Aboriginal Elder challenges council to save heritage and environmental zones

EDO NSW is acting for Michael Ryan, an Aboriginal elder, in judicial review proceedings challenging the removal of proposed environmental zones, containing Aboriginal Heritage sites and habitat for threatened plants and animals, from parts of the Lismore Local Environmental Plan (LEP) dealing with development on the North Lismore Plateau, in the Northern Rivers region.

The LEP Amendment, approved by the Department of Planning, removed the environmental zones which had originally been proposed to comprise 28.5 per cent of a 255 ha North Lismore Plateau site. It also rezoned 67% of the area as residential and the majority of the rest remaining as primary production.

These environmental conservation and environmental management zones had been included in the original proposal for the LEP Amendment, as publicly exhibited by Lismore City Council. They were intended to protect Aboriginal heritage sites and areas of environmental value, including regenerating lowland sub-tropical and dry rainforest, which provide habitat for threatened fauna, such as koalas, the Rose-crowned Fruit-dove, and threatened microbat species, as well as sites containing the rare native plant species, Thorny Pea and Hairy Joint grass.

The environmental zoning had been removed, apparently due to the Department of Planning’s ongoing review of the use of environmental zoning by councils in northern NSW.

Mr Ryan objects to the removal of the environmental zoning due to its potential impact on the cultural heritage and environment of the North Lismore Plateau. The basis of his objection relates primarily to the fact that the LEP Amendment was fundamentally different to the original proposal, as publicly exhibited.

Mr Ryan argues that, in the circumstances, the LEP Amendment was not a product of the process set out in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 for the making of Local Environmental Plans, and given that no opportunities for public consultation were provided in regard to the fundamentally altered LEP Amendment, there has been a failure to provide procedural fairness.

The matter is likely to be listed for hearing later in the year in the Land and Environment Court in Sydney.

Rose-Crowned Fruit Dove. Photo by Marlis Schoeb