Strong opposition from park and beach users to a Port Stephens Council proposal to demolish the existing Little Beach amenities building and replace it with a reduced facility has resulted in a council rethink on the issue.
Around 40 Little Beach residents and users attended a council-led information session on March 13 over the planned demolition of the ageing building and construction of new amenities estimated to cost $180,000 and to be funded under the PS2020 program of works.
Spokesperson for the beach users Chris Bastic, a regular swimmer at Little Beach for more than 20 years, described the proposal as "planning philosophy gone mad".
"Why would council propose to reduce the existing facility by at least 50 per cent and eliminate the use of both the men's and women's change rooms and indoor showers?," he asked.
"With the lack of a change room facilities the spectre of men wrapping their towels around their waist to change into their cozzies in the street is unedifying, inappropriate and I believe is insensitive to women, particularly in these times.
"Residents understand and fully support the increased disabled facilities however to completely demolish the change facility is planning philosophy gone mad."
Brock Lamont, council's community and recreation coordinator, said that the council would be reviewing the concept design based on feedback from the March 13 drop-in session.
"The project was planned to be delivered as part of the upcoming boat ramp upgrade but has now been put on hold so that we can revisit the design to ensure the new facility meets community expectations," he said.
"The building was constructed in 1974 and an extension was added in 1998. The current amenities are at the end of their useful life due to the age of the building and it not meeting contemporary building standards.
"We no longer construct amenities like this as there are many issues with the design: anti-social entry and circulation areas, internal ventilation, plumbing issues related to sand build up and odour associated with a constantly wet internal area."
Mr Lamont said that building new accessible amenities was more cost-effective than renovating the existing building.
"The new building will change from gender specified toilets to unisex toilets, which allows for the number of toilet pans to be reduced. We are revisiting the design to ensure the new unisex facility meets the expectations of our community," he said.
"The internal shower spaces will be replaced by external beach showers. This is common in new facilities as internal showers have issues with ventilation, plumbing issues caused by sand build up and odour associated with a constantly wet internal environment.
"We do not currently provide public change room spaces in new amenities buildings. We acknowledge there is some community concern about the loss of changing areas and are reviewing this."
Mr Bastic said that residents were also upset that the proposal included the destruction of an established coastal garden, which had been constructed and maintained by Little Beach residents to shield their view of the amenities block.
"There has been no consultation at all with those residents who have continually maintained this garden for 15 years. To reduce the capacity and functionality of this facility when all demand indicators show it needs to be at least maintained if not expanded to cope with demand flies in the face of reason."
Mr Lamont said that the existing garden was raised as a concern during consultation and would be reviewed.
Council partnered with Ability Links to undertake an accessibility audit at Little Beach, which identified opportunities for more improvements.
"We are now working towards our vision of making Little Beach an accessible precinct," Mr Lamont said.
"The upgraded accessible amenities a big part of this vision, as they will enable more people to enjoy this beautiful part of the world and encourage increased visitation from the accessible tourism market.
"The concept plans show vastly improved accessible facilities including storage space which allows users to transfer from their personal chair into the two available chairs on-site (plastic chair to be submerged into the water and the inflatable chair for beach use and traversing the sand).
"The proposed amenities provide one fully compliant accessible toilet facility including a shower and an adult change facility. The roof design has also been structurally upgraded to support a future lifting hoist to allow carers to transfer adults to and from their wheelchair. We will be seeking further grant funding to allow for this hoist."
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