There’s a controversy affecting Mt Martha - it’s residents, property owners and holiday makers – and particularly those who have invested their hard earned savings in a beach box on North Beach.

As reported last month in The Age, and several times in the local newspapers, North Beach is being washed away, and with the disappearance of the sandy shore, so disappears the value of the 110 colourful beach boxes on the north side of Balcombe Creek.

Imagine watching as your investment’s value fades before your eyes, whilst the beach boxes on South Beach soar in value. Hard to take for sure. Once on the market for $70,000 to $100,000 +, the severe erosions have seen prices flatline and in some cases plummet to less than half - and with declines worsening so are the prospects of future sale prices. Meanwhile, at Mount Martha South Beach, where a stretch of beach still acts as a protective barrier between the ocean and its beach boxes, some of have recently sold for more than $450,000.

Winter tides have led to even more sand loss and the North Beach beach boxes have slowly been worn away by the sea. The beach could be destroyed by rising sea levels as soon as 2040, a report by consultants Water Technology has warned. Last winter’s storms led to at least five boxes being demolished and the destabilisation of many more. In 2010, the beach had a short reprieve, briefly lifting prices, when 12,000 square metres of sand was moved from the south to the north. Only three years later it had all washed away.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has initiated a $250,000 protection plan, placing large rocks and a geotextile 'sand tube' (a long sand bag) at the foot of the cliff to prevent high tides from reaching it. In early 2019, the department will extend an existing rock retaining wall at the northern end of the beach to provide long term protection. The new sloping rock wall will protect the cliff toe from waves and erosion, and maintaining public safety.

The rock revetment will help prevent damage to infrastructure behind the cliff, including the Esplanade. A further 60 metres of revetment may also be constructed north of the access stairs.

Whilst this is a positive step, the Mount Martha North Beach Group is lobbying for a natural groyne to be rebuilt to prevent further sand loss. Port Phillip director Kelly Crosthwaite said the department was reviewing the $330,000 idea.

The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, is quoted as saying, “We know how important the Mount Martha North Beach area is to the community – we’re listening to the local community and ensuring that the beach is safe.”

“Unfortunately there is a chance that some of the existing bathing boxes may need to be removed to facilitate the works. The occupancy of bathing boxes on the foreshore has been an ongoing matter for local debate, and predictably bathing box opponents have seized on this opportunity to have even more boxes permanently removed from the foreshore.”

Port Phillip Conservation Council says laying rocks and boulders at the base of the crumbling cliffs is “a short term reactionary response”. Coastal protection works being designed to protect cliffs and the Esplanade at Mt Martha North Beach have revived calls for the permanent removal of beach boxes.

The PPCC says the devaluation of the beach boxes presents an “opportune time to compulsorily remove the remains of these dangerous, ugly structures from our public land”. Mr Warfe said removal costs should be charged to licence holders and permission refused “for rebuilding of any such structures in this highly dynamic section of the coast”.

“As climate change and sea level rise impacts have increased, so too it seems has the frequency of storms and damaged beach boxes. So now is the time to intervene to avert future potentially catastrophic events,” Mr Warfe said. Dangers to the public caused by the beach boxes, “interference with natural processes and blocking public access to the coast, are all sound reasons to refuse renewal of a licence to occupy the area”.

“The current situation at Mt Martha North presents an excellent opportunity to rid the coast of some extremely ugly and inappropriate structures, which even when intact are an eyesore, and when damaged add further clutter to what would otherwise be magnificent coastal scenery,” Mr Warfe said. “Allowing the rebuilding of these structures on public land and especially in proven vulnerable areas like Mt. Martha North, would be a most unfortunate perpetuation of a failed and outdated policy that is inappropriate for any coastal municipality in the 21st Century.”

So what are your thoughts on beach boxes, in particular those at North Beach. And what do you believe has caused this devastating erosion? Many believe it is a result of dredging Port Phillip Bay.

Images Eddie Jim

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