Councillors send Biodiversity Policy back for more work

The former Wyong Council’s proposed biodiversity planning in the North Wyong Shire Structure PlanThe former Wyong Council’s proposed biodiversity planning in the North Wyong Shire Structure Plan. Archive 2018

A biodiversity policy which has the potential to boost tourism and help save endangered ecological communities such as the Bouddi Sandstone Coastal Heath or the Coastal Sand Wallum Heath found at Soldiers Beach has been sent back to the Central Coast Council drawing board for more information about the Coastal Open Space System (COSS) to be added.

COSS is a network of bushland reserves set aside by the former Gosford Council and managed for their natural beauty and nature conservation values.

The draft strategy came to the June 22 meeting after being on public exhibition, but Deputy Mayor Jane Smith said it still needed amendments and clarifications.

Smith moved a series of amendments including the addition of a theme called Protect and Expand the Coastal Open Space System (COSS).

It would include a brief history of COSS; an explanation of the mechanisms that identified and enabled COSS including, but not limited to, Bonus Lot Provision, COSS Levy, COSS Committee and the voluntary acquisition process.

It would outline actions related to expanding COSS, protecting COSS lands and funding options that were independent of a reliance on biodiversity offsetting arrangements.

Smith said the significance of COSS had to be written into the document.

“COSS is not just branding,” she said.

She also said the protection of environmental biodiversity could not rely solely on biodiversity offsets but that other mechanisms that focused on protection were also needed.

Smith said it was a significant strategy, but Council still hadn’t got the processes right and councillors needed more time to sit down with staff.

She said details such as adding a sentence addressing no net loss of biodiversity and removing an action recommending the disposal of small parcels of Council owned land, details which were in the staff recommendation, would not be lost.

Her amendments were adopted unanimously.

The draft Biodiversity Strategy was on public exhibition for a period of 60 days between September and November 2019.

It attracted 144 submissions, 28 of which were unique submissions from those who had read the draft strategy and made specific comment.

Staff said the majority of respondents were individuals who cared deeply about local environmental issues and six submissions came from industry and community groups.

The report said the Coast has at least 83 distinct vegetation community types each with its own unique suite of interacting species and ecological conditions.

The strategy said the Coast’s $874M tourism industry was dependent on high quality and functioning natural ecosystems as was human health and well-being.

“The indicative financial impact of implementing the actions in the policy not currently funded by Council’s general fund or from external sources was in the order of $650,000 per annum,” the report said.

However, there was the potential for other actions identified in the implementation plan to be funded via other sources and mechanisms.

“The acquisition of environmental lands, for example, could be funded by existing restricted reserve funds available for the acquisition of Coastal Open Space System lands and Clause 14 environmental land acquisition,” the report said, adding that about $9M was available in these two restricted funds.

The report said the NSW Government’s Biodiversity Offset Scheme provided the potential to generate funds to implement several actions of the plan.

Council was working with the NSW Government’s Biodiversity Conservation Trust on the development of Biodiversity Stewardship Sites under the Biodiversity Offset Scheme.

“The potential exists to generate several million dollars for the on-going management of Biodiversity Stewardship sites established under the Biodiversity Offset Scheme, as well as to generate funds for the management of biodiversity actions elsewhere on the Central Coast,” the report said.

It mentioned that Council received submissions to an online Sustainability Survey that was undertaken in February-March 2019.

The results showed 80.3 per cent of respondents thought biodiversity conservation, protection of native plants and animals, and ecosystem health was very important to the Central Coast, while a further 13.8 per cent thought it somewhat important.

Council will hold a review meeting in July and the draft is expected back in September for adoption.

Agenda Item 2.9
Central Coast Council meeting, June 22