WSL withdraws support for Bells pathway

October 8, 2020 BY

A concept image of the elevated pathway at Bells Beach.

THE World Surf League (WSL) has dropped its support for a proposed elevated timber pathway at Winkipop.

The proposed pathway is part of the Surf Coast Shire council’s Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve Coastal and Marine Management Plan 2015-25 (CMMP), which suggests replacing the existing concrete pathway.

At its November 2019 meeting, the council acknowledged community concerns about the pathway, particularly its perceived intrusion on the natural environment. The council decided to install a temporary pathway of similar dimensions for the 2020 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and reassess whether to build a permanent structure later, but these plans were delayed when the event was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio was still required to sign off on the CMMP (which included the pathway) but due to its contentious nature, Ms D’Ambrosio decided to refer the proposed pathway to the Great Ocean Road Region Standing Advisory Committee (GORRSAC).

It was at the recent public hearing held by GORRSAC that the WSL stated it no longer supported the pathway.

Surfrider Foundation Surf Coast branch secretary Darren Noyes-Brown welcomed the WSL withdrawing its support.

“They’ve seen the social media Surfrider Foundation has been doing, basically calling out the World Surf League for wanting to build this permanent infrastructure on Crown land when they’re a privately owned overseas company and it’s against the community’s wishes.”

Mr Noyes-Brown said he hoped the council and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) would similarly change their stance.

“They haven’t been listening to the community at all. They’ve been pushing ahead in the face of all this community opposition.”

A DELWP spokesperson said they appreciated the importance of the decision.

“Bells Beach is a national icon and heritage listed, and it’s critical to take the appropriate time to get the right outcome.”

The Surf Coast Shire council conducted surveys on the proposed pathway in both 2018 and 2019, receiving 502 and 379 respondents, respectively.

Most respondents to the 2018 survey were either neutral or in favour of the proposed pathway. However, most the respondents of the 2019 survey were opposed to it.

The shire’s general manager of environment and development Ransce Salan said the council would also be speaking at the hearing.

“Council officers accepted GORRSAC’s invitation to participate in its review of this matter. Council will then await the Minister’s decision, once she has considered GORRSAC’s advice.”

GORRSAC is set to deliver an assessment of the proposed pathway to Ms D’Ambrosio by the end of October.