New planning laws threaten environment, says nature council

DEVELOPERS will have more power and environmental safeguards will be removed under NSW Government's new planning laws, according to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

The changes could threaten koala habitat and sensitive coastal wetlands and rainforest, and trigger inappropriate subdivision, said the council's CEO Pepe Clarke in Lismore yesterday.

Under the new system the government has replaced decades-old environmental planning instruments - State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs), which extend protection to coastal wetlands, rainforests, koala habitat and urban bush - with broad-based instruments.

A Department of Planning spokesman said the "legalistic" SEPPs had simply been converted into "plain-English and easy to use" policies, and the environmental protections were in some cases more rigorous.

But Mr Clarke said the community should be sceptical. "There is a real risk that decades worth of environmental protections in existing environmental planning instruments will be overridden as the new system is put in place," he said.

The government has also signalled its intention to make four out of five development applications assessed via a new "code assessable" process, in order to streamline development approvals.

Under the new system Mr Clarke said there was no requirement for councils or the applicant to notify the community about a proposed development, and councils could not block a development if it met the code.

The new code can be used to approve multi-storey residential buildings, up to 20 townhouses, industrial buildings and subdivisions. Subdivisions are a particular concern because once the land is rezoned, more development such as access roads and RFS-required bush clearing are "locked-in".

Mr Clarke said developers would also be given the power to appeal if councils refused a rezoning application, but there were no equivalent rights for the community.

He said the new planning laws had been "captured" by the development lobby.

"There's no other sensible explanation for why the government would propose such deeply unpopular laws.

"The proposed system is unfair and unbalanced and puts economic considerations above social and environmental outcomes."

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