The controversy over proposed changes to environmental zonings on the far north coast continues to escalate with claims that protections for urban bushland will be removed as well as other wildlife habitat.
The north coast’s peak nature conservation body also accuses local MPs Don Page and Thomas George of hiding their intent to ‘destroy environmental protection for bushland in residential areas’.
Save North Coast Nature spokesman Andy Baker says the group only found out that the E4 zones for urban bushland, as well as the E2 and E3 zones, were ‘on the chopping block’, in a joint press release issued by the MPs last Thursday.
‘It’s outrageous that they chose to hide their intentions from the public until after submissions to the Byron LEP had closed and with only one day remaining for Tweed LEP submissions,’ Mr Baker told Echonetdaily.
‘They appear bent on getting rid of environmental constraints everywhere so as to allow unfettered development irrespective of the cost.’
Mr Page’s office has admitted the decision to excise and also review the E4 zones was made only last week .
‘It is the case that the review into environmental zones will now also encompass the environmental living (E4) zones,’ a spokesman for the planning department told Echonetdaily on Mr Page’s behalf.
‘This will ensure that all environmental zones which cover private land are reviewed, not just two out of the three. This decision was made last week.
‘E4 land will now also be deferred from any of the five Far North Coast LEPs. Presently, only the draft Byron LEP 2012 contains land proposed to be zoned E4.
‘The review will not be a secret process. We hope to make an announcement very soon about public sessions which will allow members of the public to discuss this issue directly with consultants hired by the NSW Government to review environmental zones.’
The state government’s aim to simplify environmental planning with its current review of local environment plans (LEPs) was met with confusion over mapping and sparked an outcry from councils, environmental groups and landowners.
After some landowners claimed the new E2 and E3 zones could affect their farming and land values, the two National Party MPs lobbied planning minister Brad Hazzard to remove those zones for further review.
But that too sparked an outcry from environmental groups, who said it would remove protections for wildlife habitat, wetlands and other sensitive areas.
Mr Baker said that ‘after successfully excising E2 and E3 zones from rural areas in far north coast LEPs, MPs Don Page and Thomas George are now moving swiftly to strip environmental protection from bushland in urban areas as well.
‘This is the first time our local members have revealed their intent to also destroy environmental protection for bushland in residential areas.
‘Minister Hazzard’s announcement in September 2012 was that he “would not endorse the use of E2 and E3 environmental zones on land that is clearly rural in council local environmental plans (LEPs)”.
‘At that time there was no mention of also getting rid of “E4 on urban residential land”.
‘This clearly has nothing to do with farming, as with their suspicious claims against E2 and E3. E4 zones protect bushland in and around our towns and suburbs.
‘This bushland has no real agricultural production value, but could generate huge profits from misguided residential developments.
‘It seems almost certain that it is motivated purely by creating short?term jobs and profits at the expense of irreplaceable environmental assets. It’s the same old story: economy first, environment last.
‘The MPs are also calling on minister Hazzard to give landholders opposing E?zones a private audience with the review consultants, in what appears to be an attempt to subvert any chance of an independent merits-based review.
‘The current process of making fundamental changes to our planning rules in secretive backroom deals and hinting at them by press releases has to stop.’