The towering seawall dominating the Collaroy coastline has divided not just the stretch of sand itself, but also the community. Questions continue as to why public space is being sacrificed to save private property and whether a dangerous precedent for vertical seawalls has now been set.

In the seven years since an apocalyptic storm rocked Collaroy, leaving beachfront properties teetering over their priceless view and a private pool at one with the ocean, a seven-metre-tall seawall – aimed at protecting against erosion – has shot up amidst mass controversy. Now, with additions approved, development applications (DA) lodged, and a Greens-led moratorium against vertical seawalls floundering, what will become of these homes, built on shifting sands mere steps from the waves? And, asks the local community, what will become of the scarred coastline?

Over 3,000 locals red-lighted the wall in 2002. Despite the protests, predicted sea level rises of 2.3 metres by 2100, and a Northern Beaches Council-commissioned report naming Collaroy-Narrabeen beach as the ‘most vulnerable’ to storm erosion, saw construction kick off in 2021 along the worst-hit strip between Stuart and Wetherill Streets. As to the public sacrifice for private gain debate, the wall, constructed from 14,000 tonnes of sandstone, will eventually protect not just homes, says resident Bob Orth, from the Stuart-Wetherill Neighbours Association. Factor in 11 public land areas, a surf life-saving club, car park and Pittwater Road’s gas and communications lines. “We are a group of families who live on and love the beach and are acutely aware of the responsibility associated with building in such a sensitive environment,” he adds. Manly Hydraulics Laboratory, consulted during the original DA process, says that ‘no discernible adverse impacts’ were identified on existing coastal processes or amenity values ‘compared to the existing situation’.

Despite these assurances, many believe that the wall was never the correct choice for Collaroy and fear this example will see these colossal artificial cliff-faces springing up all along the coastline. The approval of additional sections by five beachfront homes straddling South Narrabeen’s Surf Club, and current DAs for works in front of Newport SLSC and a sloping rock wall revetment between Collaroy’s Stuart and Ramsay Streets, have only exacerbated local concerns, says Beaches-based Surfrider Foundation group’s President, Brendan Donohue. He has campaigned against seawalls for three decades.

The controversial seawall at Collaroy-Narrabeen beach has long divided opinion.

“Constructing a vertical seawall on a shallow stretch of beach is no way to treat a shoreline if you want to keep a sandy beach” Brendan Donohue, SFNB

“Constructing a vertical seawall on a shallow, narrow stretch of beach is no way to treat a shoreline if you want to keep and enjoy a sandy beach,” Mr Donohue tells Peninsula Living Pittwater. The Beaches local is pushing council to invest in alternatives, such as a nourishment plan to artificially replace sand. “Private and public could have been catered for with a revetment running back into private yards covered with sand. Instead, we have a huge vertical wall that diminishes beach amenity and buggers coastal processes, posing a danger to the public during storms, while providing flat seaward yards which now house previously banned plunge pools,” he says. “Council has a duty of care to do better by the beach while still protecting residences,” he adds.

While beachfront property owners have long come under fire, Alan Terrey, who lives in Narrabeen’s Marquesas Apartments, says that he, like the majority of his block, ‘did not want’ the addition that was approved last September to run alongside his home.

“Council is insisting on a vertical seawall and has said that a revetment is not an option,” Mr Terrey tells Peninsula Living Pittwater. The block suffered no significant damage in the 2016 storms, ‘no doubt in part due’ to the sloped rock wall that has been in place since the 1970s. “Revetments are being selectively approved – such as in front of Collaroy’s Flight Deck building – but we are being assured that this is on private land and is not an option for Marquesas due to lack of space,” says Mr Terrey.

Council tells Peninsula Living Pittwater that all works have been ‘subject to a rigorous review by independent expert coastal engineers and scientists’ and that it has ‘not prescribed vertical walls at any location in the local government area.’ “Protection works have been on this part of (Collaroy) beach for more than 40 years,” a council spokesperson says. “The new works are set further towards the back of the beach…reducing localised erosion, allowing for a wider beach and in turn promoting more natural regeneration.”

Pittwater councillor Miranda Korzy, whose moratorium against vertical seawalls was rejected by fellow councillors at the end of last year.

“NBC is insisting on a vertical seawall and has said that a rock revetment is not an option”

Alan Terrey, Marquesas Apartments resident

But Pittwater ward councillor, Miranda Korzy, whose recent push to pause vertical seawalls and revetments, until all other possibilities have been reviewed, flatlined – argues that, environmentally, the wall is a ‘wipeout’. “When a wave hits a vertical seawall, its energy is reflected back towards the sea causing turbulence with incoming waves, which then creates erosion along the wall. This, combined with sea level rises, is a death sentence for the beach,” she says.

Construction also went ahead minus sufficient ‘guidance, funding or benchmarks’ from the State Government, she adds. “Councils must decide whether to defend or retreat from eroding beaches, and if defend, then how to balance equitable outcomes for both affected property owners and the overall community,” says Ms Korzy.

Councillors rejected Ms Korzy’s attempt in November to pause construction of all seawalls until it could investigate the best options. Instead, councillors resolved to ‘call upon the NSW Government to review all alternative options to seawalls to ensure appropriate property, coastal and environmental protection,’ while providing ‘opportunity for community consultation on future coastal protection works in 2024’.

Brendan Donohue, president of the Northern Beaches branch of the Surfrider Foundation, has been campaigning against seawalls for three decades.

Whichever side of the wall people are on, what is agreed is that drastic action against erosion must be taken, soon. It is a long-term problem, and one that the Insurance Council of Australia predicts will require a $30 billion Federal Government spend over the next 50 years. Locally, the continued feasibility of the annual flood prevention exodus of 40,000 tonnes of sand from Narrabeen’s Ocean Street bridge – at a cost of $1.5 million in 2023 – seems questionable. While revetments, nourishment and strategic buy-backs of threatened properties are all alternatives to consider, time will tell whether Collaroy’s wall fulfils its towering ambition, or if it is merely an incongruous stop-gap shoring up ill-advised planning decisions of the past.


By Catherine Lewis