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Plumb: Council Passes Disastrous Planning Changes based on narrow interests and deliberate “muddling

The Beagle Editor, Your readers might be interested in the latest Nature Coast Alliance media release as follows: The Nature Coast Alliance has warned Eurobodalla Shire Council that it’s action on Tuesday 28 August to pass the controversial planning changes known as the Rural Lands Strategy Planning Proposal is not the end of the matter.

Mr Noel Plumb, spokesperson for the Nature Coast Alliance said, “We do not have a new Rural Lands Strategy but a disguised and opportunistic Coastal Development Strategy. The changes benefit few but will bring about the slow but sure degradation and loss of native forest cover, wetlands and clean waterways that underpin our major regional industries, nature based tourism and oysters. The changes also will devastate the iconic rural landscape that so many residents and visitors hold dear.”

“The Mayor Liz Innes has been saying publicly for months that the matter was already “a done deal” and that only Council’s approval was needed to implement the wide ranging planning changes. This seems to be deliberate muddling of the truth.”

“These claims were not true then or now. Even her fellow Councillors and staff have acknowledged to community objectors that the planning changes adopted now by Council still need to pass the scrutiny of the Department of Planning and get the final approval of the Minister for Planning.”

“We are going to take our concerns and the major objections by six relevant expert State agencies to the Department of Planning and the Minister. More than 1100 outright rejections of the planning changes and calls to withdraw the Proposal have been lodged with Council which has dismissed them in a few lines.”

“Council will not shut us up nor contain the real story of collusion and self interest that is behind the changes. Changes which benefit only a few large landholders and profit driven developers who have used the small farmers as patsies to pressure the Council.”

“The changes are irresponsible and reflect a six year effort by a few large landholders and developers to get the Shire’s private rural lands opened up for a wide range of new uses that have little if anything to do with traditional rural land use, mostly grazing, in Eurobodalla Shire.”

“The key to this has been the Council’s Rural Lands Strategy Steering Committee (the Committee). The Committee has been crucial in pushing these planning changes through Council. The handpicked ‘community’ representatives were mostly large rural landholders, not at all representative of the broader community and other major economic, social and environmental stakeholders in the future sustainability of the rural landscape.”

At Tuesday’s meeting the Mayor Liz Innes and Councillor Lindsay Brown heard lengthy submissions from previous Councillor Keith Dance and grazier Mark Bice.

Mr Plumb said, “Counsellors Brown then put leading questions, true Dorothy Dixers, to Messrs Dance and Bice without revealing that all three as well as Mayor Innes were members of the Committee between 2012 and 2016. Cllr Innes was the nominated ESC representative while Cllr Brown as Mayor chaired the Committee for much of this time. “

“The Committee infamously stopped Government agencies on the Committee from voting and rejected the concepts of “stewardship” and “sustainability”. These concepts are of course endorsed by the National Farmers Federation and led to the alliance of farmers and the conservation movement, through the Australian Conservation Foundation, in the 1980’s that created the vast Landcare movement.”

“Yesterday the Council meeting heard from a series of smaller farmers who said they were environmentally responsible, sustainable and cared for the environment but the changes by Council were needed for their farming aspirations and to give certainty to the rural community.”

“They seemed unaware, “said Mr Plumb, “of the scathing criticism and, in some cases, complete rejection of the major elements of Council’s new rural plans (Local Environment Plan) on just these grounds by expert State agencies. The changes have been rejected and or heavily criticised by the Rural Fire Service, the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) – Fisheries, DPI – Water, South East Local Land Services, Office of Environment & Heritage and the Department of Agriculture.”

“It also seemed that these farmers did not understand that the Council changes included a RU1 rural zoning with almost 90 permitted land uses over some 38,000 ha of heavily forested and/or steep land in place of an E3 zoning for special conservation value areas.”

“The E3 zoning permitted traditional grazing within an overall framework of environmental care and sustainability. This was effectively a true “one” for one” or “like for like” rezoning that was first proposed in 2011/2012 to meet the NSW Government’s requirements to transition from the old planning blueprint (Eurobodalla Local Environment Plan 1987) to a new, standardised blueprint with new Zone names.”

“The upshot has been a complete and acrimonious muddle because it suited the big landholders and aspiring developers to mislead the general farming community into thinking that initial proposals were stealing their traditional rights.”

“Effectively, some smaller farmers genuinely committed to sustainability and land stewardship have been deceived and used to attack the original planning proposals in 2011/12 which really acted to protect their traditional rural uses.”

“Also, any large farms or land parcels that had both open grazing land and areas of special conservation value were given a split zoning in 2012 that generally assigned E3 to the environmentally important lands and RU1 to the other active, cleared grazing areas already included in the new planning blueprint.”

“But the development interests driving the Committee were still not satisfied – they put forward an “Open Land Use” table for RU1 Zone that greatly increased the number of permissible land uses to some 90 and this also applied to all the RU1 land identified and designated in the 2012 LEP.”

“At a stroke, the development interests have opened most of our traditional grazing land and its forested surrounds to a multiplicity of possible developments.”

“Most of these new land uses have no real connection with the traditional grazing uses central to our landscape. In many cases they will fragment good agricultural land and drive out small farmers through pressure from new, incompatible developments and higher land values reflecting higher development potential.”

“The next step of the Committee, driven by Councillor Innes, was to push for grazing in the E2 Zone as an exempt use (i.e. permissible without consent). The E2 Zone covers high conservation value areas including protected wetlands, old growth forests, rainforests, endangered ecological communities and endangered species habitat.”

“Again, Mayor Innes mislead the broad community by publicly stating many weeks ago that the changes did not include grazing of E2 lands. In fact, it was there in her own Council’s Proposal and she was aware already of the deep concern about such a step.”

“It is a retrograde step that spits in the face of nearly forty years of Landcare and the huge number of hardworking volunteers in Eurobodalla Shire.”

“It also disregards and disrespects expert and scientific knowledge about conservation of biodiversity, maintaining clean water supplies to towns, farms and key dependent industries like nature based tourism and the oyster industry in Eurobodalla (collectively valued at over $400 million per annum)”.

“Again, informed residents, community groups and expert State agencies have objected strongly.”

“What has not been counted is the willingness of key funding bodies such as the DPI and Local Land Services to continue to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into Landcare, Rivercare and Dune care in Eurobodalla Shire in the face of such parochial, self-interested and arrogant disrespect of the community and the expert agencies.”

“These expert agencies include DPI – Fisheries (vitally concerned about the pollution impact on the oyster industry and general fishing stocks) and the SE Local Land Services. SE LLS indicated strongly to Council Council that its plans are misconceived, that there is a place for E3 zoning and called for the removal of the grazing exemption in E2 zoned areas.”

“SE LLS has also indicated that the professed purpose of the planning changes by Council to protect high value agricultural land is contradicted by its actual proposed planning changes.”

“The Committee’s third step was to remove high conservation value area overlay maps from the planning blueprint and associated protective clauses, the 2012 LEP. This was part of a dumbing down of Council’s conservation protections so that many issues could only be settled at the Development Application stage – effectively death by a thousand cuts as well heeled land owners and developers took court action to overturn refusals by the Council. Very few refusals seem likely by this current Council.”

“Such legal action by developers is generally successful as Development Control Plans and other protective measures at that lower level are now regarded by the courts as little better than guidelines which have no more weight than the “expert” evidence paid for by any self-interested developer or land holder”

“After several hundred thousand dollars of legal costs in unsuccessful appeal after appeal, most Councils and their communities which have weak LEP’s, the real legal protection, give up.”

” Yet again, informed residents, community groups and expert State agencies have strongly objected to this change.”

Mr Plumb continued, “Residents and community groups who attended yesterday’s Council meeting were very appreciative of the staunch support of Deputy Mayor Mayne and Councillor McGinlay, the only Councillors who voted against adopting the planning changes.”

“Deputy Mayor Councillor Mayne was clear and concise when he spoke about the Council’s refusal to meet expert State agencies to discuss their objections, even the DPI – Fisheries which had asked for a meeting with Council.”

“He also perceptively said just before the final vote “We [Council] play a significant role. We chose not to have E3. We choose to make significant changes to RU1. All this potential opens up, but I don’t know what it is. It’s not just about enabling farmers to get on with their lives – it’s about changing the landscape of this shire. And when developments occur, and things change, people will ask who signed off on that? We mould this, and hand it off to the state. And there is a really significant change here. I think we had some great presentations today and some experts that put some important things on the table – are we meant to just vote, tic, move on? I think we do our community a disservice. We need to sit back and take a little bit more time.”

Mr Plumb said “The community is also extremely concerned about fire risk issues and fully supports the objections of the Rural Fire Services to the Proposal. This is life and death advice which the Council has again dismissed in yesterday’s decision.”

“The rejection of the advice from the RFS places the lives of Eurobodalla residents, visitors and firefighters at risk and further increases the already high fire risk to our forests, wetlands and iconic landscape. This is unacceptable.”

“It also raises the very real prospect of massive public liability claims against Council and litigation costs for loss of lives, personal injury or destruction of property, livestock and pasture if a bushfire is caused or worsened by Council’s changes which dismiss the critical advice of the RFS. Council may even not be able to obtain future public liability cover except at a massively increased cost to ratepayers.”

The RFS has told Council, “It is the position of the NSW RFS that the exhibited Planning Proposal is not consistent with s117(2) 4.4 Direction [ i.e. an instruction from the NSW Minister for Planning] as it does not achieve the primary objective to protect life, property and the environment and the NSW RFS considers that it should not proceed in its current form.”

Mr Plumb said, “Just two weeks ago the Council arrogantly refused to delay approval of its rural planning changes despite scathing objections over nearly three years from the RFS and other expert State agencies.”

“The Council, with Mayor Innes leading the charge, voted seven to two that it would not meet with the RFS or other expert State agencies before proceeding despite the strenuous attempts of Councillors Mayne and McGinlay, supported by an overflow crowd of residents and community group representatives, for Council to meet the agencies.”

The RFS has also told Council “The NSW RFS wrote to the Eurobodalla Shire Council on 4 December 2015 and 12 July 2016 (copies attached) with concerns in relation to a number of items within the Rural Lands Strategy and Draft Planning 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.” [NCA bold highlight]

“The Council rejected discussion with the agencies of their highly critical and wide ranging objections,” said Mr Plumb, “including life threatening fire risks, inappropriate zoning of high value agricultural land, economic threats to the Shire’s critical tourism and oyster industries and widespread threats to biodiversity including threatened and highly endangered species such as the Greater Glider and Swift Parrot.”

“This is unacceptable. It is an irresponsible, ignorant and dangerous position for Council to take in a landscape already subject to a high fire risk from intensive commercial forestry in the State Forests, annual burn offs by rural landholders and numerous campsite fires. All compounded by climate change where scientific evidence shows the south east region is already experiencing increased temperatures and less rainfall. The earliest ever fire risk season has just been declared and barely a week ago 80 bushfires were burning on the south coast in winter.”

“Council has refused to stop, look and listen to the community and withdraw the planning changes for expert scientific and technical review and genuine community consultation.”

“In the meantime, the community will ask the Minister for Planning to reject the “approved” Planning Proposal when sent to him by Council for final approval. We also will call upon the local member for Bega, the Hon. Andrew Constance, for his support in opposing the changes given the circumstances now revealed and the objections of the state government departments and agencies.”

Noel Plumb Convenor Nature Coast Alliance

#Opinion #Council #LocalStateFederal

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