Councils fight State planning laws

BALLINA’S natural environment will be more poorly protected under a new environmental planning framework being imposed on councils by the State Government, councillors have warned.

And the problem is not just in Ballina, with the Northern Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) now also taking up the fight against the new planning requirements.

In discussing work on a new shirewide Local Environment Plan at last Thursday’s council meeting, councillors unanimously voted to note the new plan would ‘not lead to adequate protection of areas of high conservation’.

One of the key problems was the slashing of the number of environmental zone categories from seven to two.

This meant council was having to mix areas that could have uses, ranging from tourism to retail, mixed into the same category as environmentally sensitive areas that would otherwise be marked as off-limits to developers.

“I’m greatly concerned about these things happening in protected coastal areas and other areas of high conservation value,” Cr Jeff Johnson told the council.

Council’s strategic land use planning executive planner, Steve Barnier, said similar concerns had been raised with staff in the lead-up to Thursday’s council meeting.

“The difficulty we have is ... trying to condense seven zones into two zones,” he said.

“We have to squeeze that range of uses into two new zones and it’s not as simple as making them (those activities) prohibited (in a zone).”

Mayor Phillip Silver said any problems in the new environment plan could be chalked up to the NSW Planning Department and Ballina was not alone in its concerns.

“I’m getting the word from other mayors that there’s considerable discontent at the moment,” Cr Silver said. “It’s one of the reasons councillors are bringing it to NOROC – to see if there’s a regional response.”

Cr Silver urged all interested residents to inspect the new document, due to go on public display next month, and give their feedback to the council.

Cr Silver said that the Local Government and Shires’ Association had been active on the new environmental plan framework being imposed on councils, but that had dropped off over recent months as individual councils grappled with how the framework would impact on them.

He said the environmental planning documents the new framework would replace had, in the case of many council areas, been honed and refined over many years to make sure they were suitable for their areas. The new framework would force councils to start that process again.

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