Representatives from 30 Tweed community and environment groups turned out in force last night to drum up opposition against the controversial draft Tweed Local Environment Plan (LEP) 2012 which they fear will wipe out most of the remaining koala habitat on the Tweed Coast.
The meeting called for a public hearing on the issue and for councillors to suspend the LEP process till a revised environmental strategy was included in the draft.
The groups, including ratepayers, wildlife carers, bird watchers and community associations, claim due process in putting the shire’s overall planning blueprint together has not been followed.
Last night’s meeting was convened as a matter of urgency by Team Koala and the Caldera Environment Centre (CEC) to encourage locals to lodge submissions, with the public exhibition period for the draft LEP 2012 closing this Friday, January 18.
Up to 80 people, including two members from each group as well as former and current councillors, packed the meeting at Murwillumbah’s Imperial Hotel, to express their outrage at the loss of hard-fought protections for native vegetation and wildlife habitat.
The state government is pushing councils across the state to simplify and reduce zonings by adopting a standardised ‘template’ LEPs for environmental zones, called E2 and E3.
But planning minister Brad Hazzard late last year instructed far north coast councils, via a press release, to ‘excise’ those zonings for review at a later stage, sparking an outcry from some councils, especially Byron.
Tweed Shire Council has organised an extra workshop on the draft LEP for tomorrow, Wednesday, as a result of the public outcry that not enough information has been provided and that it was rushed through council.
Former longtime mayor Max Boyd told the meeting he was ‘horrified to think’ that all the years of work in planning and mapping areas for conservation had been ‘pushed aside’ in drafting the new LEP.
Mr Boyd also said it was ‘beyond belief’ that council had engaged a consultant at a cost of $100,000 to do a koala plan of management which council has ‘not even seen the light of’ and which was not taken into account in the draft LEP
Greens Cr Katie Milne said she and Cr Gary Bagnall, the only two councillors at the meeting, would move at the next council meeting for a suspension of the process till a revised environmental strategy was incorporated in the draft.
A lawyer with the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) in Lismore told the meeting the as-yet-unfinished koala plan of management for the coast should, in a legal sense, be properly considered in the draft LEP.
Ian Ratcliff said there was also an issue on whether council had properly considered protection for koala habitat in the draft LEP as required under the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 44.
Mr Ratcliff said the 2010 draft LEP plan (which was not adopted) had koala habitat and council ‘moving away from that zoning’ was also a ‘big issue’.
He said that in the end it was council’s call as to what they included or left out in the new LEP and ‘if council don’t do what the state says, it could be taken over’ and an administrator appointed to push the government’s agenda.
Team Koala president Jenny Hayes said a lawyer had been engaged to write to council to ask them to ‘prove’ it had considered all relevant planning information and had followed proper procedure.
Ms Hayes said if not satisfied with council’s answer, an injunction in the NSW Supreme Court would be taken out against council to force it to follow due process.
Former Tweed Council senior planning officer Doug Jardine said all LEPs have to meet statutory requirements and he feared the Tweed one didn’t by not reflecting all previous and current environmental studies which offer environmental protection.
Mr Jardine questioned whether Mr Hazzard’s press release, included in Tweed council’s report on the LEP, was ‘really relevant’ as it was ‘just a bald statement’ about reviewing environmental zones and not quite clear.
He said the root of the problem was the government insisting on a standard planning document where ‘you have to fit the environment into a template, but it won’t.
Wooyung Defenders and Pottsville Community Association spokesperson Chris Cherry said under the draft, much fragile vegetation, especially around Pottsville and Koala Beach, would be removed.
Ms Cherry said ‘we’re losing 1,200 hectares of really good-quality vegetation’ if protections included in the 2010 draft were not in the 2012 document.
Friends of Koala president Lorraine Vass, who is also on the Tweed shire’s koala advisory group, said there was much ‘disquiet’ in her group about the impact of the LEP on koala habitat.
Ms Vass said if adopted, it would have a major impact on the Tweed’s coastal koalas which were ‘on the brink’ of extinction, with only 140 of the marsupials left.
She said that by not waiting for the koala plan of management to be finalised and adopted, council had done ‘a backflip’ on all the hard work they had put into the plan for the past two years and the koala plan would be ‘totally ineffective’.
Rhonda James from the CEC said that the last time the draft LEP (2010) was exhibited, more than 400 people made submissions, mostly supporting environmental protection zones.
Ms James said the Tweed Valley vegetation management strategy, which was available at the time of preparing the draft LEP 2012, was now ‘nowhere to be found’ and council ‘didn’t seem to want people to know about it’.
Pottsville local Dave Norris said it was ‘inconceivable’ that what has been proposed was removing a large area of core koala habitat and corridor around the sportsfield near the Black Rocks subdivision.
Mr Norris said this land would be rezoned to ‘additional permitted use’ which could include outdoor recreational facilities such as a golf course, rifle range or go-kart track.
The council workshop will be held at the Tweed Heads Civic Centre on Wednesday at 5pm in the Islander Room.
Submissions on the LEP should be emailed to [email protected]