David Grice – ignoring expert state agency advice
I observed at the last council meeting that some councillors would have benefited from asking state government experts direct questions. Instead what they got was the filtered and heavily massaged response from the council land planners. If councillors had only just read the direct submissions from the state government experts they would have realised that the response from the land planners were in many cases misleading them, as well as presenting a biased “I reckon” opinion that was unsupported by data or evidence.
Most significantly, we were also told at the last council meeting that council planners had not accepted advice from government departments because it came down to there being a “Professional Disagreement”.
As a former CSIRO scientist, I am well aware there can often be “Professional Disagreements” between scientists in the same area of professional expertise. However, when that disagreement occurs between completely different areas of professional expertise it is the usual practice to concede-to the advice from the area of expertise that is most relevant and that has the most experience.
What is most unusual in the example in front of us is :”
We have land planners having “professional disagreements” with DPI Fisheries experts who have the more relevant expertise and experience.
We have land planners having “professional disagreements” with Rural Fire Service experts who have the more relevant expertise and experience.
We have planners having “professional disagreements” with OEH experts who have the more relevant expertise and experience.
We have planners having “professional disagreements” with DPI Water experts who have the more relevant expertise and experience.
We have planners having “professional disagreements” with DPI Agriculture experts who have the more relevant expertise and experience.
We have planners having “professional disagreements” with South East Local Land Services experts who have the more relevant expertise and experience.
As a scientist I am well trained in statistical analysis but I think anyone can see there is a strong trend here … and that is … we have a very disagreeable planning unit in the council.
What land planners actually need to do, is accept the advice of the specialist experts who have the more relevant expertise and experience and very cleverly and creatively incorporate that advice into the planning proposal.
What we get instead is that the expert advice and concerns are minimised and dismissed by the council land planners. An example of what was repeated for other agencies is the treatment of the RFS. The RFS states on 28 June 2018 that:
“The NSW RFS provided detailed comments, attended meetings and joint site inspections with Council and other agencies in order to discuss the contents of the Planning Proposal and further explain our concerns.” …[despite doing all this] … “the Planning Proposal appears largely unchanged from previous versions and has not addressed the specific concerns Identified by the NSW RFS nor undertaken a strategic bush fire study.” (Letter to General Manager 28 June 2018)
The council recognises that many parts of the shire are significantly bushfire prone. Its solution to this is to NOT listen to the RFS concerns and advice, but instead, to sprinkle significantly more dwelling through parts of our heavily forested and bush fire prone areas … and to then sit back and wait for occupants to incinerate … expecting the RFS to risk personnel to try to save 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 position.
The council’s inability to accept state government concerns and advice will also put a nail in the coffin of our unique oyster industry as our pristine waterways become polluted from multiple sources of runoff. The Fisheries submission explicitly and forcefully warns of this.
The council’s inability to accept state government concerns and advice will put a nail in the coffin of our unique endangered species as forests are dramatically changed by the stated aim of council to facilitate more intense uses of rural lands. This will inevitably lead to clearing for dwellings, clearing for roads and fences, and the clearing of understorey and over storey for hazard reduction. The OEH submission explicitly and forcefully warns of this in the discrete sites within the planning area. They do not expect most of the shire to be restricted as intimated by planning staff.
I was brought up on a 2,000 ha grazing and cropping property so I am well aware of the inevitable impacts on the land of simply operating a rural land use enterprise. I am also well aware that most farmers do not want to “desecrate” their land. However, I am also aware that some do not have the experience and their land can be severely affected. I am also aware that in seasons of severe stress or in periods of financial stress, the ability to limit the significant impacts on the land can become very problematic. That is why sensible land use planning is essential and that is why accepting the advice of government experts is an essential part of that planning. 2. Kathryn Maxwell – non genuine consultation by the Eurobodalla Council We may have had 6 years of “consultation” on the Rural Lands Strategy but advice , whatever the source, has been ignored first by the Rural Lands Strategy Committee and more recently by the Mayor and a number of other Councillors. It all started soon after the Rural Lands Strategy Committee was established way back in 2012. A departmental draft paper was presented to the Committee and included the terms stewardship and sustainability. All of the members, except Stuart Whitelaw the SAGE representative, insisted that these terms be removed. Stuart Whitelaw resigned in disgust as he worked out that this Strategy was going to be about personal financial gain for a few developers, not ensuring sustainable agriculture in the Eurobodalla. We then had the 2015 consultation process where the Council received submissions from a number of state agencies including those with a strong economic focus. Local Land Services NSW Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries Department of Primary Industries – Water Department of Primary Industries – Agriculture Rural Fire Service Office of Environment and Heritage All to no avail, no matter the level of expertise, data and information provided about the need for significant amendments to the proposed Rural Lands Strategy. Moving right along to 2018 the Council runs another consultation process. This time with a document of 650 pages in length and 1000 pages of maps. Does the Council take any notice of the concerns raised by over 500 (may be more like 700 by now????) submissions from citizens in the Eurobodalla - no, they say they are ‘considered and addressed’ – but they are then ignored and dismissed.Council will argue they received submissions in favour of the Rural Lands Strategy. They received 30 which constitutes a massive 6% of submissions made by the formal closing date of 20 July. The Council has received another 200 submissions opposed to the Strategy in the last month. Again all fobbed off. Does the Council take any notice of the concerns raised in detailed submissions from 14 community organisations in the Eurobodalla - Coastwatchers Nature Coast Marine Group Tuross Lakes Preservation Group Guerilla Bay Association Sustainable Agriculture and Gardeners Eurobodalla (SAGE) Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) Eurobodalla Natural History Society No, they say they are ‘considered and addressed’ – but they are then ignored and dismissed. Most significantly does the Council take any notice of concerns raised in follow up submissions from experts in NSW Government state agencies including: The Rural Fire Service Office of Environment and Heritage Department of Primary Industries - Fisheries South East Local Land Services NSW Rural Fire Service The NSW RFS wrote to the Eurobodalla Shire Council on 4 December 2015 and 12 July 2016 with concerns in relation to a number of items within the Rural Lands Strategy and Draft Plannlng Proposal. Those letters provided detailed comments relating to potential bush fire risk impacts from the Planning Proposal and Justification for requesting a strategic bush fire study be undertaken to support the proposal prior to exhibition. The NSW RFS provided detailed comments, attended meetings and joint site inspections with Council and other agencies in order to discuss the contents of the Planning Proposal and further explain our concerns. Notwithstanding, the Planning Proposal appears largely unchanged from previous versions and has not addressed the specific concerns Identified by the NSW RFS nor undertaken a strategic bush fire study. Does the Council really think that bushfire deaths as in King Lake, Victoria or lost houses as in Tathra is acceptable? Office of Environment and Heritage starts their 2018 submission with the following statement. The Office of Environment and Heritage has reviewed your latest planning proposal resulting from the Rural Lands Study. 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. This includes ensuring that the objectives of the environmental zones are not undermined by the addition of incompatible land uses and a full review of all the zoning and lot size changes proposed. South East Local Land Services LLS restate the concerns they raised in their 2015 submission. Many aspects of the Planning Proposal could adversely impact productive agricultural land and the environmental assets of the shire. For example, South East LLS recommends that ESC retain the Terrestrial Biodiversity Overlay and clause 6.6 of the ELEP 2012 to ensure landholders have certainty, flexibility and realistic expectations for development. Department of Primary Industries Fisheries wrote to the Council with 7 pages of concerns in June 2018. For example DPI Fisheries does not support the removal of clause 4.2A of the Eurobodalla LEP as it will result in dwellings with unsealed roads which will be a significant contributor of sediment to waterways. DPI Fisheries does not support the rezoning of deferred lands as RU1, RU4 or E4 where they are located adjacent to waterways with good condition native riparian habitat. DPI Fisheries does not support the removal of the Biodiversity Map from the Eurobodalla LEP as it is a risk to species and communities projected under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and inconsistent with Goal 1 Direction 7 Action 7.2 of the South East Tablelands Regional Plan. DPI Fisheries does not support the removal of the Environmental Management Zoning (E3) as it protects important environmental assets and it goes on an one with objections. Does the Council take any notice of the concerns raised in detailed submissions from these state agencies. NO, AS OPENLY STATED BY SEVERAL AGENCIES THEIR EXPERT ADVICE IS NOT ACCEPTED You Mayor, may have heard it all before, but you are still ignoring this advice. This is not consultation. This is not acceptable in our democratic society. “I want Council to withdraw this Proposal and review it together with expert State agencies and a community advisory panel that is truly representative of the broad community. Presentation by Julie Mills Good morning Councillors and staff. My name is Julie Taylor Mills and I will be addressing Agenda item 11 in relation to the Rural Lands Strategy. We bought in this area because we were looking for acreage and to become investors in sustainable agriculture. We did all our research from London and we were drawn to the Eurobodalla region because this area spoke to our values - - it had not suffered the piece meal over development of so much of the North Coast- its estuaries and river catchment areas were not surrounded by extensive cattle grazing. The region appeared to value its forests, estuaries and coastline and - its history of farming had not been undertaken at the expense of the natural environment. We saw the - considerable uptake of solar power in the area, - the establishment of extensive national parks and wilderness areas in the region, - noted organisations like SAGE and felt this was an area where we would find a like minded community AND we heeded the marketing undertaken by Eurobodalla Shire itself - the importance it appeared to place in the pristine nature of its estuaries and coastline, Our objective was to establish somewhere where we could live here and invest in industries true to this mantra. Our 40 acre coastal property has significant environmental features and we paid to have a wildlife covenant applied across the property. The covenant we have applied to our property is in perpetuity - our prime beachfront land can never be subdivided. This I am sure you would agree was a significant decision on our part. Our land is zoned R1. Can I say that we have had fantastic assistance from council environmental services staff towards the rewilding and habitat restoration work we have done to date - this help has been invaluable. Foremost in our thinking towards investment was that we wished to invest in industries that did not damage these environmental values or even perhaps enhanced them After 20 years living in cities round the world we knew how special the place we had discovered really was. Oyster farming is just such an industry and has been our first investment. Put bluntly, you can't harvest oysters unless you have pristine river ecosystems and protecting those river systems going into a climate constrained future in a country where everyone seeks to live closer to the coastline was front and forward in our minds. For all these reasons we are deeply alarmed at the changes being put forward in the Rural Lands Strategy. I have been advised by Members of State Parliament that the changes being proposed by Eurobodalla Shire are unlike any in the rest of the state and will have far greater damaging environmental impacts than other changes being undertaken by any other council across the state in response to the State Government simplification of land zoning categories. We find it breathtaking that Council is ignoring the suggestions of the various expert professional bodies in response to the RLS. The promise of a region that respected the environmental values without which no human activity can flourish seems to be diminishing before our eyes. The idea that the council will be able to make discretionary decisions in relation to zoning and land use without an avenue of recourse by the community to other state or federal authorities is shocking. Such a reduction in checks and balances is fundamentally wrong. Particularly when such decisions relate to the natural environment - which sustains us all. The ecosystem services provided by our rivers, forests and coastline are not quantifiable. But they underpin our ability to farm the land and to harvest from the oceans. As investors in farming, energy and social ventures we are acutely aware that we will not derive success or wealth if we foul the nest in which we operate. And we thought we had found a location where the majority of the community recognized this philosophy. This region's unique selling point is its nature and its coastal environment. But this is not a given. It requires all of us to work towards sustaining it. It is totally unfathomable to us as long term investors with a commitment to operating within the constraints of a healthy environment why the council would seek to jeopardise the environment all of us love and treasure and call home by approving the changes to zoning being proposed. I implore Council to withdraw this Proposal and review it together with expert State agencies and a community advisory panel that is truly representative of the broad community.