Blue Mountains City Council was forced to begin preparing a ‘standard’ Local Environmental Plan (LEP) in 2013.
Council and the Blue Mountains Conservation Society (BMCS) lobbied against this on the grounds that the Blue Mountains is a unique area – a city within a national park and World Heritage Area – and therefore requires a higher level of environmental protection than a ‘standard’ LEP provides for.
When this lobbying failed, BMCS then supported Council’s position that Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention demanded flexibility in the application of a new standard format LEP for the Blue Mountains.
The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area Strategic Plan (2009) states that one of the greatest risks to the ongoing viability and integrity of the World Heritage Area is the impact of urban development on the ridgetops above. It also states that planning instruments such as LEPs play a critical role in in reducing negative impacts of development on the World Heritage Area by applying strong environmental protections.
In preparing the new LEP for the Blue Mountains, Council translated existing environmental protections into the standard LEP format on a ‘best fit’ basis. However, some current critical environmental protections did not ‘fit’ but were nevertheless included in the DLEP 2013. These included protection for significant vegetation communities and stormwater quality management critical for protecting the national park and World Heritage Area (and Sydney’s water catchment) downstream. Most important was the inclusion of the current requirement that Development Applications have to ‘comply with’ the provisions of the LEP rather than the weak (and not legally enforceable) wording ‘have regard to’ in the standard LEP format.
Council meeting business papers throughout 2013 and 2014 reported that Council had ongoing and sometimes difficult negotiations with the Department and Planning Minister Hazzard on including these key current ‘non-standard’ environmental protection and other provisions in DLEP 2013. However, Council had secured Departmental and Ministerial support for these provisions by the time of the public exhibition.
The DLEP 2013 was publicly exhibited from December 2013 to March 2014. The Society endorsed DLEP 2013 with certain amendments, some of which were incorporated into the final version of DLEP 2013.
The BMCS undertook an extensive public engagement and information campaign before and during the period of public exhibition to encourage the community to ‘have their say’ on DLEP 2013.
Two-thirds of the almost 600 submissions to the public exhibition supported DLEP 2013. More than half supported the Society’s position and recommended amendments. Importantly, one-third of submissions requested a re-exhibition of DLEP 2013 and a public hearing should major changes be made following the public exhibition.
DLEP 2013 was approved with amendments at a Blue Mountains Council meeting in November 2014 and sent to the Department of Planning and Infrastructure for assessment and Ministerial approval.