The state government has rejected an attempt by the Ballina Shire Council to crack down on private forestry activity in the shire in an effort to protect scenic amenity and important koala habitat.
Late last year, the council voted to amend the Ballina Local Environment Plan 1987 to introduce a requirement for council consent for anyone undertaking private native forestry (PNF) in the shire.
PNF is the logging of native vegetation on private property, and it requires Environment Protection Authority approval.
Cr Paul Worth, who led the charge against PNF, said there was limited assessment of ecological and amenity impacts associated with EPA approvals.
He said PNF was an emerging activity in the Bagotville, Meerschaum Vale, Wardell, Coolgardie and the broader Blackwall Range localities.
He said those areas had been identified by the council as ecologically significant, important from a scenic amenity perspective, and also contained important habitat for threatened species such as koalas.
Following the December meeting, council staff prepared a planning proposal to amend the LEP, which was lodged with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment for a ‘Gateway determination’ in January.
But the Department rejected the application.
In a letter from the deputy secretary of Planning Services, under the delegation of the Minister for Planning, the council was told the planning proposal might not proceed.
‘The introduction of new consent requirements and dual consent for private native forestry should not pre-empt the final outcomes of the Northern Councils review of environmental zones and the Government’s review of biodiversity legislation,’ the deputy secretary wrote.
The council has until 29 May to ask for a review of the decision.
In a report to the council’s meeting on Thursday this week, staff have told councillors that the main reasons for refusal appear to be that a state government review of ‘E zones’ has not been finalized and ‘it was not seen as appropriate to include additional consent requirements in the deferred areas for a land use linked to existing rural pursuits’.
The Department also said an independent review of biodiversity legislation, including the Native Vegetation Act 2003, had recently been exhibited for public comment.
‘Given the proposed changes to biodiversity legislation it was considered to be premature to introduce new controls and duel consent provisions,’ the Department said in its response.
Ballina council staff have countered however that the proposed amendments to the Ballina LEP 1987 were of no relevance to the government’s biodiversity review.
Staff also say that the introduction of the proposed provisions were not E zone dependent, and that the Department had not provided any information on a timeframe for the conclusion of the E zone review.
‘In the absence of the planning proposal being able to proceed, there is a risk of an open ended continuation of private native forestry with very limited regulation and further adverse impacts in relation to amenity, ecology, soil erosion, sedimentation, noise, traffic and roads,’ staff have warned in their report.
Staff also say that it is ‘noteworthy’ that that the Department’s decision was contrary to the recent rhetoric of state government suggesting that planning powers should be returned to local government.
‘The proposed provisions are a clear example of Council seeking to better consider and manage the consequences of an activity that is known to have a variety of potential adverse impacts on the environment, infrastructure, amenity and residents,’ the staff report says.
Staff have recommended that the council note the decision of the Department to reject the planning proposal, but submit a review application.
Staff also recommend that Ballina MP Tamara Smith, the Local Government Association of NSW, and other northern rivers councils be advised of the council’s actions.
The council meets on Thursday from 9am.