The Palm Beach Protection Group today welcomed the decision by the NSW Land and Environment Court that Northern Beaches Council failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of off-leash and on-leash dogs on Station Beach.
In Hon Justice B.J. Preston’s decision, handed down today, the NSW Land and Environment Court has declared the Council’s decisions of 27 August 2019 and 17 December 2019, which purported to authorise an off-leash dog trial for 12 months on Station Beach and, by the December decision, purported to permit dogs on-leash on Station Beach, invalid and has quashed those decisions.
The Court’s decision validates the Palm Beach Protection Group’s claim that in making its decisions for on-leash and off-leash dog access to Station Beach, the Northern Beaches Council had failed in its duty to consider to the fullest extent possible the environmental impact of the activity. Justice Preston plainly stated in his decision that “allowing dogs on-leash at Station Beach… is likely to significantly affect the environment,” further noting that the Council’s decisions were inconsistent with the protective and mitigative measures stated in the Review of Environmental Factors (REF). The decision further notes that there is “no evidence that dogs on-leash will have less impact than dogs off-leash”, refuting Council’s assertion that a dog on-leash is a mitigation measure.
Station Beach is home to the largest seagrass community in the Pittwater estuary, which includes the threatened Posidonia australis seagrass population that nurtures a diverse habitat of marine life, including the threatened White’s seahorse.
The Palm Beach Protection Group has long argued that the fragile nature of Station Beach means it is unsuitable for dog use due to the likelihood of significant environmental harm.
Today’s Court ruling highlights how Council failed to conduct satisfactory environmental assessments on their on-leash and off-leash decisions by not undertaking an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for both activities. The Court notes that the Council failed completely to assess any environmental risks for the on-leash activity on Station Beach.
In his ruling, the Hon. Justice B.J. Preston said:
“I find on the evidence that the Council, in its consideration of the activity of allowing dogs on Station Beach, did not examine or take into account to the fullest extent possible all matters affecting or likely to affect the environment by reason of the activity”.
As part of the decision, Justice Preston has deferred making any prohibitory or mandatory injunctions until the Palm Beach Protection Group and Northern Beaches Council have had an opportunity to put on written submissions and address the Court orally (if required). These submissions will be filed over the coming weeks.
Given Station Beach’s environmental sensitivities, the Palm Beach Protection Group will continue in its quest to protect and preserve Station Beach for future generations.
Below is a summary of today’s court’s decision, followed by a link to the full court ruling.
Summary Decision: Palm Beach Protection Group Incorporated v Northern Beaches Council  NSW/LEC 156
(1) Declares that Northern Beaches Council has breached s 5.5(1) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the EPA Act) in considering and determining to approve on 17 December 2019 the activity of allowing dogs on-leash at Station Beach, Palm Beach by not examining and taking into account to the fullest extent possible all matters affecting or likely to affect the environment by reason of that activity;
(2) Declares that Northern Beaches Council has breached s 5.7(1) of the EPA Act in granting approval on 27 August 2019 to the activity of conducting the dog off-leash area trial at Station Beach, Palm Beach for a period of 12 months, without having obtained or been furnished with, and having examined and considered, an environmental impact statement in respect of that activity;
(3) Declares that Northern Beaches Council has breached s 5.7(1) of the EPA Act by:
(a) not determining whether the activity of allowing dogs on-leash at Station Beach, Palm Beach, is likely to significantly affect the environment;
(b) granting approval on 17 December 2019 to the activity of allowing dogs on-leash at Station Beach, Palm Beach, without having obtained or been furnished with, and having examined and considered, an environmental impact statement in respect of that activity;
(4) Declares invalid, and quashes, the decision of Northern Beaches Council made on 27 August 2019 to conduct a dog off-leash area trial at Station Beach, Palm Beach for 12 months;
(5) Declares invalid, and quashes, the decision of Northern Beaches Council made on 17 December 2019 to allow dogs on-leash at Station Beach, Palm Beach;
(6) Directs the parties to file and serve submissions on the orders that the parties contend the Court should make by way of prohibitory or mandatory injunctions (if any) in accordance with the following timetable:
(a) The applicant to file and serve its submissions by 27 November 2020;
(b) The respondent to file and serve its submissions by 4 December 2020;
(c) The applicant to file and serve its submissions in reply by 11 December 2020;
(7) Grants leave to each party to relist the matter in order to fix a date for a hearing if a party wishes to have a hearing on the issue of the injunctive orders the Court should make.
(8) Orders the respondent to pay the applicant’s costs of the proceedings.
The full decision is available from the NSW Caselaw Website