16 September 2019

Planning Department continues review of Eurobodalla Rural Lands rules

| Ian Campbell
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The Eurobodalla is a spectacular mix of rural and coastal landscapes. Photo: Eurobodalla Tourism.

The Eurobodalla is a spectacular mix of rural and coastal landscapes. Photo: Eurobodalla Tourism.

Eurobodalla Shire Council is still waiting for final approval from the NSW Planning Minister for its Rural Lands Strategy, despite the previous minister saying it would be among the first documents he signed after the state election.

The then Minister Anthony Roberts visited the region in March. Mayor Liz Innes told Region Media at the time, “he was very clear in saying that he is now confident in signing it, and that, if elected, it will be the first document that he signs.”

It seems the new Planning Minister, Rob Stokes is taking a different approach much to the delight of those who have rallied against the land-use document.

A spokesperson for the Minister says, “The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is carefully assessing the merits of the Local Environment Plan for rural lands in Eurobodalla.”

“During the consultation, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) raised concerns about bushfire safety and more than 40 environmental objections were lodged.

“We have been working with Council to resolve outstanding concerns.”

Brohdan Thompson, Mayor Liz Iness, Minister Anthony Roberts. Other side of the table, Heath Thompson, Amanda Thompson, Cheryl Blessington (Nathan Blessington there but not in photo), Member for Bega Andrew Constance, Graham Thompson, Huon and Sarah Thompson. Photo: Supplied.

Brohdan Thompson, Mayor Liz Iness, Minister Anthony Roberts. Other side of the table, Heath Thompson, Amanda Thompson, Cheryl Blessington (Nathan Blessington there but not in photo), Member for Bega Andrew Constance, Graham Thompson, Huon and Sarah Thompson – in Tilba, March 2019. Photo: Supplied.

Kathryn Maxwell, Co-Convenor of the Nature Coast Alliance says with northern parts of the state currently on fire the Government is right to be cautious about allowing new developments.

“Rob Stokes as Planning Minister is a great improvement because he’s actually got post-graduate qualifications in planning,” Ms Maxwell says.

“In meeting with his Chief of Staff, we had a sense that they understood the significance of state agencies raising concerns.”

Government departments and agencies have been involved in the drafting of the strategy over nine years, including the Rural Fire Service, NSW Fisheries, Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), and Local Land Services.

“In November 2018, 23 oyster farmers and industry investors also sent a statement of concern to the NSW Planning Minister requesting that he reject the Rural Lands Strategy,” Ms Maxwell says.

In his submission on behalf of the Office of Environment and Heritage, Director of Regional Operations, Michael Saxon wrote, “Given that none of the changes that we suggested in our 2016 submission on this planning proposal have been adopted, we still retain a number of objections to the proposal.”

OEH objections relate to known threatened species habitat and the impacts clearing and incompatible land uses could have on species like the Swift Parrot, Greater Glider, Glossy Black Cockatoo, and Bangalay Sand Forest, as well as significant Aboriginal sites.

The minister also received over 500 submissions from residents and community organisations, submitted in August last year.

Kangaroos at dawn on the Eurobodalla coastline. Photo: Eurobodalla Tourism Facebook.

Kangaroos at dawn on the Eurobodalla coastline. Photo: Eurobodalla Tourism Facebook.

Speaking again to Region Media in the last week, Mayor Liz Innes says, “representatives from the Department, NSW RFS, OEH and Council have met on several occasions, which has seen a majority of the objections withdrawn.”

“More recently, Council has been requested by the Department to prepare a draft Rural DCP (Development Control Plan) as has always been proposed, to introduce the biodiversity mapping into a DCP and to address the remaining issues of NSW RFS.

“The draft Rural DCP is proposed to come into effect in conjunction with the sign off of the Rural Lands planning proposal.”

Cr Innes says the remaining concerns of the NSW RFS will be addressed in the Rural DCP.

“Council has been frustrated with the time taken for the LEP amendment to be finalised, and continues to receive representation from the community frustrated with the delays,” the Mayor says.

“Delays have been caused as a result of objections which on the whole have been proven to be without merit, and have largely been withdrawn through this drawn-out process.

“There are a number of people in our community desperate for the Rural Lands planning proposal to be finalised, having spent numerous years working with Council to see that the planning provisions over rural lands in Eurobodalla are more appropriate, allowing property owners to adapt to changing trends, and capitalise on the economic potential of our area while protecting the environmental values.

“The biodiversity and bushfire management legislation and policy that currently applies will continue to apply once the LEP amendment is finalised. It is unfortunate that people with apparent vested interests and agendas have and continue to circulate misinformation,” Cr Innes says.

Kathryn Maxwell says the Nature Coast Alliance understands there needs to be some flexibility, “but not the scale of development that might be allowed.”

“If the Minister amended the strategy to reflect the submissions of the various agencies then it would be a very good document.

“There is plenty of land for development without needing to clear more.

“It’s a good thing the minister is taking his time.”

Sydney Rock Oysters, a quintessential taste of summer on the Far South Coast. Photo: NSW DPI.

Sydney Rock Oysters, a quintessential taste of summer on the Far South Coast. Photo: NSW DPI.

Region Media asked the Planning Minister a range of questions but his department declined to comment other than the statement provided.

Cr Innes says she is confident the process will be finalised soon.

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Everyone should have a vested interest in protecting the natural environment from inappropriate development, especially in locations that are subject to extreme bushfire danger. The RFS strongly opposed such development in their submission to the Rural Lands Strategy. Bushfire events of 2019/20 in the Eurobodalla proved their cause for concern was justified. I certainly hope the Minister takes the RFS expert advice on board.

The Mayor’s suggestion that the majority of the objections from NSW RFS and OEH have been withdrawn by these agencies is bunkum. This will be news to those agencies as they definitely are maintaining their concerns – just ask them.

I am pleased with the efforts the Planning Department have put into trying to bring about sensible changes to the ill-conceived Eurobodalla Rural Lands Planning Proposal (ERLPP) and the subsequent draft Development Control Plan (dDCP).

My concern now is that because of pressure (from the ESC Director of Planning, the Mayor and most unusually the involvement of the Local Member Andrew Constance in intricate details best left to the RFS and OEH), the RFS and OEH position could be eventually watered down somewhat resulting in serious flow-on consequences. There will be an increase in what resources (personal and equipment) the RFS and OEH will have to invest to deal with the workload consequences of the ESC refusing to use appropriate zoning. More RFS staff will be put at unnecessary risk because the ESC refuses to use appropriate zoning.

Several State agencies have strongly suggested to ESC that sensible zoning and minimum lot size is the better planning instrument. Agencies suggest that relying on the DA and a DCP will inevitably result in land owners having unrealistic development expectations from an ambiguous environmental planning instrument. The DA and DCP are the wrong planning instruments at the wrong time. The RFS, OEH and ESC will be swamped by inappropriate proposal just because the council obstinately refuses to provide appropriate planning zones. The rejection and subsequent challenging of expensive DA’s will lead to numerous legal battles because of the unrealistic development expectations suggested by the 84 RU1 land use possibilities and 75 RU4 land use possibilities. As a result, inappropriate DA’s could be forced through.

The dDCP does very little to diminish the unrealistic development expectations or strengthen the enforcement of the DCP guidance document. ESC has a poor record in following up non-compliance by landholders and developers who do not co-operate, as many recent examples demonstrate. The bushfire risk and environmental impacts of all these additional land use constructions and facilities in these existing zones have not been included in the dDCP. The dDCP need for very large 10kw APZ’s in HCV land will undermine one of RFS and OEH key objectives of protection of environmental assets.

There are 247 new dwellings (or eventually as many as 494 dwellings with new dual occupancy provisions) eventually added to the existing housing stock. These new dual occupancy provisions could also permit an eventual doubling in existing dwellings by 1,330 new dwellings, which in total equates to over 1,800 new dwellings (137% increase) spread across the landscape including steep forested areas that have a high bushfire risk. Each of the 1800 new dwellings could have 2 or more lives in them. It will be of no exaggeration to say, that the resultant coronial inquiry will be shocking to watch as council puts the last nails into the coffins of the many victims resulting from their obstinate extreme position.

If the dDCP requires 100m clearing for 10kw APZ’s , then 3.3 ha of clearing for a NSW average sized new home. With sheds on it then it would be 4.6 ha. This will eventually result in large areas cleared in many of the heavily forested high conservation areas of the shire.

The number of dwellings is not the final extent of changes in the ERLPP. What seems to have been not fully appreciated is the RU land use zone potentially allows for an increased large range of facilities and constructions such as the following and much, much more: Health Services Facility; Group Home; Educational Establishment; Child Care Centre; Seniors Housing; Respite Centre, Tourist accommodation facility, Function Centre; Entertainment Facility; Place of Public Worship. None of these RFS concerns about inappropriate land uses in bush fire prone land have been addressed by the dDCP.

What seems to have been not fully appreciated is that Schedule 4 (Land Requiring Additional Bush Fire Protection Measures) within the dDCP completely ignores the large areas of the Shire that have always had a “Rural” zoning and will remain as “Rural” zoning. What has been ignored is that existing “Rural” zoned land will dramatically increase the number of land uses permitted on these rural lands through the use of open land use tables with a multitude of facilities/constructions possible (e.g. land already zoned RU1 will have a 60% increase in land uses and RU4 land will have a 142% increase).

The bushfire risk of all these additional constructions and facilities in these existing zones have not been included in the Schedule 4. The RFS has made no objection to 17 Areas based on there supposedly being no increased ‘dwelling’ density.
What is ignored is the RU land use zone potentially allows a vast number of people filled other facilities. How are these facilities going to be protected? What are the consequences of all this APZ clearing? ESC response: nothing, silence. Nothing to alert any unrealistic expectation proponents. ESC needs to alert proponents with unrealistic expectations that these land uses and more are not allowed on these Lots. A clumsy ineffective way of doing this would be to put a list all the prohibited facility-generating land uses into the DCP. A much more sensible way would be to zone it appropriately rather than obstinately persisting with inappropriate zoning.

The Schedule 4 only deals with the changed-zone or changed-lot-size “Areas” identified in the previous Rural Lands Strategy (RLS) and the ERLPP documents. The Schedule totally ignores the multitude of facility constructions possible that are not strictly “dwellings” but are where people will congregate and need bushfire protection. The ESC has only partially addressed some of the RFS concerns within the dDCP. In many cases the dDCP has omitted the RFS concerns about specific Lots. The vast majority of OEH concerns have been completely omitted from the dDCP.

We need to insist that the specific concerns of the 6 State agencies are accepted. We need sensible planning that learns from the few isolated mistakes with the E3 proposals without throwing everything out to make room for the current extreme Rural Lands Planning Proposal. The dDCP fails to resolve the concerns of the RFS and the OEH and makes no attempt to address the concerns of DPI Fisheries, DPI Agriculture, DPI Water, Local Land Services, the oyster industry or the community. The permanent long-term consequences on the shire are too great to allow this ill-conceived dDCP and ERLPP to proceed.


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