Surf, sun, sand and a sustainable coast is what we want for Christmas and the future

Over the past few weeks I have been privileged to twice hear Rob Stokes, the NSW Minister for Planning, discuss the NSW coastal reforms. On the 13th November 2015 at the NSW Coastal Conference in Forster, he released the draft Bill of a new Coastal Management Act, an Explanation of Intended Effects (EIE) on a new Coastal Management State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), and the background to a new Coastal Management Manual. On Saturday, 12th December, he meet with members of the Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG) and spoke again about the reforms.

Last year (2014) as Minister for the Environment, he gave a speech at the annual dinner of the Coastal Conference. He made several promises on behalf of Government that were fulfilled to a large extent at Forster. Described by Wendy Harmer in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28th November as “a fresh-faced surfer, life saver and environmentalist who hails from the northern beaches [he] has all who are invested in coastal planning jumping for joy”. She welcomed the opportunity provided by the Minister to comment on the draft Bill, EIE and Manual which is being released in stages. Workshops have been conducted up and down the coast by OEH and I  am of the understanding that many individuals, councils and groups are taking up that opportunity. John Corkill on behalf of ACS is preparing our submission and I am very grateful to John and his team for all their work. At this stage I am unable to comment given my role on the NSW Coastal Expert Panel along with Angus Gordon, Ron Cox and others.

At Forster, the Minister was able to place the stage 2 coastal reforms in the context of working with wicked problems. This was important as it clearly showed how he grasped the intractable nature of many issues on our coast; solve one problem, create another! The dynamic and ambulatory nature of coastal lands was stressed as something coastal landholders, managers, councils, and governments have to not only realise but work with over time and space. One key aspect of the reforms is the need to better use science in addressing many of the issues especially given the changing nature of hazards as they impact on both natural and built assets. Rob made it clear why the Government is moving from the old Coastal Protection Act to a more management approach using various other legislation and policies to drive more integrated outcomes. The approach will result in each council developing a Coastal Management Program (CMP) in relation to four coastal areas as defined in the draft Bill. Application of a risk-based approach is a major part of the reforms as are more directed ways to use land use planning and management reporting mechanisms ( the so-called IP&R framework under the Local Government Act).

One initiative that will assist the State in the delivery of reforms is the new Coastal Council. He made it clear that this body would have a technical orientation and provide advice and perform performance audits on how a council undertakes its CMP. Personally I am encouraged by the way he envisages this new body to work.

Rob noted there are many points that remain to be resolved at this stage including the maps of the four different areas, the level of flexibility to each council under the principle of subsidiarity, the detail to go into the Manual and issues of public versus private benefits and costs. During 2016 I hope to comment further on these and other matters as part of the reform process. It was great that Geoff Wescott was present to hear and meet Rob and take back to Victoria some of the work done to date in NSW. In the meantime let us reflect on Rob’s passing words at the end of his speech, that we can help not so much by “solving” the wicked problems but by managing them.

– words by Prof Bruce Thom