The NSW Nature Conservation Council says the Hunter’s critical environmental areas could be at risk if a new planning system is passed next week.
The State Government introduced the Planning Bill 2013 to parliament on Tuesday this week, saying the legislation puts community first.
It will be debated next week before going to the Upper House and have been the focus of numerous community protests around the state.
But Nature Conservation Council CEO Pepe Clarke says the changes exclude the public from important development decisions, helping to fast-track development approvals and giving the planning department unprecedented control over decisions.
He says the recent coal-mine related disaster at a conservation area near Newcastle is a prime example of what can go wrong with a one-stop-shop model of approval.
“The Sugarloaf State Conservation Area, the damage caused there arose because the department of planning didn’t follow the advice of other expert agencies,” he said.
“If we apply that same approach to either types of development, we’re concerned that this will have an impact on the environment, it may result in the loss of wildlife habitat.”
Mr Clarke says Hunter region councils will be powerless to stop some developments if parliament approves the new system.
He says while some positive changes were made to the plan, it still includes developments that meet pre-approved criteria, known as code assessment development.
Mr Clarke says they’ll be used to fast-track projects and councils can’t oppose them.
“The codes for assessing code assessable development will be based on a state-wide template, he said.
“Councils can modify them, but once the codes are in place, council cannot refuse a development that meets a code where that code applies.
“We’re concerned that this improperly constrains the decision making role of council.”