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Byron Shire
March 28, 2023

In defence of e-zone opposition

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The letters deadline for The Echo is noon Friday. Letters longer than 200 words may be cut. The publication of letters is at the discretion of the letters editor.

Maria Thompson, Main Arm. 

Jan Barham’s article, published in The Echo (November 29) and entitled ‘Community key to protecting biodiversity’ presented an overly simplistic and somewhat hysterical sounding ‘end-of-days’ scenario, in which Byron Shire’s entire eco system will collapse if E-zones aren’t regimentally enforced asap. Baseless and emotive statements such as “…there will be a loss of biodiversity that can never be replaced” are not only inflammatory, they are incorrect.

To begin with, much of the private land that has been earmarked for E2 classification has been done so because those private owners have often spent years labouring away – without government or council assistance – to regenerate natural bush on their property. They have done so at their own expense and effort, and out of a genuine love for the environment. This is a point that needs to be acknowledged by those who are so quick to label farmers/private landowners as ‘greedy,’ or of not respecting our environmental heritage.

So, why are so many landowners opposed to their properties being zoned E2?

There are several very legitimate concerns regarding land being re-zoned as an Environmental Zone. One of them is that all of a sudden, many activities that are permitted for all other Byron Shire residents, will no longer be allowed on a property in an E-zone. For instance, in an E2 zone you may not be permitted to build a granny flat (secondary dwelling). For the person who was planning on one day building a secondary dwelling for a family member to live in, the news that this is no longer allowed for them is a justified reason for resentment. This is especially the case in instances where their neighbour, who, instead of regenerating their land has kept it cleared, has instead been zoned as ‘rural’ and therefore have no such restrictions placed upon them.

In one particular case I’m aware of, a local was shocked to discover that an E2 zone is proposed for his entire five acre block of land. For those who don’t know, the building of any new dwelling (either primary or secondary) is prohibited on land zoned E2. And, as he hasn’t got around to building a house on his block yet, this pretty much leaves him with nothing but a rates bill, and a block of unusable, unsaleable land.

The other bone-of-contention is that of ‘existing use.’ Landowners will only be permitted to continue the activities that have been taking place over the past two years. If you had been considering a change of use from, say, cattle grazing to growing bananas, this is not permitted. There are several implications for landowners regarding this rule: 1) this limits opportunities for diversification, and therefore a perhaps more stable income, 2) land that may have been left fallow for more than 2 years can no longer be farmed at all, and 3) resale value of the land is greatly diminished due to the many restrictions an E2 zoning brings with it.

Now, before people start tub-thumping about how farming shouldn’t be allowed in the region at all, the fact remains that you can’t inhibit or remove a person’s livelihood and just expect that they’ll manage ‘somehow,’ and nor should they have to wear the inevitable devaluation of their land without some form of compensation.

In her article, Ms. Barham uses the word ‘biodiversity’ no less than seven times, and emotively urges readers to ‘stand up for biodiversity.’ What does that actually mean? E-zones fail in this regard as there is no actual plan with regards actively expanding and protecting biodiversity on private land: there is no planting programme, no funding for revegetation of private land, and no assistance has been offered with regards ‘improving biodiversity.’ In many cases, land that has been targeted as potential E2 land is in fact covered with Camphor Laurels or other noxious weeds – i.e. the very vegetation that threatens our indigenous biodiversity! One dimensional sound-bites such as ‘biodiversity protection’ are essentially meaningless when not backed up with the resources to fulfil this otherwise empty promise.

It is easy to champion the need for tighter land use controls when living in town on a quarter acre block with sea views, or a house that is gifted pretty country ‘views’ courtesy of the hard working farmers nearby. It is easy to champion prohibition regarding secondary dwellings on E2 zoned land when your own right to build isn’t being threatened, and the value of your land keeps going up, not down. It’s another thing entirely when the longevity of your financial existence is in jeopardy, and you are being left with land that is virtually unsellable…But it REALLY sticks in my craw when a person who has spent the last 30 years ‘doing the right thing’ and regenerating their land – ie getting their hands dirty and doing some real work for the environment, in their own time and at their own expense – are referred to as being ‘greedy’ for the simple crime of opposing the more punitive and unfair aspects of the E-zone regulations.

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  1. Ms Thompson is doubtless a competent farmer and feels her virtue in this regard confers the right to use her land as she sees fit – a common belief.
    However, there is a bigger picture which is the whole environment which requires rules which have been progressively weakened by successive state governments . The Barham council fought hard to hold the line on these constraints but since then environmental principles and protection of biodiversity has declined alarmingly. I agree there is never adequate financial assistance for farmers and others willing to improve their land but removing restraints to allow environmental destruction on a large scale is another matter.
    If you do not understand the meaning and importance of biodiversity then there is little purpose in this exchange. Put simply maintaining biodiversity is the major factor in preserving our species as all life is interdependent. If you value your children and their future lifestyle and very existence I would suggest becoming acquainted with the concept.

  2. Marie,
    We must speak up for the natural world. Those words are the beginning of Jan Barham’s second paragraph in her article, so I telegraph those words back to you in that Jan wrote an article that in print words represents a sketch. She presented a broad article in generalisations with a broad brush without the detail. With my mind as I read what she wrote, it did not represent a simplification of anything, Her article stands for what she wanted to say in something broad, encapsulating the essence to move people to action. And for them to stand and to act for diversification.
    In art in a sketch the artist takes a pen or pencil and puts in the outline as a ‘think-piece’ where the detail is left out so the reader fills in the detail with their minds so they think about what is to be done and to think of action or actions. It was not a piece to be read in bed with a cup of hot chocolate and a biscuit to snooze off to. It is to be read with a phone in hand or on computer and fingers on the keys bent in anger.
    Jan states: “There is so much precious nature that no longer is afforded the protection it deserves.” What a beautiful sentence. What does nature need protection from? Human beings and the pollutants they bring with them such as vehicles, polluted rivers and polluted air. That is why the Greens control Byron Council to think about the proliferation of the biodiversity of plant and animal life, the quality of our waters and the purification of the air we breathe. Ahh, take a breathe Marie and breathe in Byron and keep the polluting things of it at bay.

  3. Marie makes some excellent observations regarding the threat to farmland in our shire under E-Zones.

    I too was told that a tract of our farmland (about two acres) was to be classified as E1. Problem was that the land Council thought was remnant rainforest was in fact Camphor and slash pine. Even worse the map they used was so old that it didn’t even show that we had removed most of it. We all support Biodiversity but that must include farming and intergenerational farm change. Not allowing farmers to build secondary residences does not facilitate this.

    Farmers are a suspicious lot and in this regard they have every right be.
    Many farmers have been the custodians of fertile and productive lands for generation. Look what happens when land is left to it’s own devices; it will cover itself in weeds, camphor and any number of invasive plants.
    The Green Agenda is admirable but completely naive.

    Tom and Len you are better than your condescending comments to an opposing point of view. To complain about everything and do nothing is creeping into the Green Agenda lately.

  4. Tom and Len expertly demonstrate the reasons why people get frustrated with the greens. Speaking from on high giving us motherhood statements about the environment. Thanks. Thanks for letting us know there is a bigger picture that only you two seem to recognise but now we can all sip from the cup of your wisdom. Typically not addressing one of the issues just waving away any genuine concerns that people have. Your tone is so condescending its incredible, this is my favourite “if you value your children and their future lifestyle and their very existence, I suggest becoming acquainted with the concept” (biodiversity). You are so perceptive, as well as Marie apparently having no idea about biodiversity, she does not according to you value her children or care for their very existence. I would suggest Tom that you shave your head put on a robe and claim the status of guru or yogi.
    Len your words really resonate with me as do the words of politicians generally, so many words with pretty much no meaning. Just like the guy in the movie The Castle talking about the constitution (but replace with the environment) “Its the vibe”, not good enough I am afraid.
    Some body will comment about being sarcastic or bullying, but if you give it you gonna get it back.

  5. I’d like to address a few misconceptions regarding myself, and who some of the landowners opposed to E-zones are:
    First of all, I am not a farmer, but I know plenty who are. I am also friends with some people who are lucky enough to own many acres of beautiful Byron Shire land which they don’t farm, and have instead devoted much of their life to painstakingly removing all non-indigenous flora and replacing it, at their own expense, with species native to this region. Both breed of landowners have a deep respect for the environment, and collaborate on a daily basis to ensure that our air and water remain clean, and that there are areas of natural habitat for our amazing indigenous fauna to reside in. They also collaborate to ensure that there is fresh produce available to locals- produce that has a miniscule carbon footprint thanks to very few ‘food miles’ being clocked-up (unlike food that has been trucked in from other parts of the country.)
    These landowners are not objecting to the E-zones being placed on their land because they are ‘greedy’ and have secret plans to plonk large housing estates on their land. I have yet to speak to any landowner or farmer who is in favour of developing any tract of land into a medium or high density housing estate, anywhere in the Shire. Nor are they proposing wide scale logging, or the establishment of industries that would sully our pristine environment.This is not the agenda of these landowners, and they are as horrified by such an idea as the next person (in fact the residents of Main Arm and The Pocket recently mounted a spirited and successful objection to a large housing development proposed for the area.) No, what they are objecting to is that rights enjoyed by every other Byron Shire resident suddenly don’t apply to them: the right to build a secondary dwelling (and, in some cases, a primary dwelling), the right to change ‘use’ if they make their living from the land, the right to erect a simple shed without mountains of red tape and application fees that again, will not apply to anyone else.
    Ironically, some of the people I have spoken to who are most opposed to E-zones are those who don’t farm their land, and have restored it instead to natural bush. The restrictions being placed upon them are extraordinary, and have serious implications regarding re-sale in the future. Again, this concern re future re-sale is not because they are ‘greedy,’ it is a legitimate worry that one day they might not be able to sell up and downsize when they reach retirement age, for instance.
    To address Tom’s comment regarding biodiversity, and my perceived lack of understanding of the term, I was perhaps not clear in my initial letter. My point was that Ms Barham’s exhortation to “stand up for biodiversity” is laudable where publicly owned land that can be managed by council is concerned, but has a diminished value when it comes to the E-zoning of private land as it currently stands. The entire expectation regarding the regeneration and maintainance of natural bushland on private property is falling on the shoulders of private individuals who are not necessarily equipped to fulfil this task, either physically or financially. In addition to this, some of them had plans…humble plans, such as one day building a granny flat, or clearing an acre of their otherwise large regenerated bush-land so that they can grow their own veggies and live a self sustaining lifestyle. The point I tried to make in my initial letter was that it is easy to apply broad strokes and sweeping statements about “The Environment,” but without assistance there is no guarantee that these private individuals can singlehandedly safeguard our indigenous flora and fauna, and nor is there any guarantee that curtailing the permitted use of certain properties will achieve this either.
    The people who live in areas ear-marked for E-zoning do so because they foster a deep love for the natural world, whether they are opposed to E-zones or support them. Stereotyping people opposed to E-zones as rapacious land-clearers who have no regard for the future of the planet is causing a great deal of pain in the community, and muddying the debate with clichés is equally unhelpful.


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