Dominating the agenda of this week's Council meeting is a Notice of Motion by Councillor Eva Ramsey proposing a change of direction in relation to Council's Conservation Zone Review. You may remember I wrote a blog about this back in May where I said this process will be the biggest test of this Council's it's committment towards environmental protection and biodiversity loss since the issue of deferred matters arose back in 2017.

Councillor Ramsey's motion is as follows:

More information, including the rather defeated-sounding response from Council staff can be found on page 115 on this week's business paper.

The "inspiration" for this Motion seems to have come from Lismore Council, who several years ago voted to enact an "opt-in" process for Conservation Zones, thereby deferring their planning policy to private landowners. Unsuprisingly, only about 3% of rural landowners opted for C Zones, with the remaining option for a RU1/2 (rural) zone. Kyogle Council also voted not to adopt Conservation Zones into its LEP. Notably, it has been estimated that hald of all privately owned native forests in Kyogle are approved for logging under Private Native Foresty agreements.

These are not examples Ballina should aspire to, these are ecological disasters in the making.

The majority of the opposition to C Zones is coming from the farming community who fear that Conservation Zones will devalue their land or reduce the range of possible land uses, however up to a third of land subject to the review is coastal escarpment from Newrybar to East Ballina. These are high value coastal lifestyle properties that change hands frequently, often bought by people from interstate who are not familiar with our unique native vegetation and rules around land clearing.

The evidence for the need for Conservation Zones is clear. NSW State Government Reports show that in the period 2018-2021:

  • The average annual rate of clearing of native woody vegetation increased by one third compared to 2009-2017 (a period twice as long)
  • 83% of all land clearing in NSW between 2018-2021 occurred for agriculture.
  • 66% of all native vegetation clearing on on land regulated by the Local Land Service Act 2013 between 2018-2021 was unallocated (unallocated clearing refers to clearing or reduction in landcover that does not need approval, has not been recorded or is unlawful). 

Ballina Council's own Biodiversity Strategy confirms that the Ballina Shire has the lowest proportion of native vegetation cover (less than 20%) anywhere in the Northern Rivers, and that land clearing is one of the biggest threats to Biodiversity loss. 

In his recenty independant review of the Biodiversity Act 2016, Dr Ken Henry found that "while the Act has only been in operation for five years we cannot ever pretend that it is ever likely to achieve its objectives”. It found that Biodiversity is not being conserved at a bioregional or State scale. The diversity and quality or ecosystems is not being maintained, nor is their capacity to adapt to change and provide for the needs of future generations being enhanced. Dr Henry was clear in the reasons for the act’s failure – it does not have primacy over other pieces of legislation, including those that regulate vegetation clearing on rural land.

A fundamental principle of our planning system is that it operates in the public interest. This recognises that land use decisions reflect everyone (not just those who own the land), including this generation and future generations. Therefore the concept of "optional" Conservation Zones reflects a capture of the planning system by private interests. If private landowners are followed to pick and choose from zones at their whim, then put simply, there is no point in having a planning system in the first place.

Should this motion be adopted by Council