Coastal hazards a real headache

Little Austinmer Beach shows signs of coastal erosion after a storm last year.
Little Austinmer Beach shows signs of coastal erosion after a storm last year.

The NSW government needs to provide better legal and scientific advice about controversial coastal hazard certificates instead of deflecting the problem on to individual councils, according to Wollongong City Council.

In a submission on plans to overhaul the current section 149 notation system, the council has requested more legal and regionally specific scientific directions before it acts on the government's recommendations.

Since 2010, coastal hazard certificates, flagging current and future restrictions on properties, have been placed on 3000 Wollongong premises as required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

This has caused some owners to complain that property values have decreased and insurance premiums have gone up due to the notices outlining potential threats of sea level rise.

Planning NSW's draft circular, which has been on exhibition since January, seeks to overhaul the current system, recommending councils clearly distinguish between current and future hazards on the certificates.

It also suggested councils consider coastal hazards in the context of their local circumstances, winding back Labor's endorsements of a statewide sea-level rise benchmark.

However, Wollongong council outlined several "procedural problems" it would face in implementing government's recommendations.

"The council ... agrees, in principle, to the need to assess the exposures against the local conditions using reliable and evidence-based data and information," its submission said.

"The concern for the council is the interpretation of this requirement, especially as it relates to sea level rise.

"Currently there is inadequate support for councils to obtain locally relevant data and information, and the task is too complex for councils to undertake on their own."

It said the council's current notations were based on the "best information available", including sea-level rise planning benchmarks which had been endorsed by the NSW chief scientist.

"The council requests that the state government adopt and implement the chief scientist's recommendation about generating regionally specific information, prior to giving formal direction to councils to use locally relevant data and information," the submission said.

It said councils' resources were already stretched as they tried to keep pace with the government's "rapidly changing policy direction" and noted Wollongong council's legal counsel had advised the existing certificates remained necessary given the available information.

Councillors unanimously supported the submission at Monday night's meeting, with Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery saying the government had deflected the problem of dealing with the certificates on to councils.

He said he would be "rather surprised" if the NSW Crown Solicitor was forthcoming with legal advice to Wollongong.

Cr David Brown spoke in favour of the submission, saying assessing local information on sea-level rise and other coastal hazards was "way beyond the means of one particular council".

"The worst possible outcome of this would be if the state asks us to implement a policy that we do not have the scientific back-up to make," Cr Brown said.

Submissions on the draft planning circular close on March 3.


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