North coast environment groups have slammed the NSW government’s controversial planning-reform process, calling on local MPs to ‘come clean’ and stop making fundamental changes in ‘secretive backroom deals’.
The attack follows yesterday’s announcement by National MPs Don Page (Ballina) and Thomas George (Lismore) to push planning minister Brad Hazzard to allow local affected landowners to meet with the review’s consultants next month.
The two MPs, who originally lobbied the minister to excise, for further ‘review’, the E2 and E3 zones from the draft local environment plans (LEPs) of north coast councils, which caused a community backlash, said they wanted Mr Hazzard to ‘provide opportunities for constituents affected by the proposed environmental zonings in the Ballina, Byron, Lismore, Kyogle and Tweed shires’ draft LEPs to air their concerns with the appointed consultant, Parsons Brinkerhoft Australia’.
They said in a joint press release they believed February would be ‘an appropriate time’ because most people were back to their ‘usual routine’ after the holiday break.
This was an obvious response to criticism of the government for starting the review of environmental zones in the lead-up to the Christmas/New Year period.
Save North Coast Nature spokesman Andy Baker told Echonetdaily that the critical information-gathering stage of the review ‘has coincided with the adjournment of local councils for six weeks and is also the time when many key council officers are away on leave’.
‘During this time, councils are expected to defend their E-zone mapping by supplying the consultants with up to 15 years of scientific assessments, various planning policies, and the minutes of countless councillor and staff meetings,’ Mr Baker said.
‘The minister is yet to make public any “terms of reference” for the review and there is widespread concern that the review will be strongly biased toward supporting narrow private interests over the broader community need for environmental protection.
‘An interim report is due March 8 and although “key stakeholders” and disgruntled landowners may be allowed to comment in closed meetings, it appears the interim report will not be open to public consultation.
‘The minister is rushing to have the review finalised by the end of March 2013.’
Byron Environment and Conservation (BEACON) spokesman Dailan Pugh told Echonetdaily that the ‘process of making fundamental changes to our planning rules in secretive backroom deals and hinting at them by press releases has to stop’.
‘Our local members have to come clean and let this community know the full scope and detail of the changes they are making to the planning system. The whole community deserves to be given a say and not kept in the dark.
‘It is them [Mr Page and Mr George] we have to thank for the excising of E2 and E3 zones from far north coast LEPs, and now E4 zones.
‘Contrary to their claims, Minister Hazzard’s announcement of 20 September 2012 was that “the government would not endorse the use of E2 and E3 environmental zones on land that is clearly rural in council local environmental plans (LEPs) on the far north coast”.
‘At that time there was no mention of also getting rid of “E4 on urban residential land”.
‘This is the first time that our local members have revealed their intent to also do over the limited environmental protection provided for sensitive residential zones.
‘Their decision not to reveal this intent until after submissions to the Byron LEP have closed and those to the Tweed LEP are almost closed is outrageous.
‘They appear intent of getting rid of environmental constraints everywhere so as to allow unfettered development irrespective of the cost.
‘It appears that their motivation for giving “affected landowners the opportunity to have their concerns heard by the consultants” is to subvert any chance of an independent merits-based review.
‘Given that all residents have a stake in the outcomes of this gutting of local environmental controls, and a right to have a say on the outcomes of local environmental plans, we ask that an open and transparent process of public consultation be used to give everyone a say.’
The MPs said that ‘as a result of a large number of concerns being raised about the draft E2, E3 and E4 zones in the LEPs, the minister for planning agreed in September last year to allow further consultation and consideration of the placement of E2 and E3 zones on existing farming land and E4 on urban residential land’.
‘We are confident that the planning minister will ensure that affected landowners will have the opportunity to have their concerns heard by the consultants,’ Mr Page said.
Meanwhile, Mr Baker said Byron Council has failed to highlight its proposed removal of 131 hectares of environmental protection under the draft LEP 2012.
The removal includes 93 hectares of scenic escarpment zones, mostly around Mt Chincogan and Broken Head, the rezoning of 12 hectares of the coastal erosion zone to intensive tourism, business and residential development, and rezoning of rainforest and other native vegetation to allow urban expansion into the wildlife corridor and scenic escarpment above Suffolk Park
‘Any review of environmental zones needs to include these deleted areas,’ he said.