A review of environmental zones on the far north coast which the NSW government had controversially instigated almost two years ago supports including the zones and overlays on local plans and mapping.
The findings of the independent consultants’ interim review, released by new planning minister Pru Goward this week, are now on public exhibition for 21 days.
The review’s support of environmental protection zones comes as no surprise to local environmentalists.
The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) welcomed the ‘belated’ release of the review which was called for by Ballina MP Don Page and Lismore MP Thomas George in September 2012 after agitation by some landowners who organised public meetings against the environmental zones and how they applied to their land.
The two MPs, according to NEFA, had ‘prevailed’ on then planning minister Brad Hazzard to have environmental zones (E2, E3, and later E4) excised from new Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) being prepared for Ballina, Byron, Lismore, Kyogle and Tweed council areas
NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh says it’s now time to let those councils get on with finalising their LEPs which had been delayed until the criteria for environmental zones were finalised.
‘Now that the government has gone back to the community, looked at the science, looked at the evidence and been advised that high conservation value native vegetation needs to be protected in environmental zones they need to stop procrastinating and help councils get on with the job,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘It has now been 20 months since the intervention. The report was completed in September 2013, meaning the NSW government has sat on this “interim” report for a further seven and a half months just to delay needed environmental protection, and are now only allowing three weeks for public comment,’ he said.
‘In accordance with the review, the NSW government needs to help councils review vegetation mapping to improve its accuracy, and help Kyogle, Lismore and Ballina Councils to undertake comprehensive mapping of all high conservation value vegetation in order to expand their environment zones.’
Mr Pugh accused new planning minister Ms Goward of having ‘already misrepresented the review by using it as justification to remove proposed environmental zones from Kyogle Shire Council’s LEP’.
He said this was ‘despite the review identifying that Kyogle’s protection of high conservation value vegetation is grossly deficient and recommending the government provide assistance to Kyogle Council to undertake a comprehensive biodiversity strategy to identify more lands for inclusion in environmental zones.’
He said NEFA did not support the review’s recommendations to downgrade the zoning of rainforest, oldgrowth forest, wetlands, mangroves and riparian vegetation from E2 to E3 because ‘these are all of exceptional conservation value and deserve the highest protection’.
‘We also consider that core koala habitat identified in a koala plan of management should be included in an E2 zone rather than just as an environmental overlay.
‘We also call upon the government to support the review’s recommendation that all land designated within an environment zone should be a priority area for the application of incentive based mechanisms, including financial incentives, rate rebates, management assistance, and local award schemes.’
Mr Pugh urged ‘the community to speak up again for full protection of our highest conservation value vegetation’.
Minister Goward said the report was commissioned ‘to consider how north coast councils should use planning controls to protect the environment while still allowing the growth of the important local farming sector’.
‘The NSW government is working to bring together landowners, communities and councils to strike the right balance between appropriate environmental protections and sustainable farming on the north coast,’ she said.
‘Smart planning needs to be backed by strong evidence – that’s the principle behind these draft recommendations.
‘Putting more rigour behind the planning decisions of local councils will be better for the environment and provide more certainty to the farming sector.’
Environment ‘defines north coast’
Ms Goward said the north coast environment was the region’s ‘defining characteristic’ and supported jobs through tourism ‘but was not inconsistent with farming which was also vitally important to the local economy’.
She said her government had ‘given in-principle support to some of the report’s interim recommendations, including:
• Setting clear criteria for environmental zones known as E2 and E3 to ensure that these zonings are based on strong evidence;
• Allowing grazing and other kinds of extensive farming activity with consent in some environmental zones and without consent in others;
• Removing aesthetic value as an objective of the environmental
management zone known as E3;
• Removing the proposed environmental zones from Kyogle Shire Council’s
local plan until proper evidence is provided;
• Replacing the proposed environmental living zone in Byron Shire known as E4 with a more appropriate residential zone.’
Submissions on the independent Northern Councils Environmental Zone (E Zone) Review by consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff are due by the 5 June and further information is available at www.planning.nsw.gov.au/proposals.
Planning department staff will brief councils and agencies on the recommendations, with feedback from the public exhibition to be used to prepare final recommendations. A final report will then be provided to the planning minister for a decision.