THE CEO of the Nature Conservation Council was in Taree this week launching a new report that the council says highlights the hidden risks in the NSW Government's proposed new planning laws.
The report, entitled Nature in the Balance: Environmental protections at risk under the proposed new planning system for New South Wales, raised concerns about "serious flaws" in the draftPlanning Bill 2013, which is due to be debated in parliament next month.
"The proposed new planning laws pose a serious threat to the sensitive environments and rural lifestyles that people in the Greater Taree area value so much," NCC chief executive officer Pepe Clarke said.
"These laws are unfair and unbalanced, putting the interests of developers before the needs of the broader community and the protection of the natural environment.
"Under the new laws, developers would have new rights to override local plans and challenge council zoning decisions, placing existing environmental protections at risk."
In addition, State Environ mental Planning Policies, which contain protections for sensitive environmental areas including koala habitat and rainforest will cease to exist under the new planning system, the council says.
"The government has announced that these planning policies will be scrapped, but has failed to guarantee that the environmental protections they contain will be carried over to the new system," Mr Clarke said.
"With development pressures mounting in Greater Taree, we need planning laws that protect the natural environment and local communities.
"Instead, the government is proposing to reduce environmental safeguards in the planning system, and to exclude expert environmental agencies from important development decisions."
He said under the new laws, high-impact developments like subdivisions and some industrial facilities will no longer need approval from expert agencies, including DPI Fisheries and the Environment Protection Authority.
"Removing the requirement for approval from expert agencies will place our rivers, wetlands and wildlife habitat at risk," he said.
"We are calling on Premier O'Farrell to withdraw these deeply flawed laws, and to develop a new proposal for a planning system that is fair, balanced and environmentally responsible."
Mr Clarke said the Greater Taree Local Government Area contained many areas of high conservation value, including rainforests, koala habitat and other sensitive environmental areas that local people want protected from poorly planned development.
o Important environmental protections are being scrapped. Government has announced that it intends to repeal existing statewide planning policies that protect coastal wetlands, littoral rainforest, koala habitat and urban bushland, with no guarantee that these protections will be carried over into the new system (Nature in the Balance, pp.8-9).
o The proposed laws are unfair and unbalanced. Under the new laws, developers will have new rights to override local plans and challenge council zoning decisions, with no corresponding right for affected community members.
o The proposed laws put economic development ahead of social and environmental considerations. The new laws will remove the principles of ecologically sustainable development from the planning system, and contain multiple mechanisms for overriding environmental protections (Nature in the Balance, p.5).
o The Planning Department will be empowered to approve high-impact developments like coastal subdivisions, marinas and piggeries without approval from expert agencies, including DPI Fisheries, the Office of Environment and Heritage the Environment Protection Authority (Nature in the Balance, p.12).
o The new planning laws will deliver massive windfall profits for developers, increasing corruption risk in the system. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has raised concerns about the broad, unfettered discretion given to key decision makers, including the Minister for Planning and the Director-General of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.
o Restrictions on merit appeals will be maintained, despite repeated calls from ICAC to expand third party merit review rights. Third party merit review rights play a recognised role in enhancing the quality of development approval decisions and reducing corruption risk. Government has ignored repeated recommendations from ICAC to expand the scope of third party merit review rights.