Tweed MP Geoff Provest, Planning Minister Rob Stokes, Lismore MP Thomas George, and MLC Ben Franklin at the Murwillumbah Council Chambers on Wednesday.
Tweed MP Geoff Provest, Planning Minister Rob Stokes, Lismore MP Thomas George, and MLC Ben Franklin at the Murwillumbah Council Chambers on Wednesday. Scott Powick

New ‘E-Zones’ to save farmers hassle

PLANS to ease red tape when distinguishing farmland from environmentally protected zones have been been announced.

The new 'E-Zones' will apply to Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore and Tweed council, before they're expected to be rolled out to greater NSW.

Announcing the new zones during a trip to the Tweed yesterday, Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the new rules had been established following a departmental review and about 400 submissions.

He said they would replace current planning rules which were complicated and caused problems for farmers on the North Coast.

"Some councils on the North Coast took a broad interpretation of the meaning of the Environmental Zones (E Zones) and it meant a lot of farmland was sterilised from the opportunity of agricultural purposes," he told APN.

"There were some farcical situations such as where E Zones went on things like productive macadamia farms, on the basis of aerial photography that said 'look, that's vegetated, that's an E Zone'.

"Now, councils when they seek to apply an E Zone, there has to be ecological evidence to back what the specific environmental qualities are, to make sure (the zone) has been appropriately applied."

Mr Stokes believed the planning rules struck a balance between the needs of farmers and tourism operators, with 20% of the North Coast designated conservation areas, and farming worth $840 million a year.

Mr Stokes said coal seam gas mining was not enabled by the new planning rules.

"The licenses to do that have been bought back by the state," he said.

"This particular plan has nothing in it that would make (CSG) possible."

Lismore MP Thomas George welcomed reforms when they were announced at Tweed Shire Council chambers.

"This is an important step in ensuring landholders and the community have certainty in what is permitted in different areas throughout our community," he said.

But NSW MLC Robert Brown criticised the plans, saying the changes were "effectively a land-grab from farmers and private landowners".

"What will actually happen with these is that councils will be able to arbitrarily change the zoning of a farmer's land and prevent them from engaging in standard farming practices," Mr Brown said.

"Farmers subject to these zones will be forced to spend their own money on removing weeds and protecting the land, all the while they are unable to make money from it through farming.

"All this happens while council benefits financially from biodiversity credits. Councils will get all the benefits but incur none of the costs and none of the responsibility."

DETAILS OF THE NEW GUIDELINES:

- Environmental zones will only be applied to places on the North Coast where the primary use of the land is environmental conservation (E2) or environmental management (E3).

- Before proposing an E2 or E3 zone, the council will need to validate the ecological evidence that supports the rezoning.

- Councils can use vegetation maps to recognise environmentally sensitive land on farms without having to rezone land or impose new restrictions.

- Further public consultation will take place to consider a similar approach for environmental zoning in other NSW council areas.



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