Environmental advocacy lawyers EDO believe the threat of resumed CSG exploration on the north coast is relatively small but are very concerned about the fate of development outlined in the draft North Coast Regional Plan on dwindling koala populations.
Nina Lucas, EDO’s north coast outreach solicitor, is urging as many residents as possible to make a submission on the draft plan, which is currently on exhibition.
Ms Lucas has outlined four areas that she believes are of concern: mining; land-use conflicts; transport and future urban growth.
She argues that while the draft plan states that the north coast’s coal seam gas resources could ‘support the development and growth of new industries and provide economic benefits for the region’ the Department of Planning and Environment has ‘since stated that it has no intention of developing CSG on the north coast.
‘We therefore assume that such a proposition will not appear in the final plan,’ Ms Lucas said in her recent assessment,’ Ms Lucas writes.
But she is much less sanguine about the future of north coast koalas, which are under twin threats from the development of the controversial Kings Forest township in Tweed and the equally unpopular Blackwall Ranges stretch of the planned Pacific Highway duplication south of Ballina.
Ms Lucas identifies areas ‘that will experience urban sprawl for the next 20 years’ under the draft plan.
‘In Byron and Bellingen, more urban land to meet housing demand will be required in addition to the mapped urban growth areas. The draft plan proposes to accelerate the supply of urban land and provides a list of 14 priority land release areas.
‘Accelerating this process risks robust and comprehensive environment assessment,’ she writes.
‘Development at Kings Forest in Tweed, a priority land release site, has already impacted sensitive koala habitat.
‘The NSW Government’s recent changes to the way that councils can set land aside for environmental conservation and management in the far north coast, effectively weakening environmental protections, has the potential to compound impacts like these,’ Ms Lucas adds.
She also identifies that the draft Plan supports the Pacific Highway upgrade between Woolgoolga and Ballina ‘notwithstanding the significant impacts it will have on the local koala population.’
Ms Lucas adds the recently approved instrument landing system in the Tweed for the Gold Coast airport has caused ‘major concern for communities on either side of the state border who are concerned about the impacts the new flight path will have on the community and the environment including damage to internationally significant wetlands.’
She warns that options for the community to review the plan after it is made are ‘very limited’.
‘Having your say on the draft Plan may be your only opportunity to have input,’ Ms Lucas says.
Submissions are due by June 2 and can be made on NSW Planning & Environment’s website.