‘We love Seabird but erosion has left us with a house we can’t rent or sell’

The erosion is undermining both private property and public utilities. Inset: ‘The Bird’ with its truncated driveway. Photo: Jane CliftonA Seabird couple have pleaded for the government to buy back their once beloved WA beach property, now rendered worthless under the attack of erosion.

Jane Clifton and her husband invested in their property, affectionately nicknamed “The Bird”, more than a decade ago, when its front yard looked on to 40 metres or so of vegetation and a lovely white beach.

They spent every holiday there, where they hoped to retire.

Erosion had already crumbled beachside road Turner Street, which led to their driveway. But they knew councils were obliged to provide road access for homes so they thought – naively, they now acknowledge – the problem would be fixed.

Fast-forward and a metre from the edge of their front pavers is a sheer drop onto what remains of the beach. Their driveway is a stub that leads nowhere and there is no official access to their house.

When friends visited now, they drove to neighbouring Guilderton or Ledge Point for children to play on the beach.

Ms Clifton said being at “The Bird” now felt more like being on a boat.

“There was this beautiful wide beach in front of us. Now standing on our balcony you can’t actually see any sand. The water just seems to come straight up,” she said.  

Ms Clifton’s father and niece fish on the remains of the beach, with its former height seen in the background. Photo: Jane Clifton

“We still go there, because we love the town. But I have felt insecure about if there was an emergency there. How would the ambulance get in?”

The couple bought the rear block as well years ago, using their superannuation, so they could keep accessing their property, a measure they thought was a temporary fix.

The council has suggested they amalgamate the blocks to create a battleaxe with road access from the rear and says it will wear surveying costs.

But the couple think the shire, which cannot formally close Turner Street without resolving this issue, is shifting responsibility.

They said drafting, lodgement, stamp duty, taxes and fees, demolition and so on would make it an expensive and unwise investment, given the land’s – and the town’s – uncertain future.

“We can’t sell it, we can’t rent it. The value is now probably less than what we paid for it. And that is if anyone would take the risk. I wouldn’t – now. So we are stuck with a useless piece of land,” Ms Clifton said.

Once, Turner Street turned here and ran along the beach. Now the council needs to formally close the street. Photo: Emma Young

“We would happily sell back to the government. We’re not after a massive profit or anything. We just want to recover our costs – or fair value. We have to keep paying ridiculous council rates, insurance, upkeep.

“We’ve worked pretty damn hard for this home. Nothing we have is inherited … it did not come easy.”

The council is building a $2 million state-funded seawall in front of threatened properties but it is not expected to last much beyond a decade. Maintenance could cost another $10 million.

“If they are going to have to spend a couple of million every ten to fifteen years to save 20 homes when the rest of the town is suffering because the beach has gone, fishing has gone, tourism is gone, it’s a bit unbalanced,” Ms Clifton said.

“It’s pretty much a ghost town.”

Buyback has been explored as an option in such situations in other Australian states, including in New South Wales, where storm-related erosion has recently devastated properties.

Shire of Gingin chief executive Jeremy Edwards said there were now several homeowners without official access to their properties, but he understood they all had alternate access points.

The shire was continuing to work with them all.

Mr Edwards said the shire was also in continual discussion with the state, but had not been privy to Cabinet discussions leading to the seawall grant and did not know the state’s position on property buyback.

“The Shires of Gingin and Dandaragan are in the process of undertaking a Coastal Hazards Risk and Management Adaptation Plan, however this plan needs to be formulated with community and would be subject to budgetary constraints of government,” he said.

Department of Planning Director General Gail McGowan said the government was exploring long-term options, which would be informed both by the shire’s plan, and by how the seawall performed.

The draft plan has been completed and is being peer reviewed by the department before going out to community consultation.

The shire initially tried to include a clause in the approval of the seawall building to make the state government confirm it would indemnify the shire against responsibility for any further adverse impacts the seawall might cause, but abandoned this under pressure from residents to get it built.

A Department of Regional Development spokeswoman said the shire was responsible for maintaining the seawall and it could put any funding remaining from the construction funding towards this.

She said the shire would monitor the seawall and discuss any environmental impact or maintenance issues with the state.  Follow WAtoday on Twitter

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