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March 31, 2023

The North Coast Regional Plan 2041 – a blueprint for developers

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The NSW government has just recently released its 124 page North Coast Regional Plan 2041. The government describes it as a ‘strategic plan that sets the framework, vision and direction for land-use planning on the North Coast… for the next 20 years’ and which will help the region become ‘even more vibrant and prosperous, and provide housing, jobs, infrastructure, a healthy environment and connected communities’. 

The 2041 Plan covers 12 local government areas (LGA) from the Tweed to Port Macquarie and includes ‘local government narratives’ at the end, setting out briefly the government’s snapshot vision for each area and coarse-grained ‘urban growth area’ maps showing existing and proposed urban lands. 

Unnecessary photographs

The three pages set aside for each LGA could have easily been reduced to two with the elimination of the unnecessary photographs which add little to our understanding and may be misleading as to the diversity of an area and what it has to offer.

A good example of this is the Richmond Valley Council picture of the Casino Livestock Exchange covering more than half a page and showing a couple of blokes leaning on a rail at the Exchange overlooking the pens with people and cattle below. Hardly riveting, and begs the question why was this particular picture chosen?

What message was Council trying to convey, if any, and was the picture necessary?

Perhaps the most interesting feature of these documents is that the 78 page ‘North Coast Regional Outcomes Report’ is about Aboriginal Engagement in the development of the Regional Strategy, yet it fails to include the word ‘Aboriginal’ in its linkage identifier on the NSW government’s planning portal which begs the question ‘Why’?

The actual title of the report is Aboriginal Engagement Outcomes Report not ‘North Coast Regional Outcomes Report’. Portal readers may see the Department of Planning documents list and show little interest in the engaging title ‘Outcomes’ when there’s a 124 page main document to wade through, but if it had included the more accurate descriptor Aboriginal Engagement Outcomes Report, that may have put a whole different complexion on public interest in how the community was engaged and who was involved in the decision-making process.  

This is the second longest section of the 246 pages. The plan was prepared by Zion Engagement and Planning in conjunction with consultants GHD – the latter are often engaged in many planning processes with government.  

Empowering First Nations people

Zion describes itself as ‘Empowering First Nations people to care for Country, restore community and revive culture’ and ‘Through training, consultancy, facilitation and public speaking … [elevating] First Nations knowledge in the built environment industry’.

According to its website, it is ‘a First Nations majority owned and operated small business based on Bundjalung Country in Northern NSW’ where it ‘facilitates online training for built environment professionals based around Country, community and culture’ and ‘provides consultancy services for built environment projects and engages with First Nations communities’ and offers ‘advisory services to assist in embedding First Nations perspectives into [your] projects and how to better partner with First Nations communities’.

Founder and Director, Elle Davidson, describes herself as a ‘Balanggarra woman from the East Kimberley and descendant of Captain William Bligh… caught in the cross-winds of Australia’s history’. Elle is also an Aboriginal Planning Lecturer at the University of Sydney and a member of the Planning Institute of Australia.

Aboriginal history and culture figures prominently in the 2041 Plan. 

The 2041 Plan

It is very clear that the 2041 20-year plan is a glossy political document pushing repetitively the ‘jobs and growth’ mantra of the current government, long on empty adjectives and expressions and short on details that have yet to be determined.

It is no coincidence that the Plan and accompanying documents should be released not all that long before the sState government election in the hope that it will capture voters with its ‘vision splendid’ for the future, which takes account of First Nations knowledge (tick that box) and promises of environmental protection (tick that box).

At the same time it is promoting growth, growth and more growth through more housing development on smaller blocks as the way forward to a perfect life where everyone will live happily ever after just like you see on those ads on television for property development and ‘lifestyle’ retirement villages.

Promotes building on floodplains  

Despite government statements about not building on floodplains anymore there are plans for future developments on floodplains with government reliance on flood planning through local councils. The disturbing aspect of this is the flood planning process is still far from complete, notwithstanding the findings of the independent inquiry which the government says it will follow. 

And areas such as the controversial Iron Gates site at Evans Head are still shown for urban development despite major fire- and flood-risk begging the question about how ‘up-to-date’ the 2041 Plan is!

Perhaps the most disturbing feature of the 2041 Plan is that it fails to show how the land on which we live will be able to provide the necessary environmental services required to support growth. 

The infrastructure is just not there, and the plan fails to show how these services will be financed. Our rivers and waterways are polluted and have been for years, and we are still dumping partially treated effluent from our sewage treatment systems into our waterways, not to speak of contaminated runoff from urban development and various industries, including agriculture.

There seems to be little or no plan for social housing and legacy effects of the floods and bushfires, which are a recurring feature of our environment. Yes, lip service is paid to these ‘hazards’ but where are the robust plans and money that should be accompanying the 2041 plan?

Cui bono – who stands to benefit?

Make no mistake the 2041 Plan is a plan for housing development and growth with various mechanisms being set up to look after developer interests. 

The fact that the land on the Far North Coast is already past its ‘carrying capacity’ and has been for more than 20 years, and will be further pushed to Gold Coast ‘feedlot’ status, destroying the very reason many of us live here through overdevelopment and environmental degradation is what the plan is all about. If that’s what you want, you won’t be disappointed.  

246 page doc

As an aperitif for the main 2041 Plan read the four page FAQ statement first, then the plan for your local government area. Then wade through the rest at your leisure. Check the accuracy of the 2041 Plan by looking at what your local government has to say about its plans for the future. In some cases those plans are not completed, or are in contradiction to the 2041 Plan. 

The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing or the cart is before the horse. And ask yourself who are the folks on the various advisory committees in this process and how were they selected?

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  1. When living at Evans head, I vaguely recall the previous plan. It generated an income for some, ticked boxes for others but I don’t remember it making one jot of difference. I suspect history will repeat itself.


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