The state government’s controversial removal of environmental zones from north coast Local Environment Plans (LEPs) will make it easier for coal-seam gas (CSG) miners to access some of the region’s best natural areas, it was claimed today.
And in the Tweed, the review sparked a massive response, with more than 1,000 submissions against the removal of around 1,200 hectares of coastal koala habitat under the LEP plan.
As the deadline for final submissions on the government’s review of LEPs approaches, a peak conservation group in the northern rivers has questioned the motives for removing the E2, E3 and E4 zones which include wetlands, escarpment and urban bushland.
The excised zones in the five north coast LEPs (Ballina, Byron, Tweed, Kyogle and Lismore) are up for review with most submissions closing on Monday, March 11, but extended for Lismore till March 25.
Save North Coast Nature (SNCN) says it has legal advice that the removal of the E zones would ‘facilitate CSG mining in our best natural areas’.
SNCN spokesman Andy Baker told Echonetdaily that recent advice from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) indicated that removal of E2 environmental protection zones from natural areas would leave them more vulnerable to CSG extraction and open-cut mining.
‘While CSG and other mining operations are generally approved at the state government level and don’t require approval from local councils, a council’s Local Environmental Plan still plays a critical role in determining where these activities are allowed to occur,’ Mr Baker said.
‘All mining and petroleum production industries in NSW are regulated by a State Environmental
Planning Policy (SEPP) known informally as the “Mining SEPP”.
‘The EDO says that under the Mining SEPP ”any zone that permits agriculture or industry (either with or without consent) will automatically allow mining activities to be permitted with consent”.
‘Currently, E2 zones on the far north coast don’t permit agriculture or industry, and so CSG activities are generally not permitted in these zones either, except under extraordinary circumstances such as where existing mining leases apply.
‘E2 Zones therefore offer one of the few planning protections available at the local government level against CSG activities in rural areas. If E2 zones are removed from our natural areas, it would remove a major regulatory hurdle for the CSG industry and leave our region’s natural areas considerably more vulnerable to CSG and other mining activities.
‘Even rezoning land from E2 to E3, which generally permits some agriculture, would also expose these areas to greater risk from CSG mining. Similarly, any redrafting of E2 zone provisions to allow agriculture or industry would also leave areas vulnerable.
‘It should be noted that minister Hazzard, MP Don Page and MP Thomas George, who originally reigned in E-zones for review, are also well known supporters of CSG industry expansion in our region.
‘This naturally raises questions as to the motivations behind the E-zone review.
‘Further cause for alarm is the NSW Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s recent attack on E2 zones in their submission to the Byron Shire LEP, where they also added ”Nothing in the draft LEP should have an adverse impact on the exploration or utilisation of energy resources, particularly with regard to the Clarence?Moreton Basin”, which the mining industry proudly claims is one of three major CSG regions in Australia,’ Mr Baker said.
Meanwhile, the Tweed’s Team Koala president Jenny Hayes says the review’s independent consultants met with 30 community groups last week to discuss the massive 1,500 community submissions made on the review of the zones.
‘All we’re asking for is the last 1,200 hectares of bushland to be kept as coastal koala habitat as there’s not much left now for the last 140 koalas along the coast, and it’s not going to impede on agriculture or development,’ Ms Hayes said.
The koala campaigner said if that land was put aside and restricted from development, the koala population had a chance of recovering.
‘The process used for this new LEP is flawed, the environmental protection has gone out the window. All these years of ratepayer money have gone out the window, they’re not even including the draft 2010 LEP which was supported by many groups and the planning department.’
Submissions to the review can be made emailed directly to [email protected]