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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Anti-E-zone or pro-development?

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The current arguments being advanced for excising environmental (E2, E3) zones from Byron’s LEP in rural areas of the shire are disingenuous. Such zonings would have little effect on restricting farming and other traditional rural land-use practices. Existing use rights, the Native Vegetation Act with its Routine Agricultural Management Activity regulations, together with a raft of other legislation, allow a wide range of such activities to proceed without hindrance. The opponents of environmental zones appear to be mainly landowners intent on maximising the economic potential of their land, freeing it from any encumbrances to facilitate future development.

The application of environmental zones in rural areas is crucial for achieving ecologically sustainable development across Byron Shire, an outcome that should be supported by the entire community. Who wouldn’t want to ensure the maintenance of ecosystem services such as the provision of clean water, clean air, productive soils, waste recycling and the pollination of plants.

But environmental zoning in Byron Shire is about more than providing direct benefits to the local human population. The shire, at the centre of the wet subtropics, is a critically important area for biodiversity conservation at a national level. It comprises part of one of only two refuges for the old Gondwanan rainforest biota in the continent. With Tweed Shire, it supports the highest complement of endangered species of any local government area in the state. It is also of major importance for over-wintering migratory and nomadic birds from higher latitudes and elevations.

We have a national responsibility to sustain this biodiversity for future generations, which can only be achieved by protecting, maintaining and reconnecting the remaining high-conservation vegetation across the shire. This is one of the primary purposes of environmental zones: to identify such vegetation and restrict inappropriate development that can irretrievably damage these systems, resulting in local extinctions.

The designation of environmental zones in rural areas of the shire in Byron’s new LEP should be concerned with redressing the inappropriate zoning of high-conservation-value vegetation that occurred with the 1988 LEP. Many stands of such vegetation were zoned for rural development (1(a)) or for investigation of development potential (1(d)) at this time, which has resulted in past losses and degradation. However, their biodiversity values are now well established and a failure to recognize these values by environmental zoning in the new LEP will result in further loss and degradation. It will also perpetuate many of the land-use conflicts that have marked the Byron community over past decades.

To advocate removing environmental zoning from rural areas simply because some mapping of vegetation in the new LEP is inaccurate is an over-reaction and illogical. Such glitches can be readily corrected during the LEP public exhibition and consultation stages. Similarly the call to remove wildlife corridor planning guidelines is ill-informed, as these do not restrict rural activities but rather provide an indication of the most effective areas for maintaining and restoring native vegetation should the landowner wish to achieve this. The presence of a potential wildlife corridor over land should be viewed as an asset rather than a devaluation, its restoration perhaps assisting in obtaining development approval for other areas of a property.

With the broad-scale watering-down of environmental legislation by the current state government, including the proposed scrapping of State Environment Planning Policies that provide protection for wetlands, littoral rainforest and koala habitat, the retention and strengthening of environmental zoning in LEPs is one of the few effective mechanisms remaining for maintaining biodiversity and all its benefits across the landscape.

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