plan. In addition, the committee could also assist in:

Membership of a committee should involve a balance of community and technical interests, including elected members of council, council staff, local community representatives, planners from the Department of Planning, coastal engineers from the Public Works Department and officers from the Soil Conservation Service. Officers from other Government agencies/departments may be included on the committee if required or called upon for ad hoc assistance.

As the responsibility for planning matters lies with the council, the committee should report either to council or to an appropriate council committee. In certain cases, joint committees may need to be formed by neighbouring councils.


3.4.1 Process Studies

The coastline of New South Wales is subject to a variety of interacting processes that affect water levels and beach profiles. These processes are described in detail in Appendix B.

A coastal process study is the formal starting point of any hazard management program, and involves a comprehensive technical assessment of the processes that affect the coastal area of interest. The scope of a coastal process study may be local or regional in extent. This will determine the degree of involvement and responsibility of a single council.

The first stage of such a study is usually the collection of a wide variety of data, together with the analysis of data already to hand. The continuing collection of statewide coastal data such as wave and wind statistics will remain a State Government responsibility.

3.4.2 Hazard Definition Studies

Coastal processes give rise to a variety of coastline hazards that can damage or destroy coastal developments and coastline amenity. One important outcome of a coastal process study will be the identification of the most important processes and their associated hazards. This will form the basis of the resulting hazard definition study.

The following seven hazards occur along the NSW coastline and are described in detail in Appendix C:

While the two major categories of the coastline are beaches and cliffs, for the purpose of discussing management options it has been convenient to adopt three classifications: Sandy Beaches, Coastal Bluffs and Rocky Sea Cliffs. Appendix C10 indicates the types of hazards that may affect these coastal classifications.

The hazard definition study will specifically identify hazards threatening a particular area of the coast and will quantify these hazards and their effects. For example, the landward limit of the active beach zone, the rate of recession, etc. Table 3.1 indicates the information to be supplied by hazard definition studies.

Table 3.1

Information to be Supplied by the Hazard Definition Study

Hazard Information Required (As appropriate)
Beach Erosion Landward limit of active beach zone for design storm(s).
Shoreline Recession Long term average rate of shoreline recession/accretion.
Entrance Instability An assessment of the past behaviour of untrained and trained entrances and likely future problems under design storm and flood conditions.
Sand Drift A survey of the extent and current state of sand dunes, including dune vegetation, existing and potential future problems, adequacy of current management practices.
Coastal Inundation The super elevation of the sea surface for design storm conditions; the extent of coastal inundation.
Slope Instability A general survey of likely slope stability problems along the coastline. Ideally, classification into "Problem", "Possible Problem" and "No Problem" areas.
Stormwater Erosion A survey of current stormwater disposal practices and identification of existing or possible future problems.


3.5.1 Management Study

Having defined the type, nature and significance of coastline hazards of relevance to the area of interest, a coastline management study is next undertaken to identify options relevant to the environmental planning and management of the coastal area. The management study should consider all feasible management options.

The study should comprehensively assess the social, economic, aesthetic, recreational and ecological issues associated with land use along the coastline, in addition to coastline hazards, e.g. implications of existing land tenure and planning controls, the creation of new jobs, the preservation of areas of aesthetic or ecological significance, the protection or enhancement of recreational amenity, exploitation and management of tourism opportunities, etc.

It is recommended that having identified broad options the sensitivity of each be tested in respect to possible future climate change scenarios based on information available at the time of the study. (See Section 3.5.8).

3.5.2 Ownership Considerations and Extent of Study Area

Tenure will markedly affect the coastline planning, management and development options and opportunities open to Local Government. Key areas of concern include:

To provide an information base for the coastline management plan and to delineate those areas to be subject to the plan, it is recommended that a map be compiled displaying tenure in key categories. These categories would include:

(I) National Park, Nature Reserve and State Recreation Area (under the administration and management of the National Parks and Wildlife Service);

(ii) Crown lands, reserved, dedicated, leased or otherwise vacant (under the administration and management of the Department of Lands and/or Council and/or private trustees);

(iii) Other publicly owned lands (e.g. council land, Public Works Department depots for port facilities); and

(iv) Freehold tenure.

It will be useful also to include on the tenure map (or as an overlay), the land use zones in the existing planning scheme to enable a review to be made of suitability of the existing zones.

By reference to the tenure map and with due consideration to coastal processes, social and economic issues, aesthetic and ecological factors and recreational amenity, the area subject to the coastline management study can be determined. It is recommended that this be a zone of variable width to include both marine and terrestrial areas about the shoreline.

While the marine area is not subject to a council's planning control it is important to consider all those waters and submerged lands where existing and proposed human activities may impact upon the shoreline and its immediate environments.

The terrestrial areas would generally include all marine-derived coastal dunes, headlands and associated waterbodies where existing and proposed human activities may impact upon the shoreline and its immediate environs. Terrestrial areas for consideration under the coastline management plan may be extended beyond the area of direct hazard to include all relevant Crown lands within which coastline related uses and recreational activities are undertaken or are proposed (e.g. day use parks, caravan parks and other accommodation centres, access and related infrastructure).

3.5.3 Aesthetic and Ecological Factors

The coastline can contain a wide variety of unique aesthetic and ecological elements.

From a scenic viewpoint, there may be spectacular vistas, areas of high relief and dramatic landforms, zones of varied, interesting and important vegetation, aboriginal sites, items of cultural significance, etc. It is essential that such aspects be identified and assessed as part of the management study.

With respect to coastal ecology, there may be special areas and fragile environments of native flora and fauna. An important part of the coastline management study will be an expert analysis of the ecology of the coastline, and if appropriate, its hinterland. The objectives of such an analysis are to:

In the preparation of any management plan, it is vital that the hazardous area is not considered in isolation, but as an integral component of a larger ecological system.

Particular consideration should be given to the environmental consequences of proposed measures and to the requirement of Section 112 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979, namely that an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared where significant adverse environmental effect is likely.

3.5.4 Recreational Amenity

Many of the State's beaches are heavily used for public recreation. Like many natural things, beaches are dynamic and everchanging in nature; certain elements of their composition can be very fragile.

The recreational amenity that beaches provide the community is dependent on many things including access, scenic vistas and the presence of a sandy foreshore. One fragile component of many such beaches is the store of sand held in sand dunes at the rear of the beach and protected by dunal vegetation. Ensuring the long term viability of such dune systems, through sound planning and physical management, is a vital element in beach protection.

Beach systems can be badly damaged by the very recreational patronage they attract, by unsympathetic development and through poorly planned or designed beach amenities, e.g. shops, toilet blocks, etc. To account for such concerns, it is necessary to address recreational demands and opportunities in the management study and to identify areas in need of planning or works assistance.

3.5.5 Dedication of Public Lands

Under the NSW Coast: Government Policy, the Government will ensure that:

Given that the beach is an active zone and can change position over time that area to be dedicated from within the existing Crown land resource may be substantial and will vary from embayment to embayment.

As part of a Coastline Management Plan it is suggested that recommendations be made to the Department of Lands specifying those areas of Crown land which should be dedicated for the multiple purposes of public recreation, access and environmental protection. The extent of such an area will depend on the Crown land resource available, the coastal behaviour identified within the Coastal Process and Hazard Definition Studies (Section 3.4) and the various issues regarding beach use and amenity (Section 3.5). Prior to any development or reservation/dedication of Crown Lands, a full land assessment will be required under the Crown Lands Act, 1989.

Given the dynamic nature of the beach and the varied history of land title in NSW, some areas below high water may already be held under freehold title. Wherever possible, title searches should be undertaken with the assistance of the Department of Lands and the Land Titles Office to determine the extent of private ownership.

It is recommended that all land that falls below high water, whatever the title, must be regarded as accessible to the public until such time as the beach is dedicated by the Crown and compensation paid to previous land owners under the land acquisition scheme. These matters will need to be addressed within the Coastline Management Plan.

3.5.6 Social Issues

The coastal zone is used by the community for a variety of different purposes. These include active and passive recreation, tourism, and as a place in which to live and work. The social issues associated with existing community uses and proposed future uses, (e.g. increased residential use, job creation), need to be carefully identified and assessed as part of the management study.

One important social issue is the disruption associated with the aftermath of a coastline hazard event. This may include financial loss, inconvenience, isolation, structural damage and any resulting psychological disturbances or physical ill health.

The social disruption caused by coastline hazards is a significant effect to be considered in emergency, contingency and recovery plans. Loss of life through coastline hazards has not been significant in Australia, but the risk is always present.

3.5.7 Economic Issues

Many existing and proposed coastal developments are of major economic importance to the local government area. They may create both temporary and permanent jobs, increase council revenue from rates, and attract considerable tourist expenditure to the area. Any increase or decrease in the local economy likely to accompany coastal development needs to be identified in the management study. The liability of council in respect of maintenance, future damage or damage prevention also needs to be considered.

The economics of any proposed hazard avoidance or mitigation options will need to be assessed in respect of existing development. This is usually done by conventional cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness procedures. An option may often be found to be "uneconomic" in straight cost benefit terms. However, such analyses ignore human "costs", such as the anxiety and resultant ill health caused by living under threat of and experiencing coastline hazards.

An economic analysis will also need to consider the value of not developing an area and of maintaining a natural coastline. Few, if any, analyses in the past have assessed the value or benefits of a natural coastline open to free use by the whole community. These benefits include environmental and wildlife values, wilderness values, social health values and psychological values.

3.5.8 Climate Change : Planning Under Uncertainty

Having considered the range of management options which might be applied to an area, and before attempting to make a final selection of the most appropriate, the impact of likely variations in assumptions made and of possible climatic changes should be considered. The sea level rise that might accompany atmospheric changes is the most discussed but is only one of a number of uncertain factors that might affect the implementation of a particular management strategy. In respect of climate change there is no current engineering basis for the adoption of a particular scenario, but the effects of any chosen scenarios can be assessed.

The variations in possible scenarios that might be considered is largely a matter of sound planning judgement. The Government will continue to monitor the results of scientific research and will make available to councils the most up to date assessment of the position at any given time.

The preparation of a coastline management plan is made difficult by uncertainties in the estimates of coastal processes and their hazards and by uncertain future conditions, e.g. the magnitude of any postulated future sea level rise. Appendix D7 discusses "Planning under Uncertainty" and provides examples of "robust" planning decisions that remain viable when the actual outcome of uncertain factors is more extreme than assumed in planning studies.


The primary objectives of a management plan are to ensure compatibility with hazards, to reduce the impact of hazards on individual owners and occupiers, to reduce private and public losses from hazard damage, to protect and enhance the recreational amenity of beaches, and to ensure an appropriate long term balance in the utilisation and conservation of the coastline.

The development of a coastline management plan requires that a number of diverse considerations be taken into account, including:

Having identified all issues of relevance to the area of coastline being studied, having considered these issues in terms of management objectives, and having weighed up all management options, the findings of the coastline management study next need to be incorporated in a coastline management plan.

A coastline management plan describes how the coastline will be used and managed to achieve defined objectives. Such plans may include:

In essence, there are three means of managing coastline hazards:

  1. environmental planning measures to ensure development is not unnecessarily sited in hazardous locations;
  2. development control plans and development conditions on individual projects and sites to ensure that developments and potential damage are compatible with hazard risk; and
  3. the use of structural controls and dune management to protect against hazards.

These management methods are discussed in detail in Appendix D. Environmental planning measures are of use in seeking to avoid the growth in potential damage associated with future developments. Development conditions are of use in limiting the damage associated with new development in zoned areas and redevelopments. Structural controls are generally more relevant to existing properties at risk.

In addition to consideration of the impact of hazards on developments, a management plan must also take into account social, aesthetic, recreational and ecological issues. Environmental planning controls and development conditions will play the major role in achieving desired objectives with regard to these issues. However, structural and dune management works will also have a place in the protection of beaches and dunes. On occasions, works may also be required to provide security to delicate ecological features along the coastline, e.g. where such features are threatened by the instability of sand dunes.

A coastline management plan should have the knowledge and support of the whole community. It is advisable that councils actively involve representatives of the public, in the preparation and review of the plan. Irrespective of any statutory requirements, the plan should be exhibited and public comment should be sought and taken into account before the plan is finalised and adopted.


Until a coastline management plan is formulated and adopted, it is desirable that a council adopt and implement measures to contain growth of any problems.

Once a coastline management plan has been adopted, the next step in the management system is its implementation. Council can use a variety of approaches to implement various elements of the plan. These include:

Certain components can be implemented quickly, such as development and building controls, hazard education, public awareness and dune management programs.

Local Environmental Plans offer one of the most effective methods of limiting the development of coastal land and avoiding the losses and problems caused by hazard events. Councils are encouraged to incorporate elements of their coastline management plan into a Local Environmental Plan (see Appendix D3).

It is unlikely that any management plan could be implemented immediately in its entirety. For example, availability of funding will determine when certain options can be implemented (e.g. structural measures, voluntary purchase of property). Consequently, a strategy needs to be developed to implement the plan over time. The strategy should include the staging of components that are dependent on availability of funds, the adoption of interim measures, protection priorities, etc.

If a council seeks Government financial assistance in the implementation of a coastline management plan, it will be required to provide amongst other things, advice on the procedures followed in seeking public comment, the nature of the submissions received and the actions taken to minimise adverse environmental impacts. A copy of the council's resolution in approving the plan will also be required.