Australia's coastline is in a continual state of change. The intervention of human processes, such as climate change and urbanisation, threaten to rapidly increase the rate at which the processes of accretion and erosion alter the continent's seaward boundaries. A rapidly changing shoreline has serious implications for coastal landholders and public authorities. These implications are exacerbated by escalating land values and increasing development pressures on coastal property. This article examines the impact of climate change and urbanisation on waterfront property and the consequential risk of legal liability for public authorities. First, the article analyses the common law doctrine of accretion and its operation in New South Wales. A case study from Sydney's northern coastline is used to illustrate that while private interests retain a general right to benefit from natural accretion to adjacent seaward land, this right has been significantly curtailed by recent statutory changes. The second part of the article analyses the common law doctrine of erosion. While private interests may benefit from accretion, correspondingly, private interests may bear the cost of damage caused by erosion. Using another case study from Sydney's northern beaches, the article considers whether public authorities may be liable for this damage, in light of recent case law and legislative changes. This section concludes by examining the liability of a public authority in a series of three hypothetical situations of coastal erosion.
|Number of pages
|Environmental and Planning Law Journal
|Published - 2003