Planning and infrastructure minister Brad Hazzard has announced the state government will not allow councils to create E2 and E3 environmental zones on land that is ‘clearly rural’ in council local environmental plans (LEPs) on the far north coast.
The announcement follows a meeting between minister Hazzard and local MPs Don Page and Thomas George this week to discuss the issue of environmental zonings being applied to agricultural land.
The government’s action follows concerns expressed by local landholders that the implementation of the zones would limit what types of farm activity they could undertake, whether any landcare activity on their property could ultimately negatively affect its zoning and fears the changed zoning could reduce property values.
The move will be seen as a blow by environmentalists, who have fought hard to have the zonings applied to pockets of privately held land as well as public reserves.
Minister Hazzard said in a statement that areas proposed to be covered by these zones would now be ‘excised from the plans while the department of planning and infrastructure reviews the use of these controls in consultation with other government agencies and stakeholders’.
The minister said this approach will apply to LEPs in the Ballina, Byron, Lismore, Kyogle and Tweed shires. It is uncertain how this will impact on Lismore, which has already had its LEP approved.
‘These proposed zones and overlays have the potential to limit existing agricultural and other rural uses without a valid evidence base,’ Mr Page said.
‘There are also very strong concerns that these restrictive controls could reduce the value of existing properties.
‘The NSW government will act to ensure the rights of existing landowners are protected.
‘The government will now review the suitability of these controls, while still providing appropriate protection for the environment.’
Last month Byron Shire councillor Diane Woods called for a review of the draft. But then-mayor Jan Barham dismissed the claims, saying, ‘The Native Vegetation Act 2003, which overrides the LEP, allows for farmers to carry out routine agricultural activities’. Cr Barham added that the formal exhibition process would address any public concerns such as the accuracy of E2 and E3 mapping.
A number of LEPs in the region have been exhibited for public comment and are expected to come to the state government shortly for approval.
Minister Hazzard said that any E2- or E3-zoned land in these draft plans would be excised when the LEPs are finalised. Similarly, any proposed environmental overlays on land that is clearly rural would be removed.
‘Local environmental plans establish good land-use planning principles for the entire council area and it’s important that planning for other uses such new housing and employment generation can go ahead while this issue is being resolved,’ Mr Hazzard said.
‘However, this government is not going to stop farmers and other existing landowners from carrying on their businesses through overly restrictive environmental zones.’