You can no longer park at Seven Mile Beach in Byron Bay. A once uncrowded surf spot and popular destination among locals and visitors alike has overnight become an exclusive stretch of beach for a handful of residents that reside in Broken Head Reserve.

Restrictions took place over a fortnight ago without consultation with the broader community which has infuriated locals. Many are still trying to join the dots as to who is behind such affirmative action from council.

No parking signs have been erected where visitors used to park to access the Seven Mile Beach stretch at the end of Seven Mile Beach Road. After signs were vandalised, boulders now block the previous access point.

Broken Head Reserve is home to 30 residents. While Byron Shire boasts a population of almost 29,000. Locals believe a handful of residents in Broken Head have forced the council’s hand. However, this allegation has been fiercely denied by the Mayor.

In a media release dated December 11, Byron Bay Council Mayor, Simon Richardson, said changes to parking at Seven Mile Beach were aimed at stopping illegal camping and protecting the sensitive environment at Seven Mile Beach.

“Sadly, tourists on social media promote Seven Mile Beach as an unspoiled tourist destination and they are turning up in ever increasing numbers and seemingly going out of their way to trash the place they came to enjoy.”

“These illegal campers have no regard for the environment, or for locals, and are happy to leave their rubbish everywhere,” he said.

“Something drastic had to be done to change the behaviour of illegal campers and improve parking and public safety and Council has been working closely with the NPWS, Police, the Rural Fire Service and residents to find solutions to what are very complex issues,” Mayor Richardson said.

Boulders have been placed at the entrance of Seven Mile Beach. Photo: Voice of Byron

The Mayor downplayed the parking restrictions at Seven Mile Beach and Whites Beach, stating that only a handful of spaces were lost. While there had been no change to parking at Kings Beach, a spot infamous for its reputation as a nudist beach among locals.

“I understand that some locals are cranky but I am sure they will also agree that the situation in the Broken Head Nature Reserve cannot be allowed to continue to get worse.”

In an article published in the Daily Telegraph on 10 December, locals have claimed nearby resident and former NSW Greens MP Ian Cohen is responsible for the ban. Mr Cohen denied he was behind the push to ban parking at Seven Mile Beach but believes the council had to act.

“They had to do something to solve the out of control illegal camping. There’s paid parking in Byron now so travellers were saying: ‘Here’s a free spot and come and crap on it’,” said Mr Cohen.

“I’ve complained to council about policing the area properly. But I’ve also seen locals with dogs, locals camping and lighting fires, and tourists, it’s a combination that has created the situation and some protective action needed to happen. It’s just one beach.”

However, ‘that one beach’ has been a sanctuary for locals who have been enjoying it for years. The fear among the greater community regarding this incidental privitisation of Seven Mile Beach is not just about the loss of ‘one beach’, but the slippery slope and dangerous precedent it sets for the rest of the shire and Australia’s East Coast.

Byron Bay Boardriders President, Neil Cameron told Tracks he only learnt of the parking ban after people began getting fined for parking down there.

“As a surfer, initially you think this is good; it’s going to limit the numbers but the problem with that is that it’s a selfish attitude. And two, as families we used to go down there 20 years ago and enjoy it with our kids and surf great waves.”

Tracks scoured the archives of Byron Council meetings to see if the parking issues of Seven Mile Beach had been logged in minutes but could not find anything on the public record. The lack of community consultation has upset many residents.

“People I’ve spoken to have contacted council and council have said yes, this was put through council, brought up at council meetings, such and such but you go and check the minutes of the meetings and there is nothing,” says Mr Cameron.

“What we’re not happy about is that they’ve gone ahead and not consulted anyone. No longer can families, mums with their kids can’t get access. It’s not just about surfers, it’s about fisherman, the whole community really.” 

“It’s been a public beach for a long time and it’s had public access for a long time. Allowing people to have reasonable parking and reasonable access, that’s the key thing,” he said.

In less than 48 hours a petition has circulated on social media and garnered nearly 2500 signatures in opposition to the parking restrictions at Seven Mile Beach.

Local surfer and filmmaker, Johnny Abegg, created the petition ahead of a council meeting on 14 December to demonstrate the backlash in the community. He wants to see Byron Council open dialogue with the broader community and work with council to find a resolution to reinstate access to Seven Mile Beach for all.

“That area is a sanctuary for so many of us that live here for us to get away from it all. When I heard that no parking signs had been installed it felt that it was the start of that getting taken away from us.”

Mr Abegg acknowledges the frustrations residents in Broken Head Nature Reserve have with the influx visitors to the area each year, and impact illegal camping and littering has on the area. 

“We all get angry when we see someone destroying these beautiful areas. But I think the best way is to involve the greater community because we all share the same passion as each other for Broken Head Nature Reserve. There has to be a middle ground in my mind moving forward that gives back access to the community the way it has always been. A decision of that scale should be discussed by the broader community.”

A meeting is scheduled for 14 December at council chambers to discuss parking restrictions at Seven Mile Beach. Stay tuned for further updates.

Sign the petition to Save Public Parking Along Seven Mile Beach Road

An aerial view of Seven Mile Beach at Broken Head Nature Reserve Byron Bay.