Residents will have fewer rights to comment on new developments, and protected environmental lands will be rezoned to residential or rural development under the state government’s controversial planning law reforms.
North coast shires will be largely stripped of their environmental protection zones by the end of the year.
Kyogle Shire will lose over 99 per cent of area warranting environmental protection; Tweed Shire will lose 83 per cent and Lismore 63 per cent, says the peak north coast environment group Save North Coast Nature (SNCN).
Byron Shire Council’s planning chief Ray Darney says that while the reforms are a ‘mixed bag’, they are ‘very developer oriented’ and could affect the ‘democratic rights’ of residents near a proposed new development will have less say.
SNCN has labelled the NSW planning department’s sweeping reforms, that seek to fast-track approvals, a ‘developers’ paradise’ that will severely erode community consultation, environmental assessment and council oversight for most types of development.
Mr Darney said that simplifying the development approval process to make the approval process faster was welcome and needed, along with the community having increased input at the regional level.
But he said a ‘top down approach along with the proposed fewer local planning zones, could see homogeneous housing areas arise and nearby residents not being informed about impending development until the builders arrive on site’.
Mr Darney said councils ‘will again have to review their Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) in order to align with the fewer planning zones’.
But SNCN spokesperson Andy Baker says communities and councils seeking to protect environmental values have been ‘ambushed’ by the state government.
‘Local councils across NSW have followed state government guidelines by recently applying E3 and E4 zones to environmentally sensitive lands under the belief the zones will offer appropriate protection over coming decades,’ Mr Baker said.
‘Now, with more than 75 per cent of councils locked into the new zoning arrangements, the government has made the shock announcement that areas earmarked for
protection will in fact be rezoned into residential and rural development zones.’
He said for councils yet to finalise their zoning maps, including Tweed and Byron, there is still opportunity to provide adequate protection over environmentally sensitive lands by the application of E2 zones.
Comment on the draft Tweed LEP closes soon.
‘It’s a cup and ball trick with the state’s natural areas,’ Mr Baker said.
‘Firstly the government offered councils three levels of environmental protection zone, strongly discouraged the use of one zone, then once councils had put the majority of their environmental assets in the remaining two zones, the government says these zones will actually be transferred to development zones with little environmental protection.
‘It’s outrageous and completely disregards decades of scientific assessment and community consultation to identify and protect these sensitive areas from inappropriate development.
‘Alarmingly, the planning minister used a heavy-handed carrot and stick approach to force councils to lock in the zones before the new laws come into effect in 2014.
‘With the majority of councils corralled unsuspectingly into the new zoning system, the minister is now able to scrap environmental protections across the state with the stroke of a pen.’
‘On the far north coast many rural councils have used the ill-fated E3 as the main protection for environmentally sensitive lands across their shires, including rainforest, wetlands and koala habitat.
‘Under the proposed laws these shires will be largely stripped of their environmental
protection zones by the end of the year, with Kyogle Shire losing over 99 per cent, while Tweed Shire will lose 83 per cent and Lismore 63 per cent.
‘Councils that have already signed off on the zones may already be caught out as the state government will apparently not allow rezoning of affected sensitive lands to
environmental protection under the new laws.
‘Had Council and the community known that E2 would be the only valid option for providing environmental protection, E2 is likely to have been applied to all sensitive lands warranting protection.
Mr Darney said that a ‘stronger focus’ at a regional level could allow for housing developments to be released strategically and ‘this would then allow for about 80 per cent of those housing sites to be built upon as “complying” or “code assessable” development’.
He said Section 94 developer contribution plans will be replaced with Local Infrastructure Contributions whereby ‘the amount will be uncapped and infill development and small scale development will not have to pay a development contribution’.
‘Larger greenfield housing developments will still be charged developer contributions with the aim of achieving full cost recovery for roads, drainage and open spaces,’ he said.
Mr Darney urged interested locals to attend upcoming planning department community forums on the White Paper (see next page), or place a submission online.