Protection of Byron Shire’s unique natural environmental and heritage has been put at risk by proposed controversial new planning rules that water down development control plans (DCPs), Byron-based MLC Jan Barham has told parliament.
Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson says the new rules ‘give developers a get-out-of-jail-free card if they consider local planning controls “unreasonably restrict development”’.
DCPs are the planning instruments used by councils to control the height, bulk and scale of buildings and offer protection for areas of heritage and environmental significance.
Ms Barham, the former Byron mayor, last week was one of several MPs to speak against the government’s Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2012, which
opponents say will open the doors to inappropriate development by weakening DCPs.
Ms Barham told MPs that a DCP put in place for Byron Shire in 1986 in response to cyclones and coastal erosion to limit development and risks for people living in affected coastal zones had stood the test of time.
‘A development control plan was produced to allow limited development in that risk zone to ensure that the structures that were built were removable in the event of the risk being imminent. All these things were well thought out. They were subject to a public hearing and there was massive consultation with the community,’ she said.
‘The overarching provision was the development control plan that was put in place. It has been challenged in court 22 times and each time it has been defended successfully.’
In an urgency motion moved by Mayor Richardson at its last general meeting, Byron Shire Council resolved to write to Mr Hazzard and local government minister Don Page for their support to prevent the bill becoming law.
Council also called on the government to freeze parts of the bill limiting and restricting DCPs because they pre-empt the outcome of the current statewide review of the planning system.
The motion says the bill breaches the government’s ‘contract with NSW’ where premier Barry O’Farrell promised that his government would ‘return planning powers to the community’ and ‘give communities a say again in the shape of their community’.
The council in its letter says the importance of DCPs is that they’re recognised as ‘the fine-grained planning regulations that set out important planning controls to protect the amenity and character of local areas’.
Byron Council says the proposed changes also ‘will prevent councils from considering the cumulative impact of developments’ and ‘restricts the importance of DCPs to merely “guidelines”, without any statutory status’.
In her speech to the Upper House, Ms Barham said environmental heritage was another issue of concern with the recent intervention by planning minister Brad Hazzard over Local Environment Plans (LEPs) on the north coast.
The Greens MP asked Mr Hazzard on notice to provide advice on the review of the E2 and E3 zones and environmental overlays he had excised, the timeframe involved and ‘whether councils will be reimbursed for any additional work that is required because of changes to the plan, additional consultation and costs incurred from the minister’s late intervention?’
‘After many representations were made to inform this government and the previous government, the standard instrument for protection, by having up to seven environment zones, has been taken away – the loss of a coastal zone where there is a known risk.
‘All these changes were announced at the last minute, after councils had already advertised or were in the process of advertising and consulting.
‘The media reported that representations were made by two local members to the minister for planning on the basis of representations made by rural landowners, with no regard for local government.
‘The local member, who is also the minister for local government, did not check with the local council whether the claims made by the self-interested parties were true. They were not.
‘Environment zones do not strip away existing use rights for farmland but that fact has been misrepresented in the media.
‘That is a great concern, but we are being assured that environmental protection can be part of a development control plan. Well and good: let us put out environmental controls.
‘My council has a multiple award-winning biodiversity conservation strategy. Everyone loves going there for the nature of the area and they say how beautiful it is. The development control plan says it is going to be worthless.’
Mr Barham said the Better Planning Network (BPN) feared the draft bill will weaken the status of DCPs across the state and no assessment of the potential impacts of the amendment had been prepared to inform the parliament.
She quoted from the BPN letter, which said, ‘DCPs address environmental planning issues including hazard protection, flood-prone land, subdivision layout, urban design, bushland protection and heritage conservation across the state. They represent three decades of planning by local government and state government agencies, with public participation, prior to their adoption’.
The MP said that ‘after 14 years of trying to develop new planning instruments we are informed that the development control plans are basically worthless’.
‘Thank you very much for nothing! This is a community that has tried hard and has been under threat.
‘The natural environment on the north coast is highly regarded and is one of the primary reasons that people visit the area. This fact has been reinforced by both the Visitor Economy Taskforce and Tourism Australia, because nature is what attracts people to Australia. The development control plan will not allow inclusion of crucial provisions clearly spelling out what is required of development so that there is a level playing field and everyone is aware as a result of a proper process of community consultation that has occurred.’
Cr Richardson said Byron Shire Council ‘has taken a stand on behalf of our constituents to tell the premier that we put community need above developer greed’.
‘If the O’Farrell government has its way, developers will be able to ride roughshod over our local area, including our unique environment and heritage.
‘Under the government’s proposal developers will be able to push unwanted high-impact developments over the heads of protesting local communities.’