Pittwater Online News
By Miranda Korzy
If you don’t want dogs running loose on Palm Beach or Mona Vale Beach, please let the board know!
Before an off-leash trial could take place, the council was required to carry out an environmental study. The result, his Environmental Factors Review (REF), which is currently on public display. So, to help those who oppose off-leash dogs on these beaches, I’ve put together a few issues you might want to consider when writing a submission (which should only be a few sentences long.)
To make a submission see: https://yoursay.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/proposed-dog-off-leash-areas
Residents raised a series of general issues with the proposal, which I will mention below, but I will start with those I see in the REF – which is the document in question at the moment.
- I believe the board still faces a legal minefield on this proposal – as the REF illustrates. We’ve already spent about $800,000 researching off-leash dog beaches: about $700,000 in legal fees and another $100,000 in studies, public consultations, and other work toward the proposal.
However, the REF indicates the complex web of laws and regulations that the board must navigate to meet legal requirements. These include: the New South Wales Environmental Planning and Assessment Act; the Crown Land Management Act; the Pittwater Local Environmental Plan 2014; and the Pittwater Council Dog Control Policy (enacted under the Pets Act) – which bans dogs from Pittwater beaches. Governor Phillip Park’s Management Plan and Ocean Beach Management Plan will also have to be modified as part of the Local Authorities Act – and the approval of the NSW Minister of Lands and Water. (See pages 12-24.)
In short, the board can’t afford to be wrong about any of this, but still wouldn’t be safe from lawsuits and insurance claims anyway.
- I’m surprised that although the REF classifies ‘land use abutting the beach front’ at Turimetta, Bungan and Avalon beaches as ‘environmental conservation’ this has not been applied to Palm Beach North and Mona Vale South, with their vast areas of surrounding open space (See pages 10 -11).
- Under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, Section 5.5, the board has a duty “to consider and take into account to the fullest extent possible all matters affecting or likely to affect the environment as a result of this activity”.
However, migratory bird (and other wildlife) surveys were carried out at the two affected beaches only four times last December and January – so don’t consider wildlife at any other time of year ( pp 44-45). I think the REF therefore cannot reliably assess whether wildlife visits these areas outside of this summer period.
- Additionally, the report notes that “the presence of dogs was observed in both activity areas” during the sightings (p61). Local conservationists told me this means the consultants would not have seen any wildlife on these beaches during this time because the wildlife would be scared off – so any data collected would not have been reliable. Given that it is illegal for dogs to be present on these beaches at any time, it is a shame that investigations proceeded without first ensuring that the dogs were not present – and were not. not for some time.
- Accordingly, I believe that the REF’s assertion that the assessment shows that allowing off-leash dogs on Palm Beach (north) or Mona Vale (south) beaches “is not likely to affect significantly endangered species” is unreliable.
- Likewise, I believe that the traffic and parking studies carried out at the two sites were limited (P49-52). Parking in Palm Beach (North) was only studied over two days, January 27 and February 23 – and an underlying assumption was that January 27 being Australia’s public holiday, it would represent the period the busiest of the year. However, no evidence has been provided to support this assumption and I know from residents that parking is normally very scarce in Palm Beach in general. Any additional pressure on parking in Governor Phillip Park will then impact parking further south along the beach.
For Mona Vale (south), the REF does not provide any parking study and the report notes that:
“Parking in the area is heavily used by a mix of dog walkers, surfers, hospital staff, paragliders, people accessing the coastal walk and residents. The demand for parking spaces in the area is high with 90% to 95% of the spaces occupied most of the time of the day…”
Many of us who visit the area already sometimes have trouble finding a space, and the report’s statement that: “The formation of the off-leash trial area is not expected to result in any significant change to existing patronage and therefore no significant additional evidence of traffic or parking impacts are expected,” is not supported by evidence.
- The mitigation strategies suggested in the REF are likely to fail due to application issues (pp63-65). As noted, even when the REF wildlife surveys were carried out, dogs were present on the beaches, with city rangers failing to prevent this.
However, I also believe that recommendations to improve the impact of dogs have not worked elsewhere. For example, in the off-leash dog area of North Curl Curl Beach, for the first six months of this year, rangers had already conducted 75 dog patrols, recording 300 sightings over 60 hours. They had also imposed 30 fines for unchecked dogs and dogs in prohibited places. This represents an average of one fine for every two hours of patrol. You can do the math to determine the level of non-compliance even when a ranger is present. (See my June board meeting report.)
- For anyone concerned about plastic pollution at the beach, the recommendation to provide dog poo bags with trash cans will only increase the supply and the likelihood that some dog owners will drop them in nearby dunes.
- Finally, the report does not provide a framework for systematic and rigorous data collection throughout the trial period to assess the impact of free-roaming dogs on beaches. Given what I believe to be the weakness of environmental surveys in the first place, there would be no baseline against which this data could be compared anyway.
- These sites, in particular Palm Beach (North), are among the most unspoiled and secluded beaches in the city of Sydney. The northern end of Palm Beach is adjacent to Barrenjoey Headland, part of Ku-ring-gai Chase State Park. The promontory is also surrounded by an aquatic reserve extending south along Pittwater to Station Beach. No habitation is present on the isthmus, which limits wildlife disturbance and helps make it a peaceful place for humans to walk, swim, or surf.
- Local conservationists and conservationists tell me that an array of wildlife visit Palm Beach (North) in particular, including terns, turtles and tiny bats flying over the dunes.
- On Lion Island in Broken Bay – not far across the water from the headland – is a colony of Razorbills, protected in a nature reserve. Residents occasionally see penguins on local beaches (although this tends to be on the Pittwater side rather than the ocean side).
- There is also a colony of seals on the rocks at the base of Barrenjoey Headland, and seals come ashore along the northern beaches. We have a recording of an attack on one at Long Reef:
- Wildlife caregivers encourage residents to report sightings of seals hoisted onto beaches, but visits by seals and other wildlife are unpredictable and dog attacks can occur unexpectedly.
- Mona Vale Beach (south) is also relatively unspoilt and tranquil as it sits under cliffs, with a large reserve above (Robert Dunn Reserve), which itself adjoins the relatively open Mona Hospital site Vale (the nearest hospital building is a palliative care unit) and the golf course. It was originally a wetland and it is still crossed by a stream. There is therefore very little road traffic and the nearest dwellings are a significant distance away.
- Local conservationists I spoke to are opposed to the trial – or any permanent off-leash dog zones established at any of these sites. A local wildlife photographer also contacted me earlier in the year to express his concerns, saying that terns were roosting on the sand in Palm Beach (north) but their numbers were dwindling as more dogs were taken to the beach.
Crested Tern in Palm Beach, one of a pair that live here.
- The board itself says Palm Beach: “offers stunning scenery and a gorgeous beach that’s the perfect place to stroll or swim, or perch up for a picnic”. He goes on to describe the northern end as having: “Excellent surfing conditions”. I think we will have issues with bathers placing their towel or mat on dog feces – or dogs urinating on people using the beach. Yes it happens! (See: https://www.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/recreation-area/palm-beach)
- Due to the tranquil atmosphere of these two beaches, many residents choose to exercise and relax there and Palm Beach attracts many tourists. Residents tell me they’ve taken hospice patients to the edge of the dunes to look at Mona Vale Beach, but wouldn’t have done so if dogs were allowed on the beach.
- The times offered for off-leash dogs to access these beaches (before 10 a.m. in the morning and after 4 p.m. in winter/5 p.m. in summer) cover the periods of lowest UV exposure when many local residents frequent the beach – especially if they have small children or have been to work every day.
- Many residents are afraid of dogs, especially families with young children. These fears are justified as we have had multiple dog attacks on Northern beaches this year alone, including a young child assaulted at Mona Vale Beach (South) on Sunday July 17 and a man assaulted by two Alsatians on the beach at Narrabeen, the following Sunday. . Dogs are not allowed on these beaches, but some owners are willing to break the rules. A resident undergoing chemotherapy told me that an off-leash dog tried to jump on her in Mona Vale Beach (south) during a leisurely walk. When she asked the owner to call the dog, she was mistreated.
The exhibition period ends on September 9. Staff will then review the submissions and report back to Council.