Saturday, 18 September 2010

The NSW Government's response to coastal erosion and land recession - create a fee and deny responsibility

With climate change impacts beginning to knock at the door of coastal communities, the policy and legislative response of the NSW State Government has been astonishing to say the least.

It continues to green light urban expansion in regional coastal zones and vulnerable estuaries, while progressing amendments to the Coastal Protection Act 1979 in a pretence at action in relation to predicted changes in the nature and/or degree of coastal hazards due to climate change.

Creating a seven member Coastal Panel as a response to predicted climate change impacts and risk. In effect putting in place a smoke screen for continuing ministerial endorsement of urban expansion in the coastal zone.

The coastal zone encompasses the interface between land and sea. It is a zone of interaction between terrestrial and marine systems and processes. Within this zone there is a wide variety of landscapes and habitats, including beaches, headlands, rock platforms, dunes, foreshores, estuaries and marine waters. For the purposes of this guideline, the NSW coastal zone is defined in the Coastal Protection Act 1979 [Draft Guidelines for preparing Coastal Zone Management Plans, August 2010]

Further the NSW Government encourages local government coastal management plans which will inevitably be skewed in favour of the expressed wishes of beach/riverfront landowners, allows councils to levy an annual fee on residential/commercial lots (subject to possible sea water intrusion/storm surge damage and erosion) many of which should never have been granted development consent in the first place and, gives a green light to the ad hoc creation of emergency fortifications as well as the establishment of permanent sea walls it obviously fully expects will lead to further erosion elsewhere.

In a bid to protect the interests of influential developers the NSW Government apparently intends to don the mantle of Canute and pursue a risible policy of encouraging never-ending beach nourishment as a way of holding back the relentless effect of wave action and increased tidal pull. The cost of which will inevitably be borne by local councils and ratepayers.

This is what the Keneally Government admits to, without the political will to bite the bullet and stop further urban expansion in vulnerable areas:

Sea level rise will exacerbate the impact of coastal hazards. It will affect each of the coastal hazards in a different way as identified below:
Beach erosion – climate change is expected to alter storminess which will in turn alter beach erosion. Scientific understanding of the projected changes to storminess is still developing, and there is insufficient evidence to provide direct advice on how to consider changes in storminess at the present time.
Shoreline recession – sea level rise will result in higher water levels on the open coastline. This will correspond with an increased rate of shoreline recession.
Coastal lake or watercourse entrance instability – sea level rise will result in changes to dynamics of berm heights and break-out conditions.
Coastal (oceanic) inundation – sea level rise will result in increased still water levels. In most instances, dunal systems are sufficiently elevated that the episodic threat from oceanic inundation due to wave run-up and overtopping of coastal dunes or barriers is negligible. Notwithstanding, the threat of oceanic inundation along the open coast in the vicinity of low-crested dunal barriers (less than 5 m AHD) should be considered where this is relevant. Coastal (estuarine) inundation – around lower-lying estuarine foreshores, the threat from tidal inundation will be significantly exacerbated with a projected rise in mean sea level. The interaction between this issue and catchment flooding is particularly important for coastal councils and has been considered in the Flood Risk Management Guide –Incorporating sea level rise benchmarks in flood risk assessments (DECCW 2010b).
Coastal cliff and slope instability – in many cases the base of coastal cliffs are protected from direct wave action by rock platforms. However, under sea level rise projections, these rock platforms may be submerged on a permanent or temporary basis resulting in direct wave action on the base of cliffs. This in turn will have the effect of undermining cliff stability, depending on the relative strength of the geology of the cliff.

Additionally, the NSW Government in addressing risk assessment allows the possibility of infrastructure/property damage or loss, fatalities, injuries and population displacement as consequences of erosion or land recession. However in the past it has been careful to assert that it is exempt from any legal responsibility and now wants to increase exemptions to liability on the part of state government departments/agencies and local government.

On a scale of 1 to 10 the Keneally Government gets -5 for its policy and legislative response to predicted climate change impacts. But then from the time Keneally became NSW Planning Minister planning instruments began to contain so much wriggle room that developers and commercial interests could almost do as they willed in certain coastal LGAs or bypass them completely in pursuit of their aims. It is worth noting that in the past developers' pockets have proven to be deep when it comes to political donations and the Election Funding And Disclosures Amendment (Property Developers Prohibition) Act 2009 was quietly repealed on or about 15 December 2009 - twelve days after Keneally ousted Rees as NSW Premier.

Coastal Protection Service Charge Guidelines
These statutory Minister's guidelines will describe how a council should calculate the coastal protection service charge to be levied on land under the Local Government Act. It will include how councils should calculate the reasonable costs of providing a coastal protection service and how these costs should be apportioned between the various parcels of land subject to the charge. It will be similar in concept to the Stormwater Management Service Charge Guidelines published by the (then) Department of Local Government in 2006. Draft guidelines will be released for comment by councils and other stakeholders in September before they are approved and issued by the Minister.

This month DECCW will also release Guidelines for assessing and managing the impacts of seawalls.

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