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New community liaison with Port Stephens Council

New community liaison for the environment with Port Stephens Council

Sue Olsson, Vice-President EcoNetwork Port Stephens.

March 2024 Update

We reported to our EcoNetwork community in EcoUpdate 18 (below on this page) on our welcomed liaison for the environment with Port Stephens Council, following our first meeting of the newly-appointed Environment Advisory Group (EAG). 

With a key function of the EAG as a conduit between Council and community for the exchange of ideas in the environmental space – we are reporting below on our November 2023 and February 2024 meetings. 

Council shared their progress on various environmental issues largely via powerpoint presentations with the opportunity for questions. We also discussed action planning. 

Meeting Minutes

All meeting minutes include the presentations and are publicly posted on the Council website.

Port Stephens Coastal Management Program update Nov 23

Cassandra Kottaras, former Environmental Strategy Team Leader, shared with the EAG an excellent presentation updating us on the Coastal Management Program (CMP).

Key points from the presentation included:

The program is coordinated statewide however only local councils prepare CMPs. They receive 2:1 funding via NSW Government through its Coastal and Estuary Grants Program for preparation and implementation. It is a 10 year strategy, and Council is held responsible for the implementation

draft Port Stephens Coastal Management Program NEWS FLASH!

The draft Port Stephens Coastal Management Program (CMP) was released for 28 days public exhibition.

It outlines 60 management actions aimed at mitigating the impacts of coastal inundation, tidal inundation, coastal erosion and dune transgression over the next 10 years. 

The draft CMP covers the inner and outer port, and the open coast. It will be on exhibition until 5pm Thursday 28 March 2024 with information sessions, via zoom or drop in on Wed 13 March in Birubi and Thurs 14 March in Anna Bay. 

This is the final opportunity for community to provide feedback and input to the document. Go to CMP documents & Have Your Say (note the full CMP is available under Have Your Say)

Carbon Neutrality 2025 update Nov 23 & Feb 24

Also in Nov 2023, Madison Young shared an informative presentation updating us on Carbon Neutrality 2025 in Nov 23 Minutes. 

Council in its Meeting 12/10/21 carried the motion to “Commit to the goal of achieving carbon neutrality for Council operations by 2025”.

Madison explained the difference between 

  • carbon neutrality where purchase of carbon offsets can balance carbon emissions generated, and 
  • carbon net zero where long term greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to the lowest point possible with offsetting as a last resort only. 

Council’s own emission trends have decreased which is pleasing – however 2023 estimates suggest a flattening of the downward trend which may be problematic if there’s significant reliance on offsets to reach neutrality.

Update provided Feb 2024 toward progressing Carbon Neutrality or moving toward Net Zero

Waste Education update Feb 24

You may like to take a look at the directions in the Waste Education Program across the LGA, that Rebecca Jaensch, Waste Education Officer, presented. These include the current equation programs as well as future directions.

A couple of key points for me regarding community involvement included:

  • The Waste App is a handy tool to keep track of bin collections — which bin on which date, what can go in it, kerbside collections and more!
  • The Port Stephens Residents@HOME program, through Council and Good for the Hood (GfH) involved 6 online workshops. EcoNetwork extensively promoted, facilitating our LGA having the second largest involvement in the program. The workshops are available for just another few months. Go to EcoNetwork’s Port Stephens Residents @HOME page for more information and how to log into the Hub.  
  • As part of fostering a more circular economy, there was brief mention around some programs offered by the Hunter Joint Organisation and Go Circular. Post meeting we investigated further as below.
    • The Curby program facilitates implementation of the collection of small plastics for conversion to oils. Council is commencing investigation into feasibility. It appears the Curby program is well underway in Newcastle and there’s a little implementation in Lake Macquarie.
    • The Hunter Hospitality Circularity Network program encourages hospitality business networks to reduce waste through co-design processes and Bin Trim assessments, to build the capacity of these networks to work collectively to identify and implement circular solutions.
Development Control Plans and Tree Management update Feb 24

Kate Drinan, Natural Systems Coordinator, provided a brief presentation on the changes to the Tree Management and Flora & Fauna DCP and the Technical Specifications.

The DCP is being updated for greater clarity as to what applicants need to submit, tree retention and removal plan, ecological consideration and compensatory planning.

Additionally, the Biodiversity Technical Specification (formerly Tree Technical Specification, Nest Box Technical Specification and Vegetation Technical Specification) is available.

Mambo Wanda Wetlands update Feb 24
Housing Forum update Feb 24
Action Plan update Feb 24

At our initial EAG meeting we each contributed two environmental actions we would like to see developed. These actions were collated by Council under ‘Key Priority’ and ‘Actions’.    

At our February meet, the EAG suggested a matrix approach, with three topics considered against the Key General Actions.  Many group members volunteered to be part of one or more groups under each topic, with a council officer leading each topic group. These topic groups may also facilitate progress out of EAG Meetings with feedback to the Group.

** The action list reported in the Minutes of our first meeting will be considered in the matrix. 

 Key Priority General Actions Topics
Climate issues apply to all topics
Biodiversity & greeningCoastal & water mgt Sustainable living
Education & CommunicationEAG to collaborate on development of an education program for the community for such things as 
Council Environmental Policies and Plans such as …
Tree removalsSediment & erosion controlSustainability initiatives incl. plastic dependency
EAG to collaborate with Council on how to better support local environmental events******
AdvocacyEAG to make representations to relevant bodies / elected members on matters as determined by the majority at EAG meetings. Standing item added to agenda on advocacy items******
Information sharingPresentations and round table discussions on matters as determined by th emajority of the EAG meeting. Standing item to nominate discussion topic for future meeting.******
New initiativesEAG to collaborate in development of content for a responsible cat ownership information and education program.** **
EAG to investigate a sustainable neighbourhoods program  **

September 2023 Update

Our first meeting of the Environmental Advisory Group (EAG) on Wednesday 30 August 2023, saw an optimistic start to a welcome liaison for the environment with Port Stephens Council.

With its beginnings back in July 2021, several keen environmentalists representing a range of community groups, met with (then Council candidate) Leah Anderson to chat about our concerns and opportunities to create community pathways to act for the environment with Port Stephens Council. Taking this onboard, Leah undertook in her election platform to create a representative group to liaise with Council about the environment.

In March 2023, Councillor Leah Anderson took a Notice of Motion (NoM) to Port Stephens Council requesting a report to establish an Environmental Advisory Group. This NoM recognised that:

  • the protection and improvement of the environment is important to the Port Stephens community — evidenced through Council’s Liveability Survey where the top scoring community priority found 71% of respondents placed a high care factor on the natural environment.
  • the establishment of an advisory panel would offer Council a regular forum for discussion, consultation, collaboration and advice provided from interested members of the Port Stephens community.

You may like to read more about the Environmental Advisory Group including the Terms of Reference, as well as the first agenda, minutes and attendance. Meetings will be held four times per year – February, May, August and November, with the next one on Wednesday 8 November.

Members of the Environmental Advisory Group include 2 Port Stephens Councillors including Cr Leah Anderson as chair, 2 council officers, 3 independent representatives from the community and 10 environmental community group representatives, which include Climate Action Port Stephens, EcoNetwork Port Stephens, Friends of Tomaree National Park, Koala Koalition, Mambo Wanda Wetlands Ramsar Working Group, Marine Parks Association, Renew – Hunter Region Branch, Tilligerry Habitat, Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association Inc. (TRRA), Voices of Wallalong and Woodville (VOWW).

* Circular Economy is managed by the Waste Team

A key function of the EAG is as a conduit between Council and community for the exchange of ideas in the environmental space – an opportunity to have your voice heard in addition to your own other channels. Make sure you contact a representative, whether of a group or an independent representative.

Kate Drinan, the Natural Systems team coordinator, informed us all positions within the Natural Systems Team are now fully engaged. This we were delighted to hear after the high turnover within the team over recent years.

Each person conveyed their key frustrations in the environmental space. These are detailed in the EAG Minutes, and I’ve summarised as:

  • Climate change meaningful action is moving too slowly
  • Biodiversity impacts, particularly loss of habitat with development and future housing
  • Shortcomings with environmental standards and legislation, difficulties with complexity og DA process
  • Council staffing changes and lack of resources impact the momentum of environmental projects, lack of
  • Emotive decision making rather than rational and strategic decisions making.

We considered future actions for the EAG which are also detailed in the EAG Minutes. We look forward to being able to share more information with you and to your feedback.

Published: 10 Mar 2024