Aboriginal Land Council wins claim on Red Rock reserve
A TWENTY-year court battle over the future of Red Rock beach is nearing its end after Coffs Harbour's Aboriginal Land Council won its fight to claim much of the surrounding reserve.
The ALC first launched a claim for a section of the land, which takes in the 3.7km stretch of Red Rock beach, in 1993.
There were concerns sand dunes were being impacted by off-road driving and the natural reserve would be earmarked for development.
For almost 16 years, the application remained in limbo until it was formally refused in 2009 by the minister on the grounds the land was likely to be needed for "essential public purposes". This included recreation, public access and coastal and environment protection by the Department of Planning.
When the ALC appealed the decision, the courts were given the unenviable task of wading through almost two decades worth of land act changes and a bundle of documents scattered between government offices at Grafton and Coffs Harbour.
To add to the confusion, many of the documents that should have been tendered as evidence about the implementation of the 1990 Coastal Policy had been the property of the now defunct Ulmarra Shire Council.
When the NSW Land and Environment Court called for the documents to be made available, the Crown solicitor was told "they must be with the Clarence Valley Council".
He was later referred to the Coffs Harbour Council but eventually it was discovered that the majority of documents obtained from the former Ulmarra council were "housed in a shipping container in a paddock" and the Clarence council believed it "would be a big job to try and access the shipping container because it is full".
Justice Craig admitted he was left to "guess" what some of the documents might have contained.
Another issue to consider was that Red Rock now came under an 80km stretch of the coast between Sawtell and north of Corindi, which was declared a Crown Reserve in 2008.
Ultimately, Justice Craig found that the fact the land was reserved was not, of itself, "a bar to a land claim".
He also found that other than proposal for a sewage treatment plant, which was later withdrawn, there had been no applications for works to be carried out in the area of interest.
He allowed the ALC appeal on the grounds the minister had not "discharged the onus" of establishing the land was likely to be needed for recreation or environment works.
The ALC has agreed to allow public access to the beach.
The scope of that access and the activities that will be able to be carried out at the reserve are yet to be determined.
Final orders on the case are expected to be made in the next week.