October 23 - 29, 2022: Issue 559


Conservation Zones Review Residents Forum: Resolutions Call For Shift In Criteria Applied, For Keeping Pittwater's Green-Blue Wings Intact, For State Election Candidates To Declare Their Position On Pittwater Community's Stated Expectations

Northern Beaches Council is proposing to rezone around 3,600 properties in the former Pittwater LGA from the existing Conservation C4 (Environmental Living) zone to Residential (R) Zones. The proposal, currently open for feedback, states the council wants to know if residents agree with the approach and criteria used in the review to identify and map core habitat areas, biodiversity corridor areas, threatened ecological communities, and threatened flora and fauna species habitat. Athttps://yoursay.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/planning-ezones

The feedback period was extended to December 2nd in the October 2022 Council Meeting through a Motion presented by Cr. Rory Amon.

The process undertaken (Zoning Methodology) and criteria used (Criteria Definitions) has created confusion as some areas in Pittwater are shown to be rezoned R2 (residential) while looking at the online mapping tool and applying 'Hazard Criteria thresholds met' or others 'Biodiversity' filter for the exact same area produces, as one example at Elanora Heights:

However, as Planners have told councillors they currently estimate that in the former Pittwater LGA, 3,613 properties will move from a C zone to an R (residential) zone, and 1,328 from an R zone to a C zone, resulting in an overall loss of 2,285 properties from C zones, the focus is on shifting sites formerly zoned E4 and now C4 (for land with special environmental value) to become R2 (low density residential).

As the council has stated, in regards to the Housing Strategy it submitted to the state government; ‘’Council proposed a locally specific medium density complying development model as an alternative to the Low-Rise Medium Density Housing Code. Additionally Council proposed seniors and affordable housing as an alternative to the new Housing SEPP (formerly the Affordable Rental Housing 2009 and Seniors and People with a Disability 2004 SEPPs) which were not supported’’ the densification of housing in these areas can occur via the R2 rezoning.  

On Sunday October 16th a Residents Forum was held in the Mona Vale Memorial Hall to provide an overview of the proposed changes.

Former Pittwater Councillor Sue Young pointed out that the whole of the council document is based on ‘criteria’ which the state government have not as yet signed off on. 

''If the rating in the criteria could be changed from a rating of 0.5 to a rating of 1 then most of the proposed changes from a C4 to an R2 zoning would not occur.'' Ms Young said

''The council’s criteria is a ‘medium environmental criteria’ for ‘Biodiversity Corridor and Urban Tree Canopy’ which should be ‘high environmental criteria’ as these would maintain the conservation zones.''

Sue explained that in ''No1; Biodiversity Corridor and Tree Canopy - council considers a medium environmental criteria with a rating of 0.5 - that should be a 1.''

'' No 2; the council considers a medium criteria is applicable for Ridgeline or Escarpment, giving that a 0.5 as well, that too should be a 1.

No 3 is Geotechnical Planning Class: C3 Hawkesbury Sandstone with Slope > 25 degrees or C5 Narrabeen Group with Slope > 15 degrees. That has been given a 0.5 criteria by the council as well, and I consider this should be in Hazard criteria and should be a 1.''

Sue stated that residents should provide in their feedback that they don't agree with the criteria, based on this application of a 0.5 where a 1 should be applied.

Pittwater Natural Heritage Associations' Marita Macrae reiterated and supported Sue Young’s points, stating that we live in a whole landscape and the understanding of what creates a biodiversity or fauna corridor includes understanding that plants and animals need to be enabled to move across that whole landscape. 

''Whatever the permissible use of a zoning may become, it would be likely that vegetation and trees would be lost, and with them go fauna corridors, and we’re not thinking of just a little passage, we’re thinking of great swathes of vegetation through the landscape, mostly native. 

The term for fauna is a very general one as well. Fauna as a definition should be that which includes species such as the threatened powerful owls right down to the little moths and flies as these are all important. The threatened species rely on these other species to survive. So for prey animals such as the powerful owls, whose prey is mostly possums, if the possums go then so do the powerful owls.''

Former Pittwater Councillor and Mayor David James OAM pointed out that during the earlier days of that council there was a ‘developer’s rush to get into dual occupancies because they could be strata titled’. Which meant that on a 600 to 700 metre block an equivalent sized house could be built, a ‘developer’s paradise’. 

''Pittwater Council passed a Resolution that prohibited subdivision. As a consequence of that there were over 300 applications before the council that [were not happy]. Once [or if] you see this being allowed here, you will see dual occupancies take off like a rocket – and that s something to be very very careful of.’'

Mona Vale Residents Association member Marcia Rackham spoke to the Council Meeting held two days later, presenting the Resolutions that stemmed from the Community Forum. 

Presentation of Resolutions to Council. Draft Review Conservation Zones Pittwater LGA.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Garigal people on whose land we are conducting this meeting this evening and pay my respects to ancestors past, present and emerging.

On Sunday 16th October a planning forum was held in the Memorial Hall in Mona Vale to high light and discuss the proposed changes to land zoning in the Pittwater local government area. This was a very well attended meeting and was supported by the following 11 Pittwater interest groups:

  • Bayview and Church Point Residents Assoc
  • Canopy Keepers
  • Church Point Friends
  • Clareville and Bilgola Plateau Residents Assoc
  • Mona Vale Residents Assoc
  • Palm Beach Protection Group
  • Pittwater Environmental Heritage Group
  • Pittwater Community Alliance
  • Pittwater Natural Heritage Assoc
  • West Pittwater Community Association
  • and the Palm Beach/ Whale Beach Assoc.

The purpose of the forum was to try and get a better result for Pittwater from the review in terms of nature conservation, protection of visual quality and scenic character of the natural and built environment, into the future for the Pittwater LGA.

We had several speakers and had some distinguished guests for our Q and A panel. What was evident during the meeting was just how confused people are about the proposal to re-zone vast parcels of land throughout the suburbs of Pittwater from a conservation zoning into an R? zone. I have used the term R? purposefully as it is unclear what R zoning, we have the potential to move into if reclassified. Many in the Pittwater community have no idea this is happening. Only seven years out from a very up to date LEP council is wishing to change the rules again. It was very evident when comparing mapping for the now three combined councils that Pittwater was rich in conservation zones. These proposed changes to conservation zoning will tip the balance heavily into residential zoning along ridgelines, steep sloping land, canopied forests all contributing to areas that possess bucket loads of scenic beauty. Scenic beauty that has been completely omitted from the review yet is the very essence of the Pittwater LGA. 

We understand that residents can book an onsite visit from council to inspect their property prior to the review being finalised but it is unclear on the “your say” page as to how this can be arranged, surely an oversight on council’s part.

The criteria that council has set for conservation zones is also hotly contested by the community. We consider the methodology to be flawed. Has council really considered what the implications could be for the community of Pittwater if things that we value so highly are downgraded to the degree that they have been in the draft review. And why change a zoning from Environmental living to conservation when the former classification in many instances is a much better fit.

Out of our forum the following three resolutions were recorded all with an overwhelming majority.

Resolution 1.

That the medium Environmental value criteria that form the basis of the conservation zones review should be changed as follows:

  1. Biodiversity Corridor and urban tree canopy be given a High Environmental Value.
  2. Ridgeline or Escarpment given a High Environmental Value
  3. Geotechnical Planning Class: C3 Hawkesbury Sandstone with slope >25 degrees or C5 Narrabeen Group with slope >15 degrees be included in Hazard criteria.

Resolution 2.

We the residents of the Northern Beaches Council area, believe the bushland landscape of the former Pittwater Local Government area is its predominant feature. With the built form secondary, and that this must be maintained in the future local environmental plan and development control plan.

We therefore call on NBC, in the former Pittwater area, to:

  1. Rule out rezoning of C4 land to residential.
  2. Apply conservation zonings to properties where any significant environmental values or hazards are present.      
  3. Create scenic foreshore protection areas from shorelines to ridges.
  4. Retain all heritage conservation areas and investigate those proposed- but not yet implemented- by the former Pittwater Council.

Resolution 3.

This meeting strongly objects to the proposed reduction in the numbers of properties in Conservation Zones in the area of Pittwater ward within Northern Beaches Council LGA.

Such rezoning will enable a greater level of development and consequent reduction in native flora and fauna, green space and the unique natural character of the Pittwater area.

We ask that all candidates for Pittwater in the coming State election declare their position on:

  1. The proposed changes to conservation zones.
  2. The establishment of a scenic foreshore protection area.
  3. What planning controls they will support to address our concerns.               

Thank you.

Marcia's Speech on the draft Conservation Review for Pittwater at the Community Forum:

Thank you all for coming to our forum this afternoon to discuss the potential changes to the draft review of conservation zones in the Pittwater LGA. The purpose of this forum is to try and get a better result for Pittwater in terms of nature conservation, protection of visual quality and scenic character of the natural and built environment, into the future, for our LGA. Council has sent letters to those residents currently living in a conservation zone and are seeking your feedback on the criteria they have set to justify changed zonings. Have they got the methodology and criteria in assessing your property, right.  

My name is Marcia Rackham and I have had an association and interest in matters pertaining to the Pittwater area for some time, and I am a member of the MVRA. There may be some people in the audience who feel that their property rights and liberty are being infringed by us holding this forum this afternoon, but please be patient listen to the speakers and there will be time for you to express your point of view during question time. We ask that all present keep your questions as succinct as possible and respect one another’s point of view. We have a distinguished panel to help with question time.

There are so many reasons as to why we live in Pittwater whether we are renting, visiting for a while or choose to invest our hard-earned dollars in a home here. The one unifying reason that we have chosen to live in Pittwater would have to be that we appreciate the vastly beautiful landscape. We have The Pittwater, a magnificent unspoilt coastline, lagoons, wetlands and tree canopies climbing up to tree lined ridges. Most of us when purchasing our homes spend time to research the zoning of the land, giving the prospective purchaser peace of mind in the regulations that may or may not be permissible in that area. We have been living comfortably with these zonings until now. This peace of mind that we may have enjoyed could be severely disrupted if councils’ proposal to re zone extensive tracts of land in Pittwater from C4 living to R? residential goes ahead. I have purposely called it R? because it is very unclear just what the R zone would be for some areas. Council has said that most properties will fall into R2 low density residential zone but how are we to make an informed decision on the reclassification of our land if all the facts are not before us. 

Council is proposing to rezone 3613 properties from a C4 zoning into residential zoning, and some properties will move from an R zone into a C3 classification where hazards have been identified.  This means that there are an overall reduction of 2285 properties currently listed as C4 zoned. This is a reduction of conservation zoned lands in Pittwater of 50 percent plus. 7447 properties will have a C classification and 9347 properties will now be exposed to regulations in a R zone. The suburb of Mona Vale will see a reduction of approx. 75% of its lands formally classified as conservation 4 rezoned to residential, a similar story for other suburbs in our LGA. Where has the pressure for such drastic changes to our LEP come from? The Department of planning has apparently told council that previous criteria used for accessing conservation zones was too conservative and has said that Scenic quality cannot be relied upon to inform decisions around being given a C3 or C4 zone. And why change the terminology, when a land classification of the former Environmental living was a good fit for land usage in urban Pittwater. What does a pen pusher in Macquarie St know about Pittwater. We cannot let the State Govt dictate the way in which we wish to live and for the men and women in suits erode our planning regulations. We understand from council meetings that NBC is on target to meet its housing targets, building in and around town and village centres, so why target so much of our conservation zoned land. Our current zonings have for many years protected Pittwater from unsympathetic development. We hear that Council is looking for a consistent approach in planning across the NBC area but why are we in Pittwater being asked to surrender so much.

I think that it is important at this point to highlight the fact that Pittwater prior to amalgamation had one of the most up to date LEPs in the metropolitan area. The 2014 LEP that came into effect on the 27th of June that year proceeded the 1993 Pittwater local environment plan after 21 years of usage. The community’s input strongly supported the preservation and enhancement of the natural environment. Amalgamation took place in 2016, and the new combined LEP which this review will feed into, is planned to go out for public comment by 2023, a mere seven-year difference. There seems to be a big rush to get this done by the State Govt, but that could have enormous consequences to our community if these changes to zonings are to proceed to this degree. It was clear when reviewing mapping for all three LGAs that Pittwater had large areas given to environmental living status compared to the Manly and Warringah LGAs. The Pittwater LEP reflected the communities desire to maintain the character of the area.

In preparing for this review council were keen to hear the community’s view on what was important to them: And this is what the community said,

    • Consultation with the community is required.
    • Support for protecting the environment.
    • Wildlife corridors should be prioritised and protected.
    • Corridors, tree coverage, waterways, bush fire are all important environmental values in Pittwater.
    • Maintain existing C4 zoning in Pittwater.
    • Protect existing C2 zoned land.
    • Apply transition areas and buffers for further protection of high value biodiversity areas.
    • C-zones are important for water quality.
    • C-zones are critical in the coastal communities.
    • Coastal areas are subject to coastal subsidence and flooding. Development should not add to the coastal risk that is already there.
    • Areas with high bush fire risk should also be C zoned.

Conservation zones are relevant in urbanised areas, yet many of these points above are not being given due consideration in this review. Vegetated gardens act as the last bastion for urban wildlife and their movements through the landscape. In fact, Mosman Council is going in the complete opposite direction of this draft review and converting land from R2 to C4 to protect and enhance the scenic protection area and have a foreshore protection zone in place. We should insist on a foreshore protection zone to be included in our LEP from the shoreline to the ridgeline. The former Manly council also had this in place.

In the 1970s Warringah council obtained an exemption from the State Government policy to allow medium density housing in all residential areas by establishing that land had been zoned for units, townhouses and villas but that established further density increases could not be sustained by the inadequate road network aided and abetted by natural hazards, such as vulnerability to landslip, fire, flooding and coastal erosion. And a lack of infrastructure generally. It is clear from this piece of history that pressure has always been present when it comes to increasing housing stock in the LGA. Vast tracts of land currently under review to be rezoned residential from E4 living are along narrow local road systems, and due to the extreme weather events, that we are experiencing, are in poor condition. Has the review got it right in considering this in its terms of access, one of the criteria for a change to the zoning.

The state environmental planning policy for housing amended in 2022 will allow medium density housing and seniors living to be built in a R2 zone. Council is still in discussions* with the state govt regarding this and possible exemptions to the code, however it seems contradictory that council is claiming in the draft review that changing from a C4 zone to a R? zone will not increase population in the area. Council and consultants have set the criteria within the zones as to what is and is not permissible and the council has the discretion to add and remove additional permitted uses if it wishes. They can also add extra zone objectives and have leeway with regard uses permitted. Now it would be permissible to build hospitals (goodness we just pulled one down) Medical facilities, electricity generating works, school-based childcare, churches, emergency service facilities, exhibition homes, veterinary hospitals attached and detached dual occupancies to name just a few. There seems to be too many urban uses within a C4 zone. Has council got this right or should the permitted uses be reduced?

In Pittwater we are very fortunate to be able to immerse ourselves in a very high-quality scenic landscape. You cannot but help have your spirits lifted by what is around you. People come from far and wide to enjoy so many aspects of the natural environment and vistas here, yet the scenic value of the landscape has been completely omitted from this draft conservation review, overlooking the very essence of the Pittwater LGA. With Pittwater having a large cohort of people working from home I would imagine that working in nature would be an absolute benefit to their working day. Due to the ancient geography of Pittwater, there are still a great many vegetated/timbered ridgelines however a lot of these will potentially move to a residential zoning, keeping in mind that 800 sqm is all that is required for a dual occupancy to be built and many block sizes on Pittwater’s ridgelines are much larger than this. Whilst driving around Pittwater it is not difficult to find a massive dig out of a hillside the beginnings of another concrete bunker. If this is allowed to happen in a conservation zone, then heaven help us once zoned residential.   

The Character statements in our development control plans for each suburb throughout Pittwater are still very valid documents and should be read in consultation with potential changes to zonings. The bushland landscape viewed from our coastlines and bays is the predominant feature of Pittwater with the built form being the secondary component of the visual catchment. And our second speaker Craig will expand on this. However, if you look at properties on a ridgeline which have been classified with medium value environmental criteria the weighting for biodiversity, urban tree canopy, slopes of 15-25 degrees on a ridgeline or escarpment have been reduced to a weighting of just 0.5 rather than a 1 as all other weightings, why is this. This weighting must be increased to 1 for it to make any sense.

Why can’t figure 25% instead of 50%?

Why are ridgelines not included?

Vegetation still acting as important conduits for canopy cover and wildlife [is vital].

In closing I hope that this has given you some food for thought. And that you make use of councils very good interactive mapping on the “your say” page on councils website. That you request a site visit from council and that you make a submission. Let us together protect the scenic value of Pittwater and all the great things that help to make up the rich and healthy environment in which we live. 

John Illingsworth filmed the public meeting and has provided the following film which shares the whole discussion.

Classic Pittwater - going, going, GONE?

By Pittwater Pathways; 'Following upon forced amalgamation and in response to state government pressure, the Northern Beaches Council is proposing land zone changes that threaten Pittwater's environment. Nowhere in the document does it say what they're conserving - it's all for developers. 

Lightly edited, this is an accurate record of the meeting.'