The past week has seen Eurobodalla Council come under the spotlight for all the wrong things. Their recent decision not to recognise a Climate Emergency and to dilute Climate Change down to "changing and variable" weather continues to meet with community critisism. So much so that today saw a sit-in on the lawns opposite the Council's building by Eurobodalla parents gathering on World Children’s Day, to call on the Australian government to act urgently to protect their children’s health and safety in the face of climate breakdown. Each Friday morning sees a regular sit-in by residents that is steadily building in numbers while the proposed Sit Down organised for Nov 29th by the School Strike 4 Climate will no doubt bring the youth of the region back to the Eurobodalla Council forecourt where it is speculated that only Councillors McGinlay and Mayne will meet the students while the other seven councillors, including the Mayor, The general Manager and senior executives will remain in "The Bunker". Adding flame to the community backlash of Council was this week's media release by Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes saying she "is disappointed a small number of local property owners have been let down after NSW Government changes to the Rural Lands Strategy LEP amendment." The Mayor, laying blame on the NSW Department of Planning (and vicariously on the Minister for listenening to them) said "But it’s unfair for these landowners who are local families and farmers who had hoped the rural lands reforms would allow them to build a home on their own land. They’ve been let down badly.” The fact of the matter as clearly advised by the Minister in a letter (in part below) to the General Manager Catherine Dale gave clear reasons behind the decision.
The Mayor failed to explain that the Plan Finalisation report clearly indicated that the RFS maintained its objection to the proposed minimum lot sizes for seven sites/areas where it considers potential new dwelling entitlements would be facilitated in areas where the level of bushfire hazard and risk is unacceptable. Their RFS submission clearly stated:
RFS objected to several aspects of the proposal and noted that it has previously expressed concerns to Council in written and verbal communications. Specifically, the RFS submission:
• requested a strategic bushfire study for areas subject to bushfire risk;
• noted the proposal is inconsistent with section 9.1 Direction 4.4 Planning for Bushfire Protection as it fails to achieve the primary objective to protect life, property and the environment;
• objected to the application of rural zones on land mapped as high hazard;
• objected to the reduction in minimum lot sizes on land mapped as high hazard;
• did not support the creation of asset protection zones on land identified as high conservation value (HCV). This is consistent with the Rural Fires Act 1997, section 9.1 Direction 4.4 and the Planning for Bush Fire Protection;
• noted that Council should apply appropriate minimum lot sizes and zonings to HCV lands; and
• objected to changes to land use tables for lands affected by bushfire hazard that introduce a range of new permissible land uses. While the Mayor might well say she is disappointed, the intention of the proposed submission by Council to reduce lots size in the areas identified by the RFS as high risk would have unduly exposed life, property and the environment to risks the Minister was not prepared to endorse. Also under the spot light this week is the Mayor's comment "We now know 10 property owners who previously did not have a building entitlement but were expecting one under the new LEP have had that potential removed because of the Department’s undisclosed change." The expression "but were expecting one" implies that Council knows who the property owners are, that they had communicated with them and thus ascertained that the 10 "were expecting" a building permit from a draft submission that was not approved and still at the liberty of the NSW Planning and the Minister to modify if they chose, as they did. The question now is "Under what circumstances would the Mayor and her staff contact the 10 property owners to establish that they "were expecting" a building entitlement?".
In her media release the Mayor said "But it’s unfair for these landowners who are local families and farmers who had hoped the rural lands reforms would allow them to build a home on their own land. They’ve been let down badly.” The statement "They’ve been let down badly" implies that the decision made by the Minister under the advice of the RFS was wrong and the onus of these families being "let down" rests on the shoulders of the RFS and the Minister. Those attending the sit-ins out the front of Council are very much aware of the extent of the catastrophic fires up north and are fully aware of the potential for such fires to rage through the highly forested South East. "For the Mayor to continue to insist that the RFS and Minister have "let down" these families by not putting their lives and property at risk beggars belief". said one of group.
Cr Innes has advised that representatives of the NSW Department of Planning have agreed to meet with Councillors and the affected property owners to discuss what has occurred and the impacts it will have, and letters will be sent to those impacted this week. The meeting is scheduled for December 3rd, 2019 following the Public Access session and briefings.