There is a potential calamity regarding land use and development in the Blue Mountains. This issue has arisen after an apparent backflip by the New South Wales planning department over the draft local environmental plan [LEP]. Blue Mountains City Council has worked with the community intensively for two years to devise an LEP that conforms to the standard template but also takes into account the mountains' unique position within a World Heritage area, its environment, water catchment and character housing.
At a meeting on 15 May I understand that members of the Department of Planning legal branch told council they would no longer advocate that those key environmental provisions are included.
In particular, these provisions relate to important aspects of the Blue Mountains planning framework such as: compliance with objectives, flexibility in development in the E2 zone, storm/weather quality management, the protection of significant vegetation communities and period housing areas, the protection of character housing areas and providing outcome objectives for our villages. After years of work and strong assurances from successive Ministers and senior departmental staff, we now have a rearguard action from the department that will deny the Blue Mountains community its identity. Imagine if you will all those waterway protections in the draft LEP—gone. Imagine the buffer between the city and the national park—gone. Imagine constraints on height—gone. Imagine densities and proper controls over them—gone. Imagine, if you will, higher-density development from Lapstone to Mount Victoria and imagine a complete loss of local character.
In a strong show of bipartisanship our deputy mayor and Liberal councillor Chris Van der Kley offered his complete support. Mayor Greenhill reported that when the now Minister for Family and Community Services, Brad Hazzard, was planning Minister he instructed department officers to safeguard the mountains. However, when he was replaced the department undertook a rearguard action to try to convert our LEP into a statewide instrument like everyone else has. I have written on behalf of many in my community who are angry and concerned, on behalf of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society—of which I am a proud member—and on behalf of our local council to the Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes, about reports that the department will not advocate for the inclusion of any provisions in the Blue Mountains LEP relating to heritage and character zoning, and environmental protections.
My community and our villages are not typical of the Sydney area so a standardised planning instrument developed for communities in the Sydney metropolitan area would be completely inappropriate. It is particularly concerning that these reports are emanating so near to the deadline for the finalisation of standardised instrument plans, on 30 June 2015. Our community and the Blue Mountains City Council worked in good faith with the department to ensure that the planning framework for the Blue Mountains would be retained in the conversion to the standard instrument format. I seek an urgent assurance from the Government that its planning department will continue to advocate for the key provisions negotiated with the Blue Mountains City Council and will work with our community to protect the unique heritage and character of our villages as well as our local environment and the World Heritage listed national park. I, together with many in this place, worked alongside leading environmental advocacy organisations throughout New South Wales during the 2015 election campaign. The document entitled "Our Environment, Our Future", which many candidates perused, states:
- Environment protection, conservation, natural resource management, and social well-being are fundamental to planning and ecologically sustainable development. A planning system that seeks to maintain the natural environment and increases its resilience to development pressures is critical to resolving both known and future environmental challenges.
- We need to get this right—now rather than deal with the fallout later.
There are very real, growing and alarming threats to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area—mining, Badgerys Creek airport and the watering down of the LEP—which could see UNESCO remove our World Heritage listing. We must act now.