Conservation groups throughout NSW are urging north coast locals to voice their concerns on the government’s controversial reform of the planning laws as public comment closes this Friday, 28 June.
Campaigners against coal seam gas (CSG) say the proposed new planning laws will be ‘a body blow’ to every community in NSW fighting coal and gas developments, while the Nature Conservation Council (NCC) say policies that protect koala habitat and coastal wetlands will be scrapped altogether.
Save North Coast Nature (SNCN) says under the ‘alarming’ planning reforms ‘you will lose your right to comment on development that goes up next door to you or anywhere else in your community’.
The government’s new planning system replaces the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
Opponents say some of the main concerns about the changes include removal of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) principles, which means approving developments is a priority over social and environmental factors, and the weakening or removal of public consultation over development.
A CSG Free Northern Rivers spokesperson said the community has limited rights to appeal against a decision on coal and gas development, and no rights at all when there has been a public hearing by the Planning Assessment Commission.
The spokesperson said the Bill also leaves local councils with no power over mining developments and sidelines all other government agencies, instead centralising power with the planning department.
SNCN spokesman Andy Baker says residents wanting to comment on development in their neighbourhood ‘may not even be told until after it’s been approved and the bulldozers start work’.
‘These changes will profoundly affect everyone for decades to come, so please get informed and write a submission to the department,’ Mr Baker said.
The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) says the reforms are the biggest overhaul of environmental planning in NSW since 1979 and it was important as many people from the community give feedback.
The EDO says residents can comment on things like: what development can happen in an area (from houses to mines) and who gets a say; how suburbs, towns and cities are planned (transport, shops, offices, parks, schools); how communities manage growth and change, and balance needs and interests; and how developers and governments have to consider and protect the environment.
NCC campaigns director Kate Smolski said with his proposed reforms, planning minister Brad Hazzard had been transformed ‘from environmental champion to developer advocate’ as his views on planning had ‘moved a long way in the past 16 years’.
Ms Smolski said Mr Hazzard as an opposition member in parliament in 1997, during a debate on the then Carr Labor government’s Environmental Planning and Assessment Bill, had stated ‘the environment has to be an absolute priority’.
‘What is the point in having jobs and development if people do not have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink or to use in myriad other ways?’ Mr Hazzard then told parliament.
Ms Smolski said the minister now ‘is proposing to remove the core principles of ecological sustainable development from the planning system all together’.
‘When in opposition, he thought the biggest challenge in planning was to ensure the environment was protected.
‘Now he is in government it seems Mr Hazzard is simply not up to the challenge. Not only is he planning to dump three of the four existing environmental protection zones, his agenda includes scrapping state environmental planning policies, including those that protect koala habitat and coastal wetlands.
‘If environmental protection was so central to a fair and just planning system in 1997, what has changed to justify these concerns being consigned to the periphery in Mr Hazzard’s current reform agenda?’
CSG Free Northern Rivers says the proposed Planning Bill 2013 should be amended to make ecologically sustainable development the overarching object of the planning laws.
It should also give the community full appeal rights against mining and other state significant developments and give local councils the right to veto mining and gas operations.
Among other things, the group asks that the bias towards development should be removed.
For advice on submissions visit: http://nccnsw.org.au/sites/default/files/White%20Paper%20Submission%20Guide.pdf
The groups ask that concerned locals should send a copy of your submission, together with a cover letter, to your local MP, call premier Barry O’Farrell on 02 9228 5239, or Mr Hazzard on 02 9228 5258.
They also want people to share the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cHUdBQpXNI