RIP Strategic Planning in Eurobodalla Shire
(or should that be Let ‘Er Rip Strategic Planning in Eurobodalla Shire) The Beagle Editor,
I read Mayor Innes’ press release and article in today's Bay Post (Mayor Liz Innes hopes legislation being drafted will bring relief - August 12th 2020) calling for “turning off” the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act under the guise of “bushfire recovery” with a sense of déjà vu and deep disappointment.
The déjà vu arose because the idea had already been foreshadowed in Council’s first meeting following last summer’s bushfire disaster (see Beagle article 10 February 2020 - Council Wants to “Turn Off” the Biodiversity Conservation Act! Please Explain? ).
Having heard nothing more since February, I assumed that this ill-conceived idea had withered on the vine, but here it was, back again, larger than life.
My deep disappointment arose because this idea was yet another manifestation of the Standard Operating Procedure for planning in the Eurobodalla, which seems to consist of either ignoring, creatively re-interpreting or seeking to remove any provision which could potentially prevent any type of development on any land within the Shire, regardless of its fundamental characteristics, including critical things such as steep slope, flood hazard, bushfire hazard, endangered species or threats to water quality (so important to our fishing and oyster industries).
For example, Eurobodalla Local Environment Plan (LEP)amendment 14 recently modified by Council at its 23 June meeting, and currently with the NSW Department of Planning for final approval, seeks the removal of E2 flood-prone land zoning of multiple flood-prone sites in the Shire and also rezones the same lands for residential development, often with significant increases in the number of lots permitted for development through a reduction in the minimum lot sizes allowed. For example, Council voted at its 23 June meeting to increase the allowable number of lots by 900% at one Moruya site, thereby placing many more future land owners at significant flood risk. Council justifies this approach by asserting that “Any future subdivision on the land will need to mitigate the impact of flooding on-site and down stream”.
This clause is remarkably vague and fails to identify any specific actions or measures to achieve its desired outcomes or specify how compliance would be measured. Apart from requiring that new developments should have at least 50 centimetres freeboard above the flood planning level, the Eurobodalla LEP provides few specifics about how flood impact can be mitigated on-site. This vaguely worded protection will be cold comfort to future flood victims on these residential lots resulting from Council’s planning decisions. It is notable that Council’s justification is at odds with the NSW Floodplain Development Manual (the go to “bible” for flood planning in NSW), which states on page 5 :
“Case by case decision making cannot account for the cumulative impacts on flood behaviour caused by individual developments or works. This form of ad hoc assessment contravenes the principles of the manual”
Another troubling example of Council’s systematic disregard for informed strategic planning is Eurobodalla LEP Amendment 11 (formally known as the Eurobodalla Rural Lands Planning Proposal - ERLPP), which was approved in October 2019 and opened up large areas of steep, highly hazardous bushfire prone land to further development. Amendment 11 was at odds with the advice of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) because no strategic fire assessment was undertaken at any time during its preparation, despite multiple requests from the NSW RFS. The ERLPP also breached NSW’s mandatory Planning for Bushfire Protection Guidelines (the “go to” manual for bushfire planning in NSW).
It is disturbing that a major planning measure such as the ERLPP was approved without a detailed and systematic strategic consideration of bushfire risks in such a fire-prone area as the Eurobodalla, yet this is precisely what occurred. Council also failed to incorporate results of updated bushfire prone land mapping it had commissioned into the ERLPP, despite multiple requests from NSW RFS. Instead, consideration of bushfire risk was continually “kicked down the road” and consigned to the development approval stage (applying a similar approach to the Amendment 14 flood proposal), by which time it will be too late to rectify errors or omissions made during the strategic planning stage. This is a fundamentally flawed approach which will create intractable problems into the future.
The current edition of the NSW Planning for Bushfire Protection identifies the inherent lack of a strategic approach in the ERLPP in just one sentence
“The most important objective for strategic planning is to identify whether new development is appropriate subject to the identified bushfire risk on a landscape scale.”
This is the exact objective that the ERLPP studiously avoided, because it didn’t want to know the answer. The ERLPP basically presupposed that any type of development can be shoehorned into rural lands, so long as the Asset Protection Zone (APZ) is made large enough..
Not only did the ERLPP totally sidestep the requirements for a strategic level analysis to be carried out prior to rezoning, the ERLPP then compounded this omission by including new “open zoning” tables in bushfire prone land, which allow practically any uses to be approved, including some expressly prohibited in all 3 editions of Planning for Bushfire Protection (e.g. service stations and power generation), as well as Special Fire Protection Purpose (SFPP) developments, which are the most vulnerable category, requiring extreme protection measures that take a heavy toll on the environment. It is crystal clear that, within the ERLPP, bushfire protection planning was made subservient to a “development at any cost” approach, which will inevitably result in foreseeable tragedies and enormous public liability issues. It is also a moot point as to whether any developments in these areas will be insurable.
The widespread devastation and tragic consequences of our recent Black Summer disaster shows that isolated dwellings and community facilities in bushfire prone lands are not defendable under 21st century bushfire conditions, and any sort of a credible planning system should not facilitate additional development in such highly hazardous areas. NSW clearly does not have sufficient resources to effectively safeguard existing dwellings and developments in these areas, let alone new ones.
Yet, as a result of the ERLPP, large areas of high risk bushfire prone land will be opened up for residential development, requiring large scale clearing of vegetation to satisfy Asset Protection Zone requirements, with significant impacts on wildlife, stored carbon and sediment runoff, which affects water quality and our important local oyster and fishing industries.
While Mayor Innes and her compliant Councillors may be able to claim yet another victory by getting the NSW Department of Planning to sign off on LEP Amendment 14 or “turning off” the Biodiversity Conservation Act, Eurobodalla ratepayers and land owners will find that biophysical realities are not so readily ignored. The Council’s planning “victories” will come at the cost of readily foreseeable future tragedy and heartbreak. The purchase of many lots in the Eurobodalla is becoming a case of “buyer beware”, not just for the significant and escalating financial and insurance risks involved, but also because of the clear and present public safety risks associated with these lands.
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