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NCA Response to Rural Lands Strategy signoff

Nature Coast Alliance have responded to the media release issued by Member for Bega, Andrew Constance on Friday 11 October where he advised that the NSW Government has approved the Rural Lands Strategy LEP.

A spokesperson for the Nature Coast Alliance told the Beagle "If the LEP has been signed off without the major changes proposed by six state agencies and community experts, this is a dark day for strategic planning in NSW. If the NSW Government has ignored this expert advice, it will make a mockery of evidenced based decision-making. "Opening up high risk bushfire-prone areas to development is irresponsible and negligent and at odds with the NSW Government’s own manual on planning for bushfire protection. "With decreasing rainfall on the South Coast we are already experiencing dangerous fires - Tathra and Bemboka are two nearby recent examples where properties were lost. We have also just seen the loss of 45 homes to unprecedented bushfires in Northern NSW, with massive areas razed to the ground. This year, the bushfire season began two months earlier than usual with the worst September in recorded history - how much more evidence is needed that bushfires are a rapidly growing risk to life and property?" the spokesperson said. "The Rural Fire Service (RFS) is already struggling due to diminishing resources and a fall in volunteer numbers. They do not want further development in highly vulnerable areas, which will result from the Rural Lands Strategy LEP, because it puts their volunteer fire fighter’s lives at risk." The Nature Coast Alliance spokesperson said "In their submissions to Eurobodalla Shire Council, the RFS stressed that Council’s proposed LEP would put more lives and property at risk. If this does unfold in the future then it will increase the liability for the Eurobodalla Shire Council and in turn its ratepayers who will bear the cost of legal proceedings. "The claim by Andrew Constance that the Government carefully considered seven sites identified by the NSW RFS to ensure fire trucks are able to gain access to future rural properties, is cold comfort, given that there were over 300 sites that the RFS identified as having serious and unacceptable fire risk. Unsealed, narrow, one-way access roads are potential death traps, not only for residents, but also for RFS volunteers who will be called on to protect them.

"Eurobodalla Council and the RFS are already struggling with existing work loads and do not have sufficient staff or resources to undertake the unwieldy development assessment processes that will be required under the Rural Lands Strategy LEP despite Mr Constance’s glib assurances. "Andrew Constance should be asked “Why are the Council's Bushfire Prone Land Maps out of date?” They are dated 2011 and have been in draft form since 2015! They were legally required to be renewed in 2016, but this has not occurred.

"The Rural Lands Strategy was never about supporting tourism and rural economic development. It was always about allowing a myriad of additional uses on rural land which will increase the value of property owned by a small number of large land-holders in our shire, such as the members of Rural Lands Strategy Steering Committee which includes current and former Mayors. Destroying the Nature Coast will destroy our vital tourism, recreational fishing and oyster industries – the life-blood of our economy. "Mr Constance also claims that development will still adhere to state and federal planning and environment legislation. These are hollow words that give no assurance to those who care about the Nature Coast, about our native flora and fauna and our wonderful wetlands and waterways.

The NCA spokesperson asks "Just exactly why was Andrew Constance in attendance at meetings between RFS and Council staff who were trying to negotiate the extra bushfire protection measures needed for 300 individual high risk blocks which could be developed if the Rural Land Strategy LEP were approved. Is this an example of political pressure being put on public servants to wind back statutory bushfire planning requirements?"

"Even before the LEP changes were signed off we have evidence of unsuspecting property buyers who have been led to believe that they can build on a block only to find out that the bushfire risk is too high. With the removal of important maps from the LEP even more confusion will reign, unreal expectations will be created and pressure will be put on Council and RFS staff to approve developments in unsuitable areas."

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