The state-government freeze on draft environmental zones, which far north coast councils were set to adopt, has put the protection of biodiversity in the region at risk.
Planning minister Brad Hazzard recently announced the state government would not allow Byron, Tweed, Ballina, Lismore and Kyogle councils to adopt proposed E2 and E3 zonings after some landowners feared it would limit agricultural activity, and would review the process instead.
But Greens MLC and former Byron mayor Jan Barham says many landowners have been misinformed about the impacts the new draft local environment plans (LEPs) would have on farmland, as existing use rights still applied to agricultural land.
Ms Barham last week grilled local government minister and Ballina MP Don Page in parliament over the issue, accusing him of ‘reinforcing misinformation’ on the issue in the public arena while relying on the views of some landowners without checking with Byron Shire Council first.
She told Mr Page many people did not understand the complexity of the issue and how hard it was to translate the old environmental zones into the new template style of the new LEPs, as the planning department had done ‘a lousy job of explaining’ them.
Lismore City Council last week voted to condemn the government’s actions against the environment zones.
Ms Barham told Echonetdaily that for many years councils had raised concerns with the government over the new template LEP planning process.
‘The reduction in the available zones available for translation of the old LEPs and the limited clauses to protect the environment have made it difficult for planning staff to ensure the protection for biodiversity that exists in the current planning system,’ she said.
‘Byron Shire adopted its Biodiversity Conservation Strategy in 2004 and has relied on its current LEP to protect those values across the shire but the translation to the new state template has created difficulties in ensuring that the status quo remains.
‘There has been considerable misinformation regarding the impacts of the new draft LEPs for farmland and it hasn’t been recognised that farm uses attract existing use rights.
‘The opposing concerns are that, with an inadequate planning model, years of work to protect and preserve biodiversity, wildlife corridors and waterway buffers could be undermined.
‘Unfortunately with the new planning system there are some circumstances where an environmental zone is the only planning option available to ensure protection.
‘The recent announcement of the environmental zones in rural areas not being adopted by the state could mean a loss of protection for biodiversity on the north coast.’
In their argument over the issue during a budget estimates committee hearing, Mr Page, who is also minister for the far north coast, said ‘some councils have sought to impose their own ideological position on environmental planning’.
‘Because a new template is being implemented they have taken the philosophical view that it is an opportunity to put in place what they genuinely believe,’ he said.
Ms Barham replied that ‘many landowners who have not complained are concerned about your support for a minority of people who are making comments in the public arena and who do not understand how planning principles work’.
She said it was ‘a translation done by council staff’, with ‘no ideology’.
‘It appears that you and the local member, Thomas George, made representations to Mr Hazzard, the minister for planning and infrastructure, and an announcement was then made that the environment zones would be ruled out of local environmental plans based on landowner concerns,’ Ms Barham said.
‘I do not know that the accuracy of that information was checked with local government. That is a real concern given that the council has spent eight years doing a local environmental plan and that will now be struck out.’