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.