A rural landowners group has called for a public hearing into the draft Byron Local Environment Plan (LEP) similar to one held 24 years ago when the plan was first developed.
During a meeting last night in Bangalow attended by around 250 people, the recently formed Byron Rural Action Group also called on Byron Shire Council to extend the public exhibition period on the draft plan, which closes in just over two weeks,.
The group used the meeting to muster more submissions against the plan which they claim will affect their ability to farm their land and which could devalue their property.
The draft LEPs are being reviewed throughout the state as part of the government’s planning reforms, but concerns by landowners over what they see as restrictive environmental zoning led to the recent intervention by planning minister Brad Hazzard, who excised the new E2 and E3 wildlife corridor and biodiversity zones for further investigation from five far north coast councils.
Group organiser, macadamia farmer Rex Harris, told last night’s meeting at Bangalow Bows Club that large areas of rural land will be overlaid with wildlife corridors and restrictive conditions under new environmental E2 and E3 zones, with over 8,500 hectares of rural land to be rezoned for environmental protection.
Most of last night’s speakers urged people to fill in a template submission against the draft LEP, which the group had organised and distributed, as well as to sign a petition to parliament objecting to it.
Meeting presenter Alli Page said their objection was ‘all about the principle of another layer of government imposing their will on us’.
Ms Page, former wife of local government minister and Ballina MP Don Page, told the meeting that despite the government saying the new LEPs would translate the old zonings ‘like use for like use’, that had not happened.
She said minister Hazzard said he would remove the contentious zones but only based on evidence provided by farmers and landowners. She described the new plan as ‘unnecessary duplication of legislation’.
Lismore MP Thomas George and Don Page, who is also far north coast minister, were praised last night by one farmer for helping persuade Mr Hazzard to excise the E2 and E 3 zones.
Bangalow farmer Lousie Savrda gave various examples of how the new LEP could affect her land, saying members of the action group were not ‘environmental vandals’ or against the zones, ‘just the inappropriate use of them and the legislation’.
Mrs Savrda said the new rules added a new layer of duplication and complexity to agricultural land and were not needed.
‘Food production should be encouraged, but I don’t see it in this LEP,’ she said.
Mr Harris said maps used in the draft were 21 years old and inaccurate, showing that much of his farm had camphor laurel where there wasn’t.
He said much of the Byron shire mapping for wildlife corridors or ‘terrestrial biodiversity zones’ and watercourses was wrong ‘yet this is the information they’re using to devalue your land and rezone it’.
Private town planner Paul De Fina was applauded when he told landowners they should ‘ask council to compensate you for locking up your land’.
Mr De Fina also called for the wildlife corridor zonings to be wiped altogether.
He said that under the new draft, existing use rights could be extinguished if the farming activity was let go for 12 months or more and the onus was on landowners to prove they didn’t abandon it.
He said many activities such as earthworks will require a development application ‘even when you bury a dead animal’ and the more reports required to be completed, the extra cost.
The meeting included a few dissenting voices. One man called for anyone in the meeting supporting the draft LEP who would be ‘game to tell us’.
A woman stood up saying she felt ‘a little nervous’ as a result, and told the meeting she too was a farmer but had ‘no kids by choice’.
She said she would attend Byron council’s workshop on the issue on November 17 because it was ‘confusing’, but the way information had been presented at last night’s meeting was ‘a little disjointed and misrepresented’ and ‘we all need to inform ourselves’.
She said she worried ‘about the future of your children’ and that the reality of economic adversity and its effects would make biodiversity ‘more valuable’.
Former Byron councillor Peter Westheimer said he was proud to have have been involved in council’s award-winning biodiversity study and ‘we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater’.
Mr Westheimer said agriculture comprised only a quarter of the shire’s economy, whereas tourism was worth four times as much and it was thus vital to ‘preserve and improve the environment’.
Farmer Bill Allen said his property had been devalued by around 50 per cent in under three years (from $5.75 million down to $2.6 million) because a valuer told him the new zones would ‘significantly limit the use of what you put the land to’.
‘If this council wants E2 and E3 on your land they should buy it,’ Mr Allen said.