Tag Archives: Environment

The re-evaluation of the Bush Fire Environmental Assessment Code by David Holland

25 Oct

Questions are raised in the discussion paper, ‘enhancing hazard reduction in NSW’, put out by the Bush Fire coordinating committee (BFCC) in August 2012.

This paper attempt to cover two fundamental questions related to the Bush fire Environmental Code.

Question 8: Should the Bush Fire Environmental Assessment Code (BFEAC) be amended to further streamline the environmental assessment process? If so, how should this be done? Can you provide examples of when the Code has worked well and when it has not?

Question 9: What steps could be taken to dispel the perception that environmental issues prevent hazard reduction?

The answer is to incorporate the detail of the treatments, planning and environmental constraint such as fire frequency intervals in the Risk Management Plans (RMPs) prepared by the Bush Fire Management committees (BFMCs).

Presently not enough detail and not enough reportable assessments are available in the RMPs.

This paper highlights the legal requirements of the BFEAC with respect to environmental assessment.

It demonstrates through three case studies the pitfalls of large scale and wholesale placement of Special Fire Advantage Zones (SFAZ) across the landscape recommended by the Rural Fire Service (RFS).

Each application of the SFAZ in the case studies below, highlight different environmental values and impacts caused by the treatment required under the BFEAC and the definition of a SFAZ under the BFCC policy document. (Annex B of the Bush Fire Coordinating Committee Policy No. 1/2008)

Finally the paper puts forward several recommendations to be considered by the BFCC to improve the way the ecology is treated under the procedures of the BFMCs and the BFEAC.

The answers to the questions are that any changes to the BFEAC must better assess the environmental values before applying any fire suppression treatments.

To Read Discussion Paper:

Discussion Paper on enhancing hazard reduction in NSW

Case Study 1 on Wyrrabalong National Park NSW

Case Study 2 near Deakin Street Lake Munmorah NSW

Case Study 3 near Tonkiss Street Tuggerah NSW

Appendix 1 & 2 showing Risk Management Plan mapping of SFAZs

<click here> for full document (warning: long down load time)

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NSW Planning Reform – Submission-re Green Paper September 2012

22 Sep

by Kevin Armstrong

Firstly, I comment that the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act should always have ecologically sustainable development (ESD) as its overarching objective.

A genuine commitment to ESD requires legislative mechanisms that mandate consideration of environmental matters and set minimum environmental standards.

The new planning act must enshrine ESD including use of the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity.

These considerations appear to have been lost in the proposed reforms.

The new Planning system must prescribe mechanisms for managing climate change impacts and mitigation. Climate change adaptions and mitigation and coastal management practices must be considered at Statewide level during strategic planning processes.

Urban sustainability .. and best practice design appear to have faded from prominence in the proposed reforms. Energy use and environmental footprint are, to a large extent, determined by the type of residential housing we build; knowing what we do about global warming ands sustainability, it’s just plain dumb to continue building poorly oriented houses with black roofs, no eaves and air conditioning !

I believe that BASIX needs strengthening to include passive solar design. There should be a mandatory requirement to install photovoltaic generation when installing either air conditioning or a pool pump. Surely we are smart enough to make a connection between the use of these two devices and the availability of solar energy !

At the urban level, planning must more closely co-locate residential and service facilities (schools, shops, recreation, employment) to reduce transport demands and should mandate techniques such as WSUD (Water Sensitive Urban Design) including separation or drinking and non-potable water supply and capture and re-use or storm water run-off for irrigation.

The remainder of my submission will follow the order of presentation of the four fundamental reforms to the NSW planning system:

1. Community Participation – Involving the community early on key decisions that will shape our cities, towns and neighbourhoods

The reform proposals provide no mechanism for community engagement – especially when engagement is required at the strategic level removed from immediate impacts and outcomes.

Whilst they may have a keen interest in what is to be built ‘next door’, across the road or in the immediate vicinity of their homes … few in the broader community have any real understanding of planning legislation, theory or processes. There is a real lack of understanding the processes and timeframes of strategic planning.

Extensive community education and information will have to be provided to empower the community to participate in any meaningful way at the strategic level.

Most communities have engaged at various times with ‘strategic planning’ – on the Central Coast with numerous versions of the Central Coast Regional Strategy, REDES, Conservation Strategy, Transport Plan, Infrastructure Strategy etc – only to experience long delays, many revisions of ‘draft’ documents, then a change of government and a new round or proposals.

Whilst such processes may appear ‘normal’ to bureaucrats, the community will rapidly tire of extensive delays in finalising top-level / peak framework strategic documents. I instance the ‘North Wyong Shire Structure Plan’ which remains in ‘draft’ form – despite having been exhibited in 2010 and the long delays and internecine squabbling over establishment of the Warnervale Town Centre .. over some 15 years !

The NSW Government – via DoPI – will need to ensure conciseness, clarity and transparency of documentation to encourage effective community consultation. By way of example, most in the community were effectively precluded in participating in comment on the recent Part 3a application relating to Gosford Waterfront / The Landing … because of the dozens of ‘old’ / prior documents submitted as part of the application, the thousands of pages of reading required to properly understand the proposal .. and the extensive GIPA process required to obtain key information such as proposed building footprints, heights and likely shadow effects.

In return for its engagement, the community will expect DoPI to ensure that merit appeal rights are available for all significant proposals … including state significant development and infrastructure.

2. Strategic Focus –Preparing good policies up front to guide growth and development

I agree with a more strategic approach to planning, rather than the current system where decisions are made development by development or site by site. That is inherently inefficient, time consuming, costly and wasteful.

The proposed planning instrument regime: NSW Planning Policies, Regional Growth Plans, Subregional Plans, Local Land Use Plans will require that DoPI NSW finalise the upper level planning instruments.

In my local area, there have been totally unacceptable delays in finalising the (draft) North Wyong Shire Structure Plan, the (draft) Central Coast Conservation Strategy, the (draft) Central Coast Transport Plan and a regional Infrastructure Strategy. DoPI NSW has nevertheless forced both local Councils (Gosford / Wyong) to submit new LEPs.

Existing environment protections must be maintained in the new planning system (including those set out in existing State Environmental Planning Policies). NRM targets should be included in strategic and subregional plans and flow down to Local Land Use Plans.

The integrity of the system would be enhanced by annual reporting of performance / changes at all levels .. similar to the current “State of the Shire” / State of the Environment reports.

3. Streamlined approval: a faster and more transparent development approval process, aiming to maximize code complying development

Most would agree that efficient processes are desirable, provided there are safeguards to address environmental concerns and protect citizens’ rights.

Greenfields sites

I applaud the strategic level planning undertaken by the Growth Centres Commission in developing greenfields sites in North West and South West Sydney. GCC planning at precinct level) integrated residential, services and employment lands and ensured co-ordination between various government service providers. Planning such development is much simpler because of the unconstrained nature of greenfields sites.

Brownfield sites / development within existing established areas
Planning extensive new development in existing areas is, in my view, considerably more complex by reason of limitations of existing land use characteristics and existing infrastructure.

DoPI will need to develop strong processes to properly explain zoning proposals which significantly change the character of existing areas .. be they residential, commercial or industrial.

I instance the Gosford Waterfront / The Landing proposal where a proposal for a Regional Performing Arts Centre was not opposed by locals; however, they strongly opposed its proposed location adjacent to the Central Coast Highway with inadequate access and parking. Proposed 4-6 storey wharf-like structures projecting into Brisbane Waters were also strongly opposed; these would forever destroy waterfront views and recreational use and threatened the character of existing low-key development along the waterfront.

I express real concerns regarding ‘flexibility’ and the ability of developers to submit non-conforming plans. Such an approach is totally inconsistent with strategic land use planning and zonings.

Any community supporting a strategic approach to land use planning must be provided with full consultation and objection rights where any proposal does not conform to the agreed land use zoning.

Again, merit appeal rights should be available for all significant development and infrastructure proposals – whether proposed by developers or the State.

4. Provision of infrastructure: ensuring that infrastructure supports growth by integrating planning for infrastructure with the strategic planning of land use .

It seems axiomatic that additional infrastructure be provided as part of the development of new communities; however, there are huge backlogs and endless arguments over who should pay for new infrastructure.

Three local examples will illustrate ‘worst practice’ –

1.  an extensive new community was developed at Kariong – but waited some 15 years for a ‘high school’; an underpass was belatedly provided only after a high school was built (on the opposite side of the Central Coast Highway to existing residences a multi-purpose (adaptable) school should have been provided on a timely basis as the residential area was developed.

2.  only in the last 5-6 years has there been any real attempt to upgrade strategic regional roads (Central Coast Highway, Avoca Drive, Tuggerah Straight, Warnervale Rd) – despite massive increases in the local population over 15 years previously.

3.  thousands of people moved into ‘Warnervale’ and surrounding suburbs up to 12 years ago – they still have no adequate railway station, regional shopping centre / service facilities or adequate road access

The NSW Government must integrate infrastructure planning with land use planning .. and ensure adequate funds are available (‘government’ provided or sourced from developer levies) to provide a range of infrastructure services on a timely basis.

Equally .. and missing from the current draft proposals, sustainable development requires that land use planning be integrated with natural resource management – to ensure local environmental issues are managed and wildlife corridors are provided as an integral part of effective land use planning.

5. A ‘delivery culture’ – Promoting a ‘can do’ culture in planning with government and local councils accountable for delivering results

Clearly the government sees itself as under pressure to respond to demands for increased / affordable housing. Whilst understandable, this approach is itself reactive .. rather than strategic.

A strategic approach to planning … must first address the key issues of desirable /

sustainable population including the key issues of food and water availability, transport and energy use.

There is a huge difference between ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ – the former essentially being about productivity, timeliness and minimal cost .. the latter being about longer term values-based ‘worthwhileness’.

Our community will gain little if we make more ‘efficient’ our rush to develop everything before our eyes .. without considering longer term sustainability with a balanced approach to the interests of the community (social), our economy (financial), environmental concerns and governance processes (the quadruple bottom line).

Conclusion

NSW needs a holistic approach to resources use, community development, economic development and environmental management across the whole of NSW …

The current proposals for strategic land use planning might well be incorporated into such a broader framework. At a minimum, a foreword should explain this broader context.

Strategic land use planning .. even at the regional level .. will be totally ineffective if exploration / production of coal seam gas destroys aquifers and rivers (water supply), coal-fired electricity generation expands exponentially because of inefficient and inappropriate housing and profligate energy use (increased greenhouse gas / pollution), the community has to truck its food over hundreds of kilometres because prime agricultural lands close to the cities are covered with houses (ineffective energy use) and we continue planning in a fragmented way which requires each household to own several private cars and mandates multiple car trips – rather than public transport.

Email: Kevin Armstrong

This paper is subject to copyright; the written consent of the copyright owner must be obtained before any part of it is reproduced, adapted or communicated.   © Kevin Armstrong Copyright 2012
 

Planning for Climate Change in the Coastal Regions of New South Wales

28 Aug

 

Newcastle forshore

By David Holland

The Risk Model, as described in the following paper,  is an approach for local councils in NSW to plan for future climate change induced sea level rise in an equitable and proactive way.

It allows local government to approve developments that are under the maximum State Government of NSW benchmarks set at 900mm over the present flood levels while at the same time reduces risks to litigation due to damage of properties from climate change brought by property owners who’s developments are below this maximum standard set by the State Government. (Often a maximum standard set by State Governments become a minimum standard for local government due to the threat of litigation by land owners.)

This standard has become an enormous problem to land owners in at risk locations along the coast of New South Wales. In recent times insurance policy premiums have skyrocketed. Land values have been affected and general political hysteria is evident. Many protests by land owners have been seen on the Central Coast of New South Wales in Australia but council seem unable to bring a solution to the problem. Councils have reacted to political pressure by removing notification on land records of land affected by the potential of flood due to climate change. This action leaves individual councils and maybe the councilors open to litigation in the future when a climate change flood event inevitably occurs.

This action by the councils is brought about by a head in the sand belief that climate change has not been proven and no evidence locally can be seen.

The New South Wales Government seems to be paralysed by the disquiet on the coast. Seemingly unable or unwilling to discuss the issues and look for solutions for the social and economic problems mounting in the coastal regions.

The attached paper written in January 2010 addresses the issues and provides a series of solutions to the dilemmas created by this State of New South Wales policy. The paper discusses solutions to the misunderstood threats of the effects of climate change to low-lying properties in both the long-term and the short-term.

The paper also predicts the now evident effects of the policy and worsening social effects of the reaction to the policy.

This policy without an identified strategy has caused insurance premiums are going through the roof, and at the same time caused the market prices of properties to plummet. As these market reactions continue, we are to expect unimaginable social disruptions unless positive steps are taken urgently. This paper sets a benchmark for a constructive strategy to manage at risk land due to the effects of climate change in coastal regions.

Following is the paper that discusses some solutions to climate induced sea level rise:

Planning for Climate Change in the Coastal Regions of New South Wales

 

Review of the BioBanking Scheme

6 Jul

Biobanking has had mixed success after being legislated in 2007. Originally designed to stop the remaining natural bushland environments in New South Wales being cleared and destroyed it has been slow to be taken up by both land holders and developers.

The legislation was designed to encourage land owners to set aside farmland for biodiversity preservation and at the same time allow higher intensity developments such as housing and commercial uses of land ensure compensation for destroying natural environment be compensated by offsetting the bio-charactorisics that are destroyed by these developments and facilitate the transferring of these assets to other locations through a theoretical process called biobanking.

This is done by a credit system where land owners put a variety of biodiversity credits on the market. The developers of high intensity and high profit developments, buy these credits and satisfy the destroyed natural environments.

Unfortunately one apple does not equal one orange. Land markets west of the great dividing range in New South Wales are far different to the land markets east of the dividing range. Houses east of the divide anywhere along the coast can command a high prices. This prices compared with a subdued market west of the divide with land and housing prices approaching little more than half those on the coast, coastal developers if they buy credits from the west are able to buy more cheaply in a market that has little or no scarcity on the credit market.

However, any credits produced on the east will be rare and should command a high price. This inequity is explored in the submission to the NSW State Government‘s office of Environment and Heritage.

From an environmental point of view, if developers have a free market that crosses the divide then little if any land will be preserved east of the divide for conservation that is in private ownership, much less allowing appropriate corridor connections to occur.

There lyes another problem with a free and unconstrained market. If land holders in the west can sell credits to eastern developers, then eastern land holder have no interest in leaving their land for nature corridors. In fact they will lobby very hard to avoid any kind of corridor being put on their land. As  is happening in the Wyong Shire today.

As there is a scarcity of natural land in many location all along the coast, partly because of the amount of large lakes and partly because of speculative land investors, any land to form biodiversity asset linkages will be rare.

This means that these conservation lands and the corridors that link them will be rare. Therefore it is appropriate to plan these linkages as soon as possible under a local government planning system.

This can only be done with the political will of the councillors and people as was done in Gosford City Council in the mid 1970’s. However this political will is not evident in the adjacent local government area, Wyong, and after several attempts to get a planned solution to land and biota conservation, no solution has been found to entice land holders to allow corridors though their properties. This is largely because the value of conservation land is much lower than developable land.

This submission review by David Holland attempts to solve this impasse.

To read more click here:

By David Holland