The O’Farrell government’s new state planning laws, which will continue to be debated when parliament returns at the end of February, will not include an environmental protection framework, which environmentalists say could significantly impact on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems.
The Australian National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development defines ESD as “using, conserving and enhancing the community’s resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased”.
The proposed Planning Act excludes this specific framework which would legally require the government to take into account inter-generational equity, biodiversity, ecological diversity and economic valuation in planning decisions.
Under the new laws, which have been developed after more than two years of community consultation, the ESD framework will be replaced by a ‘Sustainable Development’ structure as defined by the UN’s 1987 Brundtland Commission as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The NSW government argues this system will work to integrate and balance important social, environmental and economic factors in the decision-making process and that the approach is consistent with international practice.
Greens spokesperson for the environment, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, said the new laws would significantly weaken the ability of planning legislation to protect the natural environment.
“The Planning Bill pays lip-service to sustainability by including ‘sustainable development’ as an object of the bill. Without these guiding [ESD] principles at the core of decision-making, the open-ended definitions of sustainable development leave the door wide open for variable interpretations of planning and development based on vested interests,” Dr Faruqi said.
“Given the record of this Government, and the one before, we know whose interests will be protected: clearly, those of the developers.”
A spokesperson for the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Brad Hazzard, indicated heritage and environmental protections would be maintained and strengthened under the new system.
“The Greens in NSW don’t get it. Sustainable Development was recognised by the United Nations in 1987, but the NSW Greens are fighting a rearguard action from last century,” the spokesperson said.
“In November, the Legislative Council voted overwhelmingly, including the Labor opposition, for the introduction of Sustainable Development.