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Submission on Port Stephens Council – Housing Strategy

__________EcoNetwork – Port Stephens Inc.__________

All correspondence to Kathy Brown Secretary PO Box 97 Nelson Bay Mob. 0422 261 057________________

Submission on Port Stephens Council – Housing Strategy

About EcoNetwork

We are a grassroots community-based environmental and sustainability network. Operating in Port Stephens since 1993, we comprise individual members and 26 community and environment groups and eco-businesses. We are non-party political. Our focus is on eco-living to develop sustainable neighborhoods toward a sustainable future.

EcoNetwork Port Stephens appreciates the opportunity to participate in community information sharing sessions and providing a written response to PSC Housing Strategy. The Local Strategic Planning Statement, LSPS outlines the diversity within the landscape of Port Stephens that make it such an attractive holiday destination and home to over 72 000 people.

The Local Housing Strategy provides a mostly worthy technical response to projected housing needs in the LGA.

However, in our view the response is overly tilted towards a perceived need to ramp up economic growth, rather than preservation of the natural environment, which is not just fundamental to the wellbeing of residents but is largely the reason they choose to live in Port Stephens in the first place. It is also vital to the visitor and tourism industry, as the LSPS document itself emphasises.

In this submission EcoNetwork focuses on environmental implications of the response.

We recognise that a tension exists between population driven economic expansion and preservation of the natural environment, but the latter cannot be compromised under any circumstances, especially after bushfires that have caused catastrophic destruction of wildlife and habitat in NSW, and are likely to recur with ongoing global warming.

The LHS is to be commended for looking to increase the proportion of infill housing (Priority 1.3). If 7,500 new dwellings are to be found by 2040 these should all be located from infill or greenfield sites, not on land acquired by encroachment on native habitat. The LSPS (Planning Priority 7, p. 19) makes a cogent argument for conservation of biodiversity values and corridors, but Actions 7.2 is cause for concern because it mentions ‘offsets’ in the context of a biodiversity strategy. We cannot support offsets because they only provide developers with a tool to circumvent Council’s commitment to ecologically sustainable development.

We note Council takes climate change into account in the LSPS Planning Priority 8 – improve resilience to hazards and climate change – but the detail won’t be available until important Actions are completed, e.g. Climate Change Adaptation Action plan (2021), bushfire mapping (2022), Coastal Management Program (2022), review of water sensitive design policies (2023) and a Sustainability Strategy (2023).

Econetwork believes however, that these other Plans, Programs and Strategies, as listed, which are to be completed over the next three years, will bring into question many elements of the Housing Strategy.

EcoNetwork would like to respond to both the Local Strategic Planning Statement, LSPS and the Local Housing Strategy, LHS- Live Port Stephens in four areas.

  1. Living within our unique natural environment
  2. Infrastructure, transport
  3. Infrastructure, water
  4. Sustainable Building Practices

1.Living within our unique natural environment [1]  We are dismayed to find that the draft Strategy does not seriously address some of the major environmental challenges that lie ahead, including mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and loss of biodiversity. The development of the Housing Strategy is an opportunity for council to implement a policy that integrates the natural world into housing development. For example, maintaining, developing and enhancing the green corridors that provide habitat and safe movement for wildlife. Council documentation acknowledges the role that our environment plays in attracting residents to live in Port Stephens.

Port Stephens is renowned for its scenic and natural beauty, with environmentally and culturally significant areas. Port Stephens attracts residents seeking homes with strong connections to surrounding areas as well as the natural environment, including our beaches, rivers and waterfronts, forests, sand dunes, or the rural hinterland.[2]

Residents of Port Stephens enjoy living amongst the diversity of wildlife that surrounds them. We know that people can co-exist with koalas for example, as they do in many parts of the Tomaree and Tilligerry Peninsulas. There is a need for greater consideration within the strategy for improved connectivity between safe havens for our native animals. This can be done while considering improved housing development. This could be as simple as providing for wooden fences rather than metal or ensuring that the construction of fences does not cut off known wildlife corridors. Residents would expect and support these initiatives.

EcoNetwork is concerned that council is considering the relaxation of standards for the quality of building design and planning controls to achieve growth through cost cutting. This is expressed in Action 2 Improving housing affordability[3]

We are concerned that this action is calling for a reduction in red tape and green tape in an effort to reduce costs and wait times. So called Red Tape keeps workers safe and building standards high. Green Tape ensures that the environment is considered and protected with every development. We would not like to see any diminution of these standards. The use of biodiversity offsets does not ensure the preservation of our flora and fauna. It is usually a device for developers to move a problem elsewhere while destroying habitat.

  1. Infrastructure, Transport. Well utilised public transport links are vital for a growing urban area like Port Stephens with reliable links to airport and employment hubs. At present, large buses are not fully utilized and some bus routes are poorly designed. We should be planning for smaller electric buses, especially in the eastern part of the Tomaree Peninsular where parking for individual cars has become a problem, especially during holiday periods. Smaller electric buses could provide a transport loop through the most popular beaches and holiday hubs thus reducing much of the traffic congestion in these areas. The Nelson Bay Marina and Birubi Beach at Anna Bay are examples where the use of smaller buses on continuous loop could alleviate much traffic congestion. Many residents were already making their own arrangements in a similar way by utilising the informal arrangements at the Anna Bay roundabout, junction of Port Stephens Drive and Nelson Bay Road, for car pooling.
  2. Infrastructure, Water. Improved residential landscape design can result in improved water management, increasing water efficiency by applying ecological design and using low impact materials. The design of renewable urban drainage systems can improve habits for flora and fauna, and also improve recreational facilities because people love to be beside the water. The design of a green roof or a roof garden can also contribute to the sustainability of a landscape as the roof will help manage surface water, provide for wildlife and for recreation facilitating the health benefits of nature. Similarly, rainwater gardens and permeable paving can assist with water retention and manage surface water. When innovation is used at the design stage savings can be made as building culverts and flood mitigation works are expensive.

At present, poor planning decisions have resulted in pollution entering our waterways from housing developments. We need to firstly collect more water runoff from storms and major rain events and secondly, ensure that water flowing into our waterways is not polluted. All existing drains and pipes should be netted and routinely cleared of debris, while working towards a better solution than direct drainage into our bays and waterways.

  1. Sustainable Building Practices. This is an integral part of any housing strategy in a time of global warming and increasing demands on limited resources. Introducing policies that encourage ecologically sustainable development (ESD) practices in the residential sector, above and beyond the minimum standards set by BASIX and other regulations would appear to be an obvious solution

What is sustainable building?

Sustainability as defined by the Green Building council of Australia, GBCA[4]

A Green Star-sustainable building is one that encourages the adoption of best-practice sustainable outcomes in design, construction and operation. A sustainable building can:

  • enhance the comfort and wellbeing of its occupants
  • reduce the consumption of potable water
  • reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from operations through energy demand reduction
  • use efficiency and generation from alternative sources
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing dependency on private cars and encouraging alternative forms of transport
  • reduce pollution and its effects on the atmosphere, watercourses and native animals
  • reduce the negative impact on a site’s ecological value
  • reduce the consumption of resources by encouraging the selection of low-impact materials
  • recognise innovative practices, processes and strategies that promote sustainability in the built environment.

In conclusion, the Housing Strategy needs to consider sustainability across the urban and architectural landscape. There are aesthetic and health benefits from living close to nature which are appreciated by most residents of Port Stephens. However global warming and climate change need to be urgently addressed through future design, building and construction. These issues are not adequately addressed in the Housing Strategy.

EcoNetwork would like to see greater consideration of features such as community microgrids built into community housing and business infrastructure. This has carbon reduction benefits for all and low cost energy benefits for consumers.  The mandated use of energy-efficient equipment, water-saving fittings, LEDs, rainwater harvesting and greywater systems, natural materials, natural lighting systems, and green roofs among others, moves the building industry and local government closer to goals of carbon neutrality.

Yours sincerely,

Kathy Brown


[1] P15 LSPS

[2] p7 LHS. Live Port Stephens

[3] p21 LHS. Live Port Stephens

[4] p9 Towards Sustainable Planning in the Housing Sector, NSW Govt, 2018