Battlelines drawn as Palm Beach is split over plans for an off-leash dog beach

 

Source: Manly Daily

Battlelines drawn as Palm Beach is split over plans for an off-leash dog beach

Tensions are rising over plans for a dog beach at picture perfect Palm Beach. The tranquillity of the beachside suburb has been rocked with rival groups at loggerheads. One group has even hired the PR guru behind the Yes campaign.


Caitlin Harbot, 11, with Myffy the Labrador at Station Beach, opposite Palm Beach, which supporters are hoping will become an off-leash dog area. Picture: Dylan Robinson

Caitlin Harbot, 11, with Myffy the Labrador at Station Beach, opposite Palm Beach, which supporters are hoping will become an off-leash dog area. Picture: Dylan Robinson

It is one of the most idyllic spots in Sydney with some of the country’s most expensive real estate.

But there is trouble brewing in picture-perfect Palm Beach. And it is all over a proposed dog beach.

Northern Beaches Council is planning to turn Station Beach, which is on the Pittwater side of the suburb, into an off-leash zone.

The vocal Pittwater Unleashed group is backing the plan stating there is nowhere nearby for dogs to run free.

However, rival organisation Protect Palm Beach (PPB) say it will destroy the area’s natural beauty and result in dog attacks.

Members of the Protect Palm Beach group including Mr Kovacs, who is back row, third from left.

Members of the Protect Palm Beach group including Mr Kovacs, who is back row, third from left.

The groups have been at loggerheads for months.

It has become so febrile that PPB has even hired the services of PR guru Clint McGilvray, who helped mastermind the 2017 Yes Campaign.

“It has become very personal, it is not nice,” PPB’s Richard Kovacs said.

Mitch Geddes, from Pittwater Unleashed, said his group speaks for the majority of locals.

“They are not representative of the people here,” he said.

Tensions have been rising and with council set to decide on the proposal in August, matters are coming to a head.

The issue has its foundations back in 2003 when council closed Careel Bay to dogs.

Mitch Geddes with his dog Cooper. Picture: Adam Yip

Mitch Geddes with his dog Cooper. Picture: Adam Yip

It was done on the proviso another suitable off-leash area in the vicinity was found.

However, it was another four years before Station Beach was first mooted.

For years there was little progress until last June when council looked at it again in earnest.

It then went out for public consultation with the majority of respondents in favour of the proposal.

For PPB the main issue is the protection of sea grass, which is located just metres off the beach.

“It is like our coral reef,” Mr Kovacs, who has a home near the beach, said.

“It houses many juvenile fish species and is an important breeding ground. The potential for damage to the sea grass is very worrying.”

His group claims that a recent independent environmental report indicates 2.5 metre high markers should be installed along the beach to mark out the location of the sea grass.

The image produced by PPB showing markers they claim will have to be installed.

The image produced by PPB showing markers they claim will have to be installed.

“They are going to be very ugly, they are going to ruin the look of the place.”

His group has even commissioned and published an artist’s impression of what they claim the markers will look like.

However, Pittwater Unleashed say the markers will not be needed and the image is misleading.

“It is a non-issue,” Mr Geddes said. “They are latching on to this but it is not going to happen.

“It is misleading people.”

The report, which is thought will largely shape council’s decision, concludes there are several potential environmental risks. However, it states they can be managed through “mitigation measures”.

PR man Clint McGilvray has been hired by the PPB group.

PR man Clint McGilvray has been hired by the PPB group.

Richard Kovacs, pictured back in 2007. Picture: Bob Finlayson

Richard Kovacs, pictured back in 2007. Picture: Bob Finlayson

It concludes: “The proposed trial is unlikely to have any significant or long term negative environmental impacts providing the mitigation measures outlined in this Review of Environmental Factors are implemented and enforced during the trial.”

Both sides claim the document backs their case and provides enough evidence for councillors to decide in their favour.

Mr Kovacs, a multi-millionaire businessman, claims to have become a target for much of the anger directed towards those against the proposal.

Dog owner Ali Williams and friends Isabelle Johnston, 11, Alexandra Sarmiento, 11, and Caitlin Harbot, 11, are supporters of making part of Station Beach, opposite Palm Beach, an off-leash dog area. Picture: Dylan Robinson

Dog owner Ali Williams and friends Isabelle Johnston, 11, Alexandra Sarmiento, 11, and Caitlin Harbot, 11, are supporters of making part of Station Beach, opposite Palm Beach, an off-leash dog area. Picture: Dylan Robinson

He says supporters of the beach plan have confronted him in the street.

“They have targeted my family and others,” he said.

“They call us things like ‘dog haters’.

Mr Geddes said it was not members of his group who were engaging in this behaviour.

As well as environmental factors, Mr Kovacs said he fears the plan will lead to dog attacks.

“The beach is narrow at high tide. If dogs chase after people there is going to be nowhere for them to go,” he said. “It is plainly not safe.”

Mr Geddes said the claims were nonsense, adding: “They just don’t want to see people and their dogs enjoying the beach

“It is quite wrong to say the local community is split,” he said.

Ava, 13, and Indigo, 10, with their dog Ivy at Station Beach.

Ava, 13, and Indigo, 10, with their dog Ivy at Station Beach.

“People round here are supportive of the proposal. They want this trial and they want to know why there is such a delay.”

He points to the support of the longstanding Palm Beach and Whale Beach Association, who have been a voice for families in the area for more than 100 years.

“We are on the right side of this,” he said.

“Of the green public space north of Bilgola just 0.89 per cent is open for dogs to have a run.”

The trial was supposed to be voted on by council on Tuesday. However, aware of how much is riding on it, council officers have put the vote back until August 27 to finalise their report.


 

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