In the zone: local environmental plans

There was much consternation recently after the publication of revised population projections for the North Coast, which is now expected to grow by between 11% (in Lismore) and 59% (in the Tweed) by 2036. Where will they live? Who will pay for the new infrastructure? How will we protect our environmental assets?

There is a process of sorts for answering these concerns. In 2006 the Minister for Planning released the Far North Coast Regional Strategy, which focused on Tweed Heads, Lismore and Ballina as the three major regional centres for growth. It mapped areas for new residential land releases, the largest of which is on the eastern side of the Pacific Highway at Tintenbar. And it identified the coastal strip – all the land east of the Pacific Highway, from the Queensland border south to the Clarence – as an area to be protected from inappropriate development.

(Yes, there seems to be a contradiction between the last two sentences. As the old English proverb goes, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’. The area to be protected from inappropriate development is, in effect, the area not required for “appropriate” development.)

The latest population projections put about 12,000 more people in our area than the 2006 Regional Strategy predicted. It’s not clear whether extra land will need to be rezoned to provide housing for them, but it is clear that the government expects that most of the growth will come from new migrants to the area. The percentage of the population aged 65 and over is expected to rise significantly (from 17.6% in 2006 to 29.3% in 2036), bringing with it new social planning and economic challenges. The Tweed, Byron and Ballina shires are likely to bear the brunt of the pressure for new housing developments.

The grand plan of the regional strategy is intended to be implemented primarily through councils’ local environmental plans (LEPs). These are the main vehicle for land use planning in NSW. Essentially, they are intended to reduce conflict between different land uses into separate zones (say, by separating manufacturing from agriculture), sometimes with buffers between them. They may also identify land for new residential or other development. And they include measures to protect the environment, especially by restricting the types of development that can occur in sensitive areas such as wetlands, remnant native forests and wildlife corridors which are not already protected in national parks and other reserves.

In 2006 the State Government also decided to introduce a standard template for LEPs. This was supposedly in response to concern about “the confusing array of controls and other provisions being adopted” in LEPs. Coastal councils were given three years, and other councils five years, to translate their existing LEPs into the standard template. Many expressed disappointment at what is a significant taking, by the state government, of their control over local environmental planning. Up until then, most LEPs contained very specific zoning tables, controls and measures to accommodate for unique environments and settlements.

Some of these standard template plans for the Northern Rivers are now close to being finalised. The Clarence and Tweed LEPs have recently been on public exhibition. Ballina’s LEP is on exhibition until June 4, and Lismore’s until July 29. Plans for Byron, Richmond Valley and Kyogle are also likely to go in exhibition later this year.

There has been major concern on the part of local communities that, in their haste to translate their existing LEPs into the new format, some councils have gone back in time, reducing the areas of land contained in environmental protection zones. This is largely because the number of environmental zones has been reduced in the standard template from up to nine down to three. This restriction has been forced on them by the State Government, but some councils have responded more creatively than others in trying to find other ways to protect areas of high conservation value.

The Environmental Defender’s Office has been holding free public seminars to discuss the draft LEPs. Our focus is on how well they protect areas of high conservation value, and on informing the community about how they can have effective input into the final plan.

The Lismore forum will be held upstairs in the Red Dove Hall, on the corner of Keen and Woodlark Streets, from 6-8 pm on Wednesday, May 19. Attendance is free, does not require booking, and a light meal will be available.

Meanwhile, the EDO has produced a checklist for community members wishing to make submissions on their Council’s Draft LEP, especially in regard to environmental protection. Contact us for a copy.

Mark Byrne is education officer at the EDO Northern Rivers. For more information or help about this or any other environmental law issue, please call 1300 369 791 or email edonr@edo.org.au.


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