By Darren Coyne
Aboriginal opponents of the North Lismore plateau housing development will find out tomorrow whether they have managed to overturn the development’s approval.
The development, which is considered an integral part of Lismore’s future growth strategy, would provide 1525 new dwellings for a population of more than 3,600 people, with cycleways and walkways connecting the plateau to the Lismore central business district.
The Lismore City Council voted unanimously to develop the plateau in September 2013, despite the Bunjalung Elders Council opposing the proposed rezoning and development.
‘The significant sites on the North Lismore Plateau are identified to be of great historical and cultural importance not only to the Bunjalung traditional owners but to a greater understanding of the history of Australia,’ the Elders Council said in a letter to the council at the time
‘As Bunjalung elders we are the most senior authority regarding matters within the Bunjalung nation.
‘Members of our council who speak for their country to protect significant heritage and cultural knowledge represent that authority.
‘We will not stand idle if this desecration of the Buninj (echidna) dreaming site, the women areas, our ancient burials, scarred trees and ceremonial places are further desecrated, disrespected and/or destroyed.’
As a result of that opposition, North Lismore Aboriginal man Michael (Mickey) Ryan challenged the council’s approval in the NSW Land and Environment Court.
His challenge was based on the removal of proposed environmental zones, containing Aboriginal heritage sites and habitat for threatened plants and animals, from parts of the Lismore Local Environment Plan dealing with the North Lismore plateau.
The LEP Amendment, approved by the NSW Department of Planning, removed the environmental zones, which had originally been proposed to comprise 28.5 per cent of the 255 hectare North Lismore Plateau site.
It also rezoned 67 per cent of the area as residential and the majority of the rest remaining as primary production.
The environmental conservation and environmental management zones had been included in the original proposal for the LEP Amendment, as publicly exhibited by Lismore City Council.
They were intended to protect Aboriginal heritage sites and areas of environmental value, including regenerating lowland sub-tropical and dry rainforest, which provide habitat for threatened fauna, such as koalas, the Rose-crowned Fruit-dove, and threatened microbat species, as well as sites containing the rare native plant species, Thorny Pea and Hairy Joint grass.
Councils in northern NSW had removed the environmental zoning, apparently due to the NSW Department of Planning’s ongoing review of the use of environmental zoning.
Mr Ryan objected to the removal of the environmental zoning due to its potential impact on the cultural heritage and environment of the plateau.
The basis of his objection relates primarily to the fact that the LEP amendment was fundamentally different to the original proposal, as publicly exhibited.
Mr Ryan ‘s lawyers argued that, in the circumstances, the LEP Amendment was not a product of the process set out in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 for the making of Local Environmental Plans, and given that no opportunities for public consultation were provided in regard to the fundamentally altered LEP Amendment, there has been a failure to provide procedural fairness.
Principal solicitor for the NSW Environment Defenders Office Sue Higginson said Justice Sheahan was expected to deliver his judgement tomorrow (Friday).