Tweed community and environment groups are calling for the scrapping of the draft Local Environment Plan (LEP) which they say will result in the loss of a massive 1,200 hectares of coastal koala habitat.
The groups also want a public hearing on the document, currently on exhibition, as they say proper process hasn’t been followed in drawing it up in that the 2012 draft differs substantially from the 2010 draft, which did include the coastal koala habitat as an environmental protection zone.
Tweed Shire Council has reacted to the public outcry by organising an extra public workshop on the draft LEP for next Wednesday, January 16, but has stressed any formal public input has to be by written submission.
Council is currently finalising a koala plan of management (KPoM) for the Tweed Coast to protect the highly vulnerable remaining population of koalas.
Caldera Environment Centre (CEC) says the proposed LEP’s ‘extensive loss of environmental protection zoning on the Tweed Coast means that the KPoM’s ability to protect the current population is significantly compromised’.
Team Koala president Jenny Hayes told Echonetdaily it was ‘mind boggling’ that council planners could excise ‘almost half’ the known Tweed Coast koala habitat as well as tree preservation orders crucial for the survival of the marsupial, with only 140 animals in three colonies left on the coast.
‘How can you properly prepare a koala plan of management if you’re striking out areas identified as koala preservation?’ Ms Hayes said.
But mayor Barry Longland said the state government had put ‘a lot of pressure’ on local government to complete the LEP process and that local government minister Don Page had given Tweed council little choice but to adopt a strategy based on old mapping.
Cr Longland said this was because the draft LEP which was publicly exhibited before Christmas came after planning minister Brad Hazzard announced he would ‘not entertain further expansion of environmental zones’ till a review of the E2 and E3 (environmental) zonings in the plans of five far north coast councils, including Tweed, was undertaken.
‘So that meant increases in environmental zoning which came after that first draft exposure had to be taken out again,’ Cr Longland told ABC North Coast.
‘What is on exhibition now contains the same amount of environmental zoning as to the existing LEP, the one we use right now.
‘It’s meant we can’t enhance protections, but it doesn’t mean that won’t happen, the department has said they want to do this as a separate process, they want to look at environmental protection, so our shire is involved right now in completing a detailed environmental strategy and we also have a koala plan of management which is just about completed, so those documents will inform our submission to the state government for expansion of zonings, but there hasn’t been any loss of environmental zones’.
CEC co-ordinator Sam Dawson said ‘Council promotes the draft LEP as a rollover of the current Tweed LEP 2000 however it ignores critical environmental changes recommended in the Council-adopted Tweed Vegetation Management Strategy 2004 (TVMS) some of which were included in Draft LEP 2010’.
‘In complete opposition to its own policy (TVMS), Draft LEP 2012 removes over 1200 hectares of bushland (mostly koala habitat) previously zoned for environmental protection on the Tweed Coast under Draft LEP 2010,’ Mr Dawson said.
‘In addition areas currently protected by way of Tree Preservation Orders have decreased by about 10,000 hectares.
‘Examples of loss of protected areas most of which are endangered ecological communities, koala habitat or critical wildlife corridors are at Koala Beach, Black Rocks, Tweed Coastal Reserve, West Pottsville, Chinderah, Wooyung and Tweed Heads West.’
The newly-formed Murwillumbah and Villages Cultural and Heritage Association (MVCHA) described the draft as ‘a backward step in conserving the remaining native vegetation and biodiversity in the shire’.
MVCHA secretary Carolyn Pickering said ‘the loss of planning protection for 1,200 hectares of sensitive coastal habitat is just wrong’.
‘The long history of dialogue between council and community via consultation, advocacy and individual concerns regarding conservation of the coastal areas has been ignored in this current draft.’ she said.
‘With what the community has done to try to protect and maintain the beautiful Tweed Coast over the years, this current draft is a slap in the face.’
Ms Pickering urged ratepayers to make a submission calling for the council to reject the draft LEP. Submissions close on Friday 18 January and details can be found on the Tweed Shire Council’s website.
Council chief planner Vince Connell said council will review submissions from the current public exhibition ‘with a view to advancing the plan for final approval by the NSW state government’.
‘Council also resolved in December 2012 to bring forward and publicly exhibit the more recent investigations conducted by council officers in terms of environmental protection controls, and consider any further submissions, along with those submissions received for the Draft LEP 2012,’ Mr Connell said.
He said the current draft ‘essentially retains the extent of existing environmental protection zoning contained under the current Tweed LEP 2000.
‘The zoning differs from that contained within the previously exhibited Draft LEP 2010, which was the subject of substantial community concern’.
Wooyung Defenders’ spokesperson Chris Cherry told Echonetdaily that under the new planning reforms the community will have little chance to complain once the LEP is in place.
‘The community consultation sessions were a joke, they were so poorly advertised that at Tyalgum there were three attendees, at Murwillumbah five, at Pottsville eight and at Kingscliff 12.
‘Most people do not understand how the new LEP will affect them and they do not understand that under the proposed changes to the NSW planning laws this is really the only time we have to be consulted with and influence what is, and is not, allowed to happen in our area.
‘They will understand when their neighbour suddenly starts building a quarry next to them but by then it will be too late to have any real impact.
‘I was shocked to see that the LEP 2010 has been abandoned and all the changes that were incorporated in Amendment 21 have been lost. That is basically more than eight years of consultation, information gathering, vegetation mapping and planning reform lost in a single stroke.
‘One of the biggest problems with the 2010 Draft LEP was the loss of environmental protection in the west of the Shire. This is clearly identified and needs to be addressed but the answer is not to revert to a 13-year-old document.
‘To return to the 2000 LEP is a huge backward step for the community and will result in large losses to environmental protection along the coast right at the time when it needs it most.’
The extra workshop next Wednesday would be held at the Tweed Heads Civic Centre’s South Sea Islander Room from 5pm.