Hans Lovejoy & Chris Dobney
Rural landowners are claiming victory over Byron Council’s contentious plans to apply complex zonings on agricultural land after the state’s planning minister intervened late last week.
The Byron Shire Rural Landholders Action Group, which initiated a recent public meeting on the issue, has welcomed last week’s announcement by NSW minister for planning and infrastructure Brad Hazzard that ‘would not endorse the use of E2 and E3 environmental zones’ on rural land that is earmarked for far north councils’ local environmental plans (LEPs).
The minister took the decision after consultation with north coast MPs Don Page and Thomas George.
The action group’s Rex Harris, Alli Page and Louise Savrda told Echonetdaily, ‘Since our last public meeting, hundreds of complaints have been received by local and state politicians on this issue. It just goes to show what people can achieve if they come together and support their community. The fight is not over yet. We still have a lot of work to do and all landholders need to remain active and review and respond to the draft LEP. But this is one big step in the right direction for all of us.’
The move prompted a mixed response from Byron’s mayor Simon Richardson, who said on radio yesterday that it might be a good thing if it helped fund proper ‘ground-truthing’ [on ground surveys].
‘There is a potential nervousness that it could be an example of local government losing some control; however, if the state can assist us in any ground-truthing and supporting landowners in ensuring we have accurate mapping and accurate zoning, it could end up being a good thing.’
But Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell has hit back at the move, saying her council had already spent considerable time and money ensuring ground-truthing for its LEP.
‘We are shocked and frankly appalled. We received [departmental] funding last year to accelerate our LEP and it was partly used to ground-truth the environmental zones that now look as if they’ve been removed. It makes a mockery of community consultation and this has been taken quite out of the hands of councils,’ she told ABC today.
As reported in Echonetdaily last week, the minister said areas covered the draft zones would 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 decision has been blasted by conservationist Dailan Pugh, who says, ‘the loss of environmental protection zoning in local environmental plans is a sad day for native ecosystems, animals and streams. It is a win for the CSG miners, loggers and developers.’
Mr Pugh says that for the past 26 years, Byron Shire relied upon environmental protection zones (7A, 7B, 7F, 7J and 7K) and its tree preservation order (TPO) to protect native vegetation.
‘The previous state government decided to remove council’s ability to use TPOs to protect native vegetation for properties over ten hectares.
‘Now Don Page and his government have decided to remove all protection for native vegetation by excising environmental protection zones from north coast LEPs.
‘They may later restore some token protection to some areas if they feel like it. Byron’s new draft LEP proposed including high-conservation-value native vegetation in an E2 zone. This included rainforest, old-growth forest, endangered ecological communities, rare and inadequately reserved ecosystems, wetlands, riparian habitat and high-quality koala habitat.
‘Having announced their intention to take away the community’s right to challenge any development allowed by LEPs, the National Party is now taking away the community’s right to prohibit intensive development in our highest-conservation-value areas.’
In response to Mr Pugh’s claims, MP Page told Echonetdaily, ‘The decision to defer the E2 and E3 zones in five draft LEPs on the north coast is because they have in many cases been put on normal agricultural farming land’.
‘All the government is doing is saying these zonings need to be reconsidered so that normal agricultural land can be zoned that way (RU1 or RU2).
‘E zones will still exist but not over normal agricultural land.
‘The term excise is used by planners to indicate a plan can be gazetted but certain aspects (in this case E2, E3) need further work and consultation. It has no connection with CSG.’
Sept 26 meeting
The Landholders Action Group will hold a general public meeting on Wednesday September 26 from 6.30pm at the Bangalow Bowling Club.
The action group added, ‘All Byron Shire landholders are invited to come and hear what they must do to ensure the state government continues to support changes to the draft LEP to meet the needs of our farmers and rural landholders’.