Stockton needs a genuine Smart City idea to save the beach, not just more rocks

A couple of days after the Newcastle Herald published an article on the Stockton ‘plughole’ , I received an email from Fred.

It got me thinking.

The next day I met Fred at Queens Wharf at 11am. He was having a beer, as is his custom, and, although I don’t normally drink that early in the day, I thought it would be rude not to join him. I’m glad I did.

Social distancing owing to COVID-19 had just started, so we sat apart. This was a bit of a challenge as Fred doesn’t hear or see as well as he used to. Fred has seen a few years and, although his eyesight and hearing aren’t as good as they once were, his brain is sharp.

Up until then, I had been looking at Stockton erosion trying to work out how to get the beach back to what it was.

Stockton residents have been told many things over the years, and they have been not told a lot more.

"One of those things is that Stockton beach, as we knew it, is not coming back".

In fact, it hasn’t been coming back since Governor Macquarie laid the first stone of Macquarie Pier in 1812, leading to the joining of Nobbys Island to Newcastle. Deepening the harbour in the late 70s early 80s triggered a whole new erosion event.

The reality is, that unless someone replaces the about 10 million cubic metres of sand that has been lost off Stockton, erosion is going to continue at an increasing rate.

We know that potential wave energy off Stockton beach is about 100 times greater than it was in 1812 when Governor Macquarie laid the first stone. Deepening the harbour contributed a significant component of this.

The Port of Newcastle is very important to Newcastle, the Hunter and the state. That’s a given.

Based on our analysis, as reported in the Stockton plughole article, my estimate is that having the Port of Newcastle has cost Stockton beach and, hence, City of Newcastle and the Stockton community, an average of about $4 million a year for the past 20 years.

As mentioned, historically, the damage goes back more than 200 years since Governor Macquarie.

Back to Fred. While I was thinking about how to find, fund and emplace 85,000 cubic metres/year of sand off Stockton just to maintain the beach as it is, Fred has a different vision.

Simply, Fred’s idea is to build an ‘energy barrage’, as he calls it, which would reduce the wave energy and rate of erosion off Stockton beach.

This could work like a submerged reef or artificial headland in terms of reducing wave height.

It would also provide the opportunity to generate power (and revenue) from the wind and waves.

wave energy

Potential wave energy off Stockton beach is now more than 100 times what it used to be in 1816, a ‘dramatic increase’ from 1980 to 2000 is linked to the deepening of Newcastle harbour, picture by Newcastle Herald, data supplied by Anditi.

Fred’s idea is that the structures required for the energy barrage could be built in Newcastle and could be used also to create a safe harbour for small boats and yachts, adding to the tourist potential of Stockton and Newcastle.

The structure could be designed to help block the plughole and reduce sand loss to the north. This would make beach nourishment a more viable solution to re-establish some beach amenity.

Fred’s idea is to build an ‘energy barrage’, as he calls it, which would reduce the wave energy and rate of erosion off Stockton beach.

Since I first came to Newcastle in 1983 to study engineering, I have watched the sunrise over Stockton from Nobbys and have often thought that Stockton could have been to Newcastle what Manly once was to Sydney.

The ferry ride is shorter, the scenery is a breath-taking, the only real difference is that Stockton no longer has a beach.

Newcastle was founded in 1804. It took us a whole eight years to sign and put in place the first stone that changed Stockton forever.

Fred’s ideas represent the type of thinking that we need to explore as being part of a Smart City. Smart thinking is taking stock of the real situation at Stockton.

That is, working out what is feasible and what would be a smart outcome, before doing what we have done since 1812: put in tonnes of expensive rock, which impacts the amenity of Stockton beach.

Exploring alternative solutions, like Fred’s idea, is the sort of thinking that makes a Smart City.

We’d like to open the dialogue to find a ‘smart solution’ for Stockton. If you have any ideas, or if you’d like to be part of the conversation, contact us: