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Byron Shire
May 22, 2024

Call for moratorium on NSW floodplain developments

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Meeting with concerned resident groups prior to the NSW election is NSW Labor leader, and now NSW Premier Chris Minns, President of the Kingscliff Ratepayers and Progress Association Inc (KRPA) Peter Newton, NSW Shadow Minister for the North Coast John Graham, President of the Tumbulgum Community Association Jenny Kidd and KRPA Vice President Angela Watson. Photo supplied

The additional flooding risk to existing housing and infrastructure caused by new development on floodplains is a serious issue for communities throughout NSW, in particular, legacy or ‘zombie’ approvals. It was an issue that was particularly taken up with all parties by community representatives from Kingscliff, Tumbulgum and Chinderah in the lead-up to the NSW State election, including with Labor Party leader, and now NSW Premier, Chris Minns. 

Legacy developments are development applications (DAs) that have been approved but not yet built. When developers finally decide to build them the approvals no longer meet current planning laws, including in relation to flood, environmental and cultural impacts. An example of this is the current 27-year-old DA on Cobaki Creek in Tweed, which was bought by Dubbo developer MAAS last year for $20M+, who then started working on the site in late March.

Cate Faehrmann looking at flood-prone land that was approved for development in Kingscliff with President of the Kingscliff Ratepayers and Progress Association Peter Newton and Tweed Councillor Dr Nola Firth. Photo Jacob Miller.

‘The Kingscliff Ratepayers and Progress Association’s (KRPA) has the strong belief that there is an absolute need to stop development on low-lying, flood-prone land or, at the very least, pause any such development until state and local authorities have fully considered flood inquiry findings following the 2022 floods,’ Peter Newton, President of KRPA, told The Echo. He had participated in discussions between locals groups; the Tweed member Geoff Provest (Nationals); Chris Minns; and Cate Faehrmann (Greens), who was a member of the Upper House 2022 Flood Inquiry in early September and October 2022.

Mr Newton pointed out that ‘many members of our community were impacted by floodwaters – many in places always considered “flood-safe”’ had seen flooding first-hand’.

‘We remain rightly concerned about the further impact that “legacy approved” developments on low-lying land will have on existing residences.’

According to Ms Faehrmann, ‘From Tura Beach on the far south coast to Kingscliff in the Tweed, inappropriate and unsustainable developments are being considered by councils and Regional Planning Panels. Alongside new approvals, old ones that have lain dormant for decades are springing back to life… If they are allowed to go ahead, the cumulative impact of these developments will be devastating.’

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet at the launch of the NSW Flood Inquiry in Lismore with MPs Tamara Smith, Geoff Provest and Janelle Saffin.

Flood Inquiry said no more

After the 2022 flood the NSW Flood Inquiry clearly stated there should be no more developments on floodplains. Yet legacy approvals, such as the Tweed one on the floodplain next to Cobaki Creek and Tweed River, are being pursued aggressively by developers, and there are currently no means for local councils to call a halt to or seek reassessment of them.

Development site at 60 Tringa Street, Tweed Heads.

Frustration at lack of action

While all the parties seem to agree that there needs to be action taken on the issue little has yet been done which is especially galling for communities like the one at Cobaki Creek said Lindy Smith, president of the Tweed District Residents Association. 

Re-elected local federal Labor MP, Justine Elliot. Photo Tree Faerie

Member for Lismore, Janelle Saffin (Labor), Mr Provest, Member for Ballina, Tamara Smith (Greens), Federal Member for Richmond, Justine Elliott, and Greens MP Sue Higginson, spokesperson for planning, have all told The Echo that they support taking action on and reassessing DAs on floodplains. 

‘The Albanese government believes stronger planning laws are needed to stop building in disaster-prone areas,’ Mrs Elliott told The Echo.

‘This is an issue that’s been in the too-hard basket for too long and we’re all paying the price of that now. We’ve all seen the impact of many past development decisions.

‘Many communities across the nation are keen to see action taken on this, and that’s why we’ve put it to National Cabinet.’

State Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin at the launch of the NSW Flood Inquiry in Lismore.

Ms Saffin said that, ‘the independent flood inquiry (O’Kane and Fuller) recommended no more developments on floodplains, and all agree, but it has yet to find its way into implementable public policy.’

Locals are concerned that allowing the legacy approvals to go ahead will create more flooding and significantly increased costs to community and government. Photo supplied

‘The NSW Labor government will have this on their plate to work through along with a plethora of long-left-untouched issues. The issue of so-called zombie projects is one that will have to be worked through.

‘Land banking should not take place in any case, but it has to date, and there can be both facile and compelling reasons for it.

‘My approach would be to have secure public policy settings on future development, then with legacy issues to do a review of them, and then some would have to be case by case. I would imagine the lack of insurance may also be a deterrent for a lot as well.’

Tweed MP Geoff Provest, President of the Tumbulgum Community Association Jenny Kidd, President of the Chinderah Community Association Felicia Cecil and President of KRPA Peter Newton to discuss stopping legacy floodplain developments inthe lead up to the NSW election. Photo supplied

Immediate action

Tweed MP, Mr Provest, told The Echo that he would be pushing for action as soon as the new NSW parliament was sworn in. 

‘Once the polls have been declared and the 58th parliament has been sworn in, I will seek an urgent meeting with the new minister for planning to push for immediate action on this issue.

‘I do not have any preconceived ideas as to how this should be done. These are issues that are longstanding and will require careful study as it will most likely require legislative change and possible compensation. It needs to be viewed through a lens of what is sustainable, environmentally sensitive as well as mitigating any impacts on housing availability and affordability. This is a state-wide issue – it is not limited to floodplains on the Far North Coast. Other states are also facing the same issues and it is not something that should be rushed without proper consideration and consultation.’

MLC Sue Higginson.

Call for inquiry

The Greens are calling for an inquiry into these developments and have been working with communities in Tweed, Byron, South West Rocks, and Yamba to call attention to the issue.

Ms Higginson told The Echo that ‘developments that are at risk of fire and floods, or that propose to clear endangered or critically endangered ecological communities, should be subject to new approvals as soon as the changed circumstance is identified.’ 

Tamara Smith MP. Photo Tree Faerie.

Ms Smith told The Echo that, the time is right for the new Labor government to call in land subdivisions like West Byron and Coabaki Creek because they are on floodplains and we are setting up future disasters if we let these go ahead.’

Ms Higginson emphasised that, ‘Approved developments in areas that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change should be reassessed and councils should be empowered to require new approvals for developments after a certain amount of time.

‘I am working with communities up and down the coast to activate their issue within the parliamentary system. We are examining strategic petition campaigns as well as bringing together different community networks to build a state-wide alliance. Throughout this term of parliament, The Greens will be prioritising reform of the planning system and hope to conduct an inquiry into zombie DAs and climate vulnerable developments,’ she explained.

‘The detail of the planning reform should be informed by an inquiry, but it is clear that development approvals should have trigger functions whereby a new approval is required after a certain threshold is passed. That might be a timed trigger but it should also include natural disasters and changing status for endangered species. Councils should also be empowered to develop planning proposals for vulnerable land without the fear of reprisals from developers.’

Residents are distressed by the clearing for the development on Triga Street, on the tidal estuary of Cobaki Creek.

Call for immediate moratorium

For many people who live in these areas there is significant frustration at the fact that there have been plenty of words but little or no action taken to immediately put a hold on these DAs as the government looks at a way to reassess them. 

‘These developments, like the one on the Cobaki Creek in Tweed, are putting current housing and infrastructure at risk,’ Ms Smith told The Echo.  

‘We need an immediate moratorium on this and other DAs that are on the floodplains so that the NSW government has the opportunity to look at how the legislation can be updated to stop development on floodplains.

‘One immediate action that could be taken to further update the policy is on deemed commencement; to require a DA to have substantial development work that has commenced on the site. If that had been the case it would likely have stopped the Cobaki Creek DA from going ahead at this point.

‘The current situation is like the 2022 catastrophic disaster never happened, rather than learning from that event. We need the new NSW Labor government to take immediate action with a moratorium.’

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  1. These people are not trying to shut down rebuilding of destroyed houses on the floodplain – and that is hypocritical


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