A group of Byron Shire rural landowners are ramping up their campaign to rid the shire’s draft Local Environment Plan (LEP) of new environmental zones that they claim will affect their ability to farm.
But Byron Council says many of their fears are unfounded, while an environmental group says the government had ‘effectively removed the environment from local planning’ by its recent decision to excise the new E2 and E3 zones from Byron, Tweed, Lismore, Ballina and Kyogle councils’ LEPs for further review.
The Byron Rural Action Group (BRAG), which welcomed the government’s intervention, has organised a second public meeting on the issue, to be held in Bangalow next Wednesday, November 7, at which they’re offering to help fill out submissions for the draft LEP, which is on display till November 23.
And the Conservation Ecologists Association (CEA) has called for the five councils’ LEPs to be deferred until the state government completes its review of environmental zones that it has temporarily excised.
CEA spokesperson, Dr Robert Kooyman, questioned why the government excised the environmental zones and overlays from the LEPs from the far north coast region.
‘Do we really have to remind the state government that this region is a recognised biodiversity hotspot of national and international significance?’ Dr Kooyman said.
‘Have they forgotten that its rainforests are of world-heritage value? Do they need reminding that historic over-clearing, logging and infrastructure development have resulted in this region having the greatest number of plant and animal species threatened with extinction in NSW?
‘By intervening to excise environmental protection from this region’s local environment plans, the NSW government has removed the responsibility and right of north coast communities to identify what they consider appropriate protection for rainforests, old-growth forests, endangered ecosystems, core koala habitat, wildlife corridors, scenic escarpments, water catchments and riparian buffers, and other high-conservation-value lands,’ he said.
In a two-page advertisement in The Echo this week, BRAG uses a map of the shire with all the waterways marked in and headlined ‘Where will you farm?’ The ad claims the draft Byron LEP proposes ‘development conditions within 40 metres’ of each watercourse in the shire.
But Byron Shire’s chief planner Ray Darney told Echonetdaily that council already considers development near waterways or watercourses as part of the development application process.
Mr Darney said landowner concerns over the watercourse mapping in the draft LEP would be considered ‘and it may be an overlay that Council adjusts’.
‘At clause 6.12 within the draft LEP, waterways and watercourses would be considered as part of development application in order to protect and maintain the water quality, aquatic and riparian habitats, and the stability of banks.
‘The draft LEP does not stop development, only states that any proposed development on waterways should be considered.
‘Existing farming activities would not be affected by this provision. It only applies to development that requires development consent such as a rural dwelling house
‘Waterways and watercourses are sensitive ecological areas that provide significant corridors for flora and fauna. As many also connect with the shire’s water catchment, we need to consider development in these areas,’ Mr Darney said.
‘Similarly, significant waterways are proposed to be zoned as Environmental Zone E2 along with High Conservation Vegetation (HCV) areas, Mr Darney said.
BRAG says that 8,500 hectares of rural land in the shire was being rezoned for environmental protection and that ‘large tracts of rural land to be overlaid with wildlife corridors and conditions’.
But Mr Darney says development applications assessed under the current 1988 LEP already take into consideration if land is located within wildlife corridors, has high conservation value, contains koala habitat or is near a waterway.
‘These planning considerations are not new and are clearly documented within the 2004 Biodiversity Conservation Strategy,’ he said.
Mr Darney added that the NSW Planning template required existing land zones to be transferred to a ‘like’ land use zone within the new LEP.
But he said planning minister Brad Hazzard’s removal of E2 and E3 zones from the north coast LEPs has ‘placed uncertainty around these zones’.
Mr Darney said Council would hold a workshop on the new environmental zones on Saturday, November 17 aimed at finding ‘a balance between supporting the agricultural industry and maintaining the shire’s biodiversity’.
Dr Kooyman said that, as yet, there was ‘no indication of what, if any, environmental controls on land use the state government was going to allow to be restored to LEPs and in what manner’.
‘The state government should complete its review urgently, issue clear guidelines, and refund councils for any work required to accommodate this last-minute political intervention,’ he said.