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Proposed NSW coastal protection laws allow too much council discretion and insufficient legislative protections

Nigel Dique made this submission on behalf of EcoNetwork to the Office of Environment and Heritage on 29 February 2016 supporting the objectives of the proposed changes NSW coastal protection laws, but objecting to lack of enforceability and of legislative protections for sensitive coastal environments.

EcoNetwork-Port Stephens is a grassroots network of 25 affiliated community groups and eco-businesses addressing local environmental and associated planning issues for the protection and conservation of our unique environmental assets. We are not politically aligned and do not provide donations to any political party.

We welcome a strategic planning approach to management of the coast and the development of coastal protection laws guided by the principles of ecologically sustainable development, as defined in section 6(2) of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991.

We support the specific objectives of the draft Bill, particularly:

– protecting and enhancing environmental values

– special acknowledgement of Aboriginal cultural heritage and use

– ecologically sustainable coastal development and land use planning

– mitigating future as well as current risks from coastal hazards, taking account of climate change, local and regional scale of coastal processes and implications of the dynamic nature of the coast, and managing use and development accordingly.

We welcome the establishment of a NSW Coastal Council and publication of a coastal management manual that will impose mandatory requirements and provide guidance to local councils in the preparation of coastal management programs.

The Draft Coast Management Manual discusses the process councils must follow and the essential elements in preparing their coastal management programs.

However, we believe the requirements for councils need to be enforceable to ensure councils use the best science, engage local communities and adequately assess and respond to threats to the coastal environment. The Coastal Manual provides too much discretion for local councils. Key components of the manual must be obligatory for councils and enforceable via the legislation.

The draft Bill itself does not establish any legislative protections for sensitive coastal environments. It does not set any limits on development or include mandated requirements for decision makers. Key controls and decision-making requirements must be established in legislation to achieve effective and meaningful protection for the coast.

There needs to be clear and consistent protection for coastal environmental and public interest values, which should be reflected in the proposed new Coastal Management Areas.

We note a new Coastal Management Sepp will be the primary environmental planning use instrument that will set the land-use planning framework for coastal management. We believe existing protections for coastal wetlands and littoral rainforests should be retained and enhanced in the new SEPP, including important concurrence and assessment requirements.

We would like to make the following points in relation to the Coastal Manual:

– Greater emphasis should be given to climate change and sea level rise impacts in Part A and Part B, Stage 1.

– It is of concern that councils could move directly from State 1 (scoping study) to Stage 4 (exhibition and adoption of a Coastal Management Program) without addressing Stage 2 (detailed studies of vulnerabilities and opportunities) and Stage 3 (response identification and evaluation), given that consideration of important issues, such as social and cultural values, vegetation, biodiversity and ecological integrity, hydrology and water quality is required at Stage 2.

– Part B, Stage 5 should provide further guidance on how public exhibition feedback will be responded to or incorporated into the final Coastal Management Program.

– Coastal management programs should be strategic, adopt an integrated approach consistent with ESD principles, and are consistent with an hierarchy of objectives that accords priority to assessment of and planning for Coastal Wetlands, Littoral Rainforests and Coastal Environment Areas ahead of and as the foundation for Coastal Vulnerability and Coastal Use Areas.

– While providing for community engagement throughout the process, councils should rely on recognised expert, peer-reviewed evidence and advice and appropriate assessment in responding to existing and predicted threats to the coastal environment.

Coastal Management SEPP

Nine questions are raised in the ‘Coastal Management State Environmental Planning Policy – Statement of Intended Effect’. We would like to respond as follows.

Question 1. Should councils be able to propose changes to the maps for all or some of the coastal management areas?

Any changes outside of regular map review should be strictly limited, supported by clear scientific evidence and be subjected to a process of public consultation.

Question 2. Should the development controls be included in the proposed Coastal Management SEPP or as a mandatory clause in Council LEPs?

The Development Controls should be included in the SEPP to ensure the application of controls across Councils is consistent with the Objects of the Act and SEPP.

Question 3. Do the proposed development controls for mapped coastal wetlands and littoral rainforests remain appropriate for that land?

The existing controls for mapped coastal wetlands and littoral rainforests should be maintained, including concurrence provisions.

Question 4. Do you support the inclusion of a new 100m perimeter area around the mapped wetlands, including the application of additional development controls?

Yes – and the 100m buffer area of a coastal wetland should apply to land zoned for residential use.

Question 5. Are the proposed development controls for mapped coastal vulnerability areas appropriate for the land?

Yes – but can be strengthened by requiring development consent for any damage or removal of coastal dunes, foreshores, vegetation and wetlands.

Question 6. Are the proposed development controls for coastal environment areas appropriate for that land?

Yes – but can be strengthened by requiring that the consent authority establish that the proposal meets the criteria, and that it consider cumulative impacts.

Question 7. Is the inclusion of the catchments of the 15 sensitive coastal lakes (listed in Schedule 1) within coastal environment area appropriate?

Yes – development that would adversely impact on the conservation value and sensitivity of these lakes and lagoons must be constrained. However, we are concerned that the coastal zone applicable to other coastal lake catchments could be reduced from 1 kilometre to 500m.

Question 8. Which is the best option for mapping the Coastal Use Area?

Given that no case for change has been made, the current boundary should be used to retain current protection measures.

Question 9. Should councils be able to propose variations to the Coastal Use Area maps over time to take into account local characteristics and conditions?

Generally no. If councils wish to expand the development footprint in parts of their Region, this should be done consistent with Regional Planning Processes and review of LEPs.

Cumulative impacts and floodplain management

The new framework must include mechanisms for ensuring that the cumulative impact of development on sensitive environments is taken into account in coastal management planning and development assessment.

The reform package provides limited integration between coastal management and floodplain management. This gap needs to be addressed, given the increased coastal flooding and inundation, with threats of sea level rise, more storm activity and more intense catchment runoff arising from climate change.


While the Government’s efforts to develop new coastal protection laws are to be welcomed, especially as they are in accordance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, there is scope for refinement to minimise threats to the coastal environment. The Coastal Manual provides too much discretion for councils. Key components should be obligatory and enforceable via the legislation.