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The steamy battle for permits in a Curly parking lot

A local business owner is claiming unfair double standards after plans to operate his Finnish mobile sauna from the South Curl Curl car park were rejected by Northern Beaches Council due to environmental and planning concerns.

Rob Dempster-Smith created Cedar & Salt last year to give beachgoers a steamy experience before or after they hit the surf.

However, the Council says the sauna contains harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, which would have a negative environmental impact on the area. (From burning wood to heating up the sauna.)

“The main issue they face is that it is a wood stove. You will see smoke for the first five minutes just like with any other stove. Once it gets warmer, you just heat the rock, and then there is no more smoke.”

“We are absolutely ready to go. And we will have the insurance, which is built to all Australian and New Zealand standards… I’m just banging my head on the council over this red tape,” Rob said.

The portable sauna from Cedar and Salt.

The business owner has over 700 signatures in favor of activities in the area and is currently working on a development application.

But in the meantime, he’s working with private business owners and is now running a pop-up sauna service at Manly’s Quarantine Station.

Rob’s business idea came about when he and his partner experienced a sauna for the first time while traveling through the Arctic Circle in Norway.

“They introduced us to Scandinavian and Finnish sauna culture. And we absolutely loved it. And at that moment I realized that this is what I wanted to bring to Australia and share this experience with the local community.

“Especially the northern beaches because we have the most beautiful scenery,” Rob said.

When he returned, the business owner spent $50,000 outfitting the portable Finnish sauna, but was thwarted by the Council, who rejected the proposal due to planning and environmental concerns.

“The main issue they face is that it is a wood stove. You will see smoke for the first five minutes just like with any other stove. Once it gets warmer, you just heat the stone and then there is no smoke.

“I offered to put a certain filter, which is 3k. And that will remove 95 percent of the particles emitted from the flue. And they rejected that too.”

photo: nieuwphoto via Instagram

Rob says the 30 to 40 wood fire companies operating locally and the open fire barbecues provided by the council – which he believes are closer to residential areas than to his sauna – are evidence of a double standard.

Male observer contacted Northern Beaches Council to inquire as to why the application was rejected.

“The application was rejected in its current form for a number of reasons, not just environmental concerns,” a spokesperson said.

“These types of commercial uses require appropriate authorisation, as well as relevant environmental assessments and planning approvals, which may also require community consultation. Council staff provided this advice to the applicant,” said a Council representative.

photo: nieuwphoto via Instagram

Rob is currently working with a team of city planners on a development application to operate within the South Curl Curl car park. This costs him another 8K and does not guarantee a permit.

“I just want the same standard as a coffee truck, a crepe truck or a food truck on the beaches.”

“I just want the same standard as a coffee truck, a crepe truck or a food truck on the beaches.”

There are several food trucks active on the northern beaches, especially in the municipality’s beach car parks.

The Nomad Creperie is one of these trucks, established in 2021, selling crepes, coffee and fresh juice and operating from the South Curl Curl car park.

Owner Pierre believes that licensing more vans will be beneficial to both the community and business owners.

“From my point of view, as a business owner, I say: more markets, take care of the breeds. When I’m alone on the beach, I work less.

“If you become more diversified here, it’s very interesting to… Let people discover something different, that’s part of the beach lifestyle, I think.”

Pierre (center) and his crew at the Nomad Creperie.

Pierre added that it wasn’t difficult to get his permits, but there was a wait.

“It wasn’t, I won’t say difficult, but it does take time. Like you have a lot of rules because we’re in a reserve. And it is important to comply with all of them.

‘It’s like you have a lot of rules because we’re in a reserve. And it is important to comply with all of them.”

“They make sense, like the generator or plastic bags and things like that. But as long as you stick to it, are patient and always refer to the municipality, they always come back positive and that has been very nice, always nice to deal with them.”

The sauna setup of the Quarantine station. photo: nieuwphoto via Instagram

In the meantime, Rob has other plans to keep the coal burning for his company.

He will refocus his attention on working with private landowners around the northern beaches, as well as in rural and alpine areas heading into winter.

Cedar & Salt is currently working with the Quarantine Station until April 28 and has been active there since last Monday, with some positive results.

“It’s really exciting, you know, the Q station sees the value of it en masse. It’s good for the area, it’s good for the people in the community and it allows everyone to do a different activity that focuses on health and wellbeing.”

If the permits are approved, Rob plans to work at the South Curl Curl parking lot from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and then again in the afternoon for sunset sessions.

A second location on Palm Beach was also planned, but until then, if he wants to deliver steamy sessions to the public, he’ll have to be on private property.