Friday, November 27, 2015

Submission presented to the Eurobodalla Shire Council in regards to the Rural Lands Strategy

The following is the submission presented to the Eurobodalla Shire Council in regards to the Rural Lands Strategy.

General Manager
Eurobodalla Shire Council
PO Box 99
Moruya NSW 2537

Dear Dr Dale
At their meeting on 15 October 2015 Eurobodalla Shire councillors resolved to place the Draft Rural Lands Strategy on public exhibition. This submission is the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association’s (ERA) comment on the strategy.

Over three years ago ERA's campaign for the rejection of the draft rural LEP led to council’s appointment of the Rural Land Steering Committee with the task of providing the community with modern planning regulation for rural land. This committee has worked hard to reach realistic and workable solutions to the contentious issues - E3 zoning, extensive and inaccurate environmental overlays and unnecessary restrictions on farm sub-division and building entitlements.

ERA congratulate the committee on the outcomes, in particular the recommended non-use of the E3 zone, the sunset clause, the removal of the requirement to have a tar sealed council maintained road to be eligible for a building entitlement. These improvements should benefit many in the shire’s rural communities.

We note that the council’s consultant estimates that the committee's proposals agreed to date will allow approval of an additional 100 new rural blocks and 300 extra building entitlements.

Comments on the draft strategy
However, it appears that the inclusion of a new vegetation overlay is now proposed in the draft strategy. The ERA opposes the use of overlays in the Local Environment Plan and is surprised that this matter is addressed at all. We note that at its meeting on 22 July 2014 council resolved, on the motion of Councillors Brown and Innes, that “1. The Rural Land Strategy recommends that overlays not be included in the LEP………….” Apparently, the council’s consultant failed to get the memo advising him of this important client requirement!

In any event, ERA rejects the consultant’s argument that dropping the earlier proposed use of an E3 zone strengthens the need for a vegetation overlay as a helpful pointer to other legislated environmental restrictions. It is ironic that one reason given for this substitution is that it reduces the necessity for a higher level of map accuracy required for an environmental zone.

Given the extensive legislated controls on farming operations these days, farmers and buyers of rural land (and their advisers) need to exercise ordinary due diligence in discovering all the restrictions applying to rural land. This is best done by reference to the evolving primary legislation rather than by relying on inaccurate overlays forming part of prescriptive and rigid land use planning regulations.

Guidelines and “helpful suggestions” from bureaucrats have a habit of being turned into black letter law over time. Overlays are not legally required and not used by many NSW rural councils.

Additionally, the ERA recommends to council the removal from the LEP of all E zones, all references to biobanking and voluntary biodiversity agreements and rural landscape guidelines. We support smaller lot sizes than are proposed, lot size averaging and further housing entitlements on rural blocks. Councillor Liz Innes, a member of the Rural Land Strategy Committee, is aware of the details of ERA’s suggestions in regard to these matters.

Comments on the process
Given its extensive engagement with this process, ERA would like to make some general comments on its experience.

First, it has been apparent for some time that the task of revising a complex piece of government regulation is beyond the capabilities of council’s planning department. Andrew Constance has drawn attention to the long time, relative to other rural councils, that ESC has taken to complete the task. Clearly, there are economies of scale in legislative policy development. These should be identified in the current sea level rise policy development process, before it is too late.

Second, the community consultation has been excessive, repetitive and inefficient. Land owners and others resent being asked the same questions repeatedly, particularly when their answers are ignored.

Third, it is apparent that staff planners, planning consultants and some councillors have an ideological bias against recognising the foundations of productive, efficient and socially responsible farming – viz private property rights, minimum government interference in markets and incentives for private land owners to protect the environment. And council staff’s failure to recognise the impact of uncertainty in legislative frameworks on the operations of rural land markets was particularly noticeable. It was greatly disappointing that councillors with nominal liberal political values did not stand up for individual land owners against the insatiable, yet rarely properly specified, demands of the state to interfere with their private property.

Finally, consistent with ERA’s long standing concern for better governance and management at ESC, you are requested to convene and chair a public post mortem on this project to consider what went wrong and what you should do about it. Your predecessor, Paul Anderson, contemplated holding a post mortem at the end of the poorly managed Moruya-Deep Creek Dam pipeline project, but left before it could be organised.

Such a meeting would allow those people closely involved to express frank opinions on what went wrong and what was done well. It would enable you to clear the air, draw a line under the project and, hopefully, rebuild some of the public confidence you lost along the way. At the same time, you could present the community with the total costs of the project, including consultants’ fees, staff costs and RLS committee members’ costs. We would expect that final costs would also include an estimate of those costs, particularly lost production by farmers, that community members have borne in interacting with council.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment. We look forward to participating in a post mortem meeting

Yours sincerely
For Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association

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