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May 16, 2021

Review backs environmental zones on north coast

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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.

pru-goward
New planning minister Pru Goward.

‘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.’

Kyogle targeted

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.


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6 COMMENTS

  1. Well did you actually read the report? It only recommends E2 & E3 in areas that have clearly such attributes, such High Conservation Value (HCV) vegetation. The report found countless mapping inaccuracy and recommended that all land proposed for E2, which does not have strict and specific attributes, to be zoned according to its primary use (eg. rural zone). It specifically note that predominantly weed infested vegetation should not be included as E2 land and neither should any land mapped as significant agricultural land…still why let the facts in the way of a good story

  2. Payola has a good point.
    There are obviously many vested interests that don’t or wont recognize the value of environmental attributes of many areas that have been desecrated by ignorant attempts to destroy what remains of the unique sub-tropical lowland rainforest,in the name of a quick buck. By classifying regrowth and partially remediated areas as ‘ predominately weed infested vegetation’ the door is kept open to allow complete destruction of these invaluable wild life corridors and prevents the establishing of buffer zones around highly significant islands of native vegetation (or should that be ‘woody weeds’ ? )
    If traditional rural landholders had any concept of environmental value, these areas of high erosion and limited agricultural value would be still rainforest vegetation not dairy farms, banana patches and the new ecological disasters, macadamia farms.

  3. Initially I wanted to appeal the zoning of my 32 ha to be all E2 and E3 zoning but I dropped that when it became obvious these environmental zonings were a joke offering no real protection. It is inimical to environmental protection of high value conservation areas to allow grazing plus the zonings are only locked in for ten years not perpetuity. Further council is not serious. IF LCC were serious it would have mapped out the spider web of crown road reserves that would form interconnecting wildlife corridors, and purchase these from the government that is currently forcing the sale of these undeveloped road reserves

  4. It’s disappointing to be driving in an area you know has high conservation value and come across … land clearing. … The old school of thinking is clear it all and make the land productive, the land has more $$$ value if it’s cleared and you can run cattle. What some landowners do not seem to care about that there are a lot of animals that are reliant on mixed species of forest types and that 99% of the big scrub was logged, burnt and and turned into paddocks. Just think of how amazing the big scrub was before we got here. There is very little vegetation left. Sure there is weeds because of logging activities but weeds can be eradicated. Most of our National Parks are full of weeds from previous vegetation disturbances. These weeds should be controlled, not a sign that it renders the area less of an environmental zone. The government is obviously in the mind of take it all. Revoking our Marine Parks, pushing forth with a polluting toxic industry (CSG) when the community doesn’t want to become a gasfield an now remaking of the Integrated Forestry Operational Agreement which like this review is meant to lesson environment regulations like checking to make sure no vulnerably listed Koala call the tree home before chopping it down which Forestry Corporation is supposed to do. Without these regulations, scientists are concerned that we’ll start experiencing localised extinctions of species these zones are meant to protect. The government wants to put the highway through a key Koala colony near Ballina when alternatives are available to avoid the destruction and demise of this colony. Now that we have a breather from the threat of unconventional gas mining where we’ll watch that unfold closely it would be great if we could focus on increasing the biodiversity in the Northern Rivers and keep hard won environmental protections for what’s left of our forests. The timber industry wants to take the rest and then try to go for our State Conservation Area. They’ve been using the distraction the community has had with rightfully protecting the region from unconventional gas. Now it’s time to tell them they can log the lot and cause species extinctions.

  5. While the government procrastinates, farmers and developers are running riot! Rogues are destroying bushland and taking advantage of the governments lackadaisical attitude to the environment. There is so little rainforest left, those people destroying regrowth ought to hand their heads in shame at destroying these irreplaceable parts of Australia’s heritage.

  6. Environmental zoning and land use decisions require baseline data that are reliable – otherwise the outcomes may be perverse. The Echo article fails to raise a key problem in NSW whereby the best method and spatial data (high resolution aerial photographs available in NSW) for mapping finely classified vegetation types typically used in local planning, is largely being ignored by a specific group of people in control of mapping. They favour rapid modelling methods using satellite imagery that produce maps usually about 40% accurate to vegetation type and that fail to depict many important habitats. About $8 million has been spent on this and there has been no independent third party review of the results – in fact such has been avoided. Until the public and NGOs wake up to this underlying problem and agitate for change, this situation will continue with a possibility of a highly unreliable map being imposed on all LGAs for environmental planning which will lead to decision-errors and significant controversy.

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