Byron Shire’s draft Local Environmental Plan (LEP) is under fire from rural landowners concerned that it could potentially devalue property, contain conflicting overlaying zonings, and would require DAs to be lodged where they weren’t required previously.
Last month Cr Diane Woods called for a review of the draft. ‘The draft LEP has E2 and E3 zonings,’ Cr Woods said, ‘both of which can be applied to rural properties and both of which create significant restrictions for the landholders.’
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.
Public exhibition of the draft LEP will commence on Monday September 24 and run for 60 days.
Resident Louise Savrda is critical of what she has already seen of Council’s draft LEP. Another local farmer and Big Scrub Landcare member, Rex Harris, agrees.
Louise and her husband Rowan run Claire Valley Farm, a 50-hectare cattle farm in Bangalow’s hinterland.
‘Council staff made zoning decisions based on an aerial photograph of the shire taken in 1991,’ she told Echonetdaily. ‘Things have changed since then. You can’t assess vegetation of significance from an aerial photograph; you have to visit the property to see what’s growing “at ground level”.
‘But no-one from council has walked the talk – there has been no on-ground assessment or consultation. Bad decisions have been made as a result.
‘What is of real concern to me is that I’ve only found out about this through my neighbour, a fellow farmer. Why hasn’t council contacted me and all other affected residents? If council can send me a rates notice, then surely they can send me a letter about this?’
When asked about former mayor Barham’s comments that the Native Vegetation Act 2003 overrides the LEP, Mrs Savrda said, ‘So we all need to be lawyers to understand that?’
‘We have to sit down and work out which Act takes precedence over another? It should be simple. We are confused and everyone wants do the right thing but most will stop doing anything for fear of being punished. It is my understanding that if I stop farming an E2 zone for 12 months, I may lose my right to farm that land forever.’ She also says that a deadline for state funding on LEP assistance meant the process was rushed. ‘It’s either that or the project is off the rails with a lack of resources.’
Her neighbour and fellow farmer, Rex Harris, organised a public meeting on September 6 and concurs that the mapping is flawed.
‘The LEP states the basis for rezoning agricultural land is the Byron Biodiversity Strategy 2004 and maps therein are dated 1991,’ he says.
‘Landowners can look up Google Maps, with the most recent photomap dated June 2011. Or for very high-definition photomaps, register with nearmap.com to view photomaps dated July 2012, which cover parts of the shire.’
He also was concerned with what he has seen regarding the draft LEP’s agricultural land-usage. ‘Previously, agricultural usage was very specific and did not require council consent,’ he says.
Land usage changes
‘That usage was agriculture – which means the production of crops or fodder – or horticulture – including growing of fruit, vegetables or flower crop production – or the production or breeding of livestock, poultry, other birds or bees for commercial purposes. Now the draft LEP provisions drastically reduce uses without consent to ‘extensive agriculture’, which means the production of crops or fodder, or the grazing of livestock, or bee keeping or a dairy (pasture based).
‘So if you want to do horticulture, including growing of fruit, vegetables or flower crop production on your agricultural land for commercial purposes, then you need to lodge a DA to seek consent. Such consent is not required in Ballina, Lismore or Kyogle shires.’
Another issue raised by Mr Harris is that by regenerating farmland with native foliage, it would be ‘locked’ and not be allowed to be rezoned.
‘As a member of the Big Scrub Landcare group I’m worried that once farmers realise that Byron Shire Council is identifying such rainforest regeneration areas for rezoning to environmental protection, then such heavy-handed control, could stop farmers doing good conservation…
‘Our valuer has advised that environmental zonings and wildlife overlays are bad news for property values. What concerns me most though, is that making an LEP in which some land is down-zoned or sterilised could force some families into serious financial hardship and possible foreclosure on their land. If the Byron planners can’t provide councillors with clear, precise, current photomaps and ground-truthed data then they shouldn’t be making an LEP.
‘Two neighbours and I have had a “look over the fence” at this LEP’s effect on our properties and are horrified at what we have found so far.
‘The new LEP will turn the usage into a dysfunctional nightmare with three new zones RU1, RU2, E2 then two overlays of wildlife-corridor and drinking-water provision and restrictions. Once this draft LEP goes on public exhibition some serious questions will be asked as to why such a flawed document could have been exhibited at all.’