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Carnarvon beach shacks at Cleo Smith crime scene under threat of demolition due to collapse risk

A long-running dispute between beach shack owners and the Shire of Carnarvon has reached boiling point, with authorities saying the Blowholes Campground structures are at risk of collapse and should be demolished.

The campground in October came under the global spotlight for a different reason when four-year-old Carnarvon girl Cleo Smith was allegedly snatched from her tent while her family slept, sparking a massive 18-day search.

Located 70km north of Carnarvon, the shacks were built in the 1960s and have since then hosted many a weekend away for generations of locals and tourists.

The Shire said complaints of loose materials — including tin — blowing around the site had triggered an investigation into safety issues at the campground.

A qualified building surveyor later advised the shacks were “highly likely” to collapse and would be “dangerous” to users during a high-wind event.

“Following legal advice, it has been advised that the shacks represent a significant risk to persons within the Shire’s district and, by extension, to the Shire itself,” the Shire said. “After the highly destructive winds experienced during cyclone Seroja, the Shire of Carnarvon believes it is now time to proceed with the demolition of the shacks and officers will be making that recommendation to council in the near future.”

Shire of Carnarvon chief executive Andrea Selvey acknowledged the recommendation to demolish the shacks would disappoint and anger many.

“Shire officers are aware that our recommendation may not be seen as a popular one, particularly among those locals who have strong ties to the shacks historically,” she said.

“However, as has been the case in other unsafe beachside structures, such as Lancelin’s Ledge Point, it remains the Shire’s responsibility for the management of that land — and those who potentially are injured on that land.”

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Blowholes Protection Association president Shane Aylmore said shack owners had spent years campaigning for tenure and the power to make repairs to their structures.

“We are not allowed to repair the shacks and then (the Shire) complains they are in a state of disrepair,” he said.

We are more than happy to repair them or replace them with something of standard.

Mr Aylmore said a holiday at the Blowholes was a “rite of passage” for growing Carnarvon families and “a large number” of people used the shacks regularly.

He said shack owners were active in other local causes and recently banded together to support Cleo’s family and the investigators who scoured every inch of the campground when the little girl disappeared.

Demolition of the shacks was on the cards as recently as 2019 when the Shire planned to replace the structures with holiday homes and camping sites, but this did not occur. The community is encouraged to present any questions or concerns about the recommendation to the Shire.

A spokesperson said an investigation into applicable coastal planning policies/strategies and the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 would be taken into consideration by the minister for lands to determine the site for future chalets.

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