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Issue #1588      April 10, 2013

Planning system must protect the environment

Meaningful public participation and strong environmental protections must be cornerstones of the new planning system in NSW, according t two of the state’s leading environmental organisations.

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) and Total Environment Centre (TEC) have prepared a checklist they will use to assess whether the NSW Planning White Paper, due to be released soon, will protect the state’s clean air and water, native wildlife and communities. In order to meet the community’s needs and expectations, the new system must:

  • Place ecologically sustainable development at the centre of planning and development;
  • Enhance existing environmental protections;
  • Allow meaningful public participation in planning and development assessment;
  • Require decision makers to provide reasons for decisions and limit discretionary powers;
  • Strictly limit the ability of developers to override strategic planning controls
  • Allow third parties to appeal decisions;
  • Require concurrence and approval by key agencies (health, environment, water, etc);
  • Require the accreditation and independent appointment of environmental consultants.

“Ecological sustainability and enhanced environmental protections for human health, ecosystems and species should be the highest priorities of the new system,” said NCC Chief Executive Officer Pepe Clarke.

“Healthy ecosystems and healthy communities go hand in hand and must be central objectives of the state’s new planning system. The success or failure of the proposed changes will be judged on how likely they are to help achieve those twin objectives.”

TEC Director Jeff Angel said the community must have meaningful input at key stages of the planning and approval process, not just at the broad strategic level.

“While increased community involvement in strategic planning is desirable, the community must also have a say on individual developments,” Mr Angel said.

“People cannot know years in advance exactly how they will be affected by a particular development or how it might affect the environment or their local area.

“Cutting the community out of development approval decisions can only lead to lower standards of development with serious adverse affects on the local environment.

“It could also create significant social dissent between neighbours, developers and government.

“The new legislation must marginalise those developers and their government supporters who want short cuts and to avoid proper public and environmental scrutiny.”

Meanwhile, the Conservation Council said the state government must listen to the people and ban coal seam gas (CSG) development on farmland.

Nature Conservation Council campaigns director Kate Smolski, pointed out that a Fairfax Media/Nielsen poll demonstrates overwhelming community opposition to coal seam gas development on farmland.

“It is time for our political leaders to listen to the people and introduce a moratorium on CSG development and rule out CSG in drinking water catchments and important natural areas once and for all.

“The poll clearly shows the government’s two kilometre exclusion zone around residential areas, horse studs and vineyards, which was announced in February, has not allayed community concerns about the harm CSG can cause to human health and precious water resources.”

Ms Smolski said the two kilometre exclusion zone, to be implemented through a State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), was a step in the right direction but fell short of community expectations, particularly in rural areas. It also contained a dangerous provision allowing local councils to override the prohibition.

“We oppose allowing councils to override the two kilometre exclusion zone because it may lead to negative environmental outcomes and exposes councils to lobbying by powerful industry interests and a heightened risk of corruption,” Ms Smolski said.

“If the government is serious about local democracy it should listen to the dozens of councils and local communities that have voted overwhelmingly to be CSG free.

“The government must seize the opportunity to respond to well-founded community concerns about unrestrained mining and gas expansion by placing a moratorium on CSG development and delivering real protection for public health, water resources and natural areas.”   

Next article – Call for inquiry into boat tragedy

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