A View From The Edge
Issues in Rural and Metropolitan Fringe Planning

Ian Sinclair,
Principal Consultant, Edge Land Planning
Rural and Environmental Planning Consultants

As published in New Planner, The Magazine of the Planning Profession in NSW
Number 57, December 2003
Rural Local Environmental Plans
Local Environmental Plans and their format and content have been discussed for a couple of years now. The PlanFirst reforms proposed one plan for the whole LGA and called it a 'local plan'. PlanFirst has been reviewed and the Taskforce report has been released. This proposes a less ambitious plan that they have called an 'integrated plan'.
The following points are made from my experience preparing LEPs over the years as well as one for a Council at the moment which is to be in the new format. In the absence of any format from DIPNR, we used the review taskforce report as a guide and built on this. In the space available, it is not possible to explain each part, rather I have provided the broad outline of what I believe a rural LEP should contain.
Prior to preparing the LEP, it is best to prepare a Strategy and Study for the entire LGA which will include land use planning as well as other recommendations covering a range of issues. The strategy should include a set of designations with desired future character statements (which will become zones and objectives in a LEP). It should also recommend any changes to land use definitions.
Once the Strategy has been exhibited and adopted, the LEP should be prepared as soon as possible so that the process does not loose momentum.
The LEP should have the following 5 sections as a minimum with other sections being able to be added if needed (as well as the dictionary and any schedules):
  • Strategic Context
  • Preliminary
  • Controlling Development
  • Provisions for the development of land
  • Indicators and Review mechanisms
The Strategic context section should relate the Strategy to the LEP and repeat the vision, growth management philosophy and development principles. It should also have a section relating to the catchment blueprint for the area.
One thing that has always been an issue with LEPs is the legal wording and its interpretation. One technique that is used by some Councils is to provide a series of text boxes throughout the LEP that help to explain the provisions and the reasons behind them. These are not part of the legal instrument and can act as the 'plain English' version of the LEP.
The objectives of the plan should be in 2 parts: general and specific. The general objectives should relate to the matters outlined in the strategy and include references to the rural strategy, rural land use conflict, ESD, settlement hierarchy, new uses considering the impact on existing uses and the existing development pattern. The specific objectives should cover settlement, economy, environment, agriculture, rural landscape, natural hazards, community development and heritage.
A set of definitions that are standardised is good but there needs to be some latitude to introduce specific definitions that relate to local issues. These should be included in a dictionary at the back of the document.
The development control section should contain provisions related to exempt and complying development as well as the zones.
A standard set of zones is considered to be appropriate, however, as with the definitions, there should be a mechanism to allow for amendments as the situation changes. One principle for the zoning names is that it should relate to the use and character of the area in question. This will enable such zones as agriculture, agricultural landscape, rural living and nature conservation to be developed. These are in addition to the urban zones as well as special use, national parks and forestry. Zone objectives should be developed that relate to the specific issues associated with development in the zone. They should also contain primary and secondary objectives.
The provisions that relate to subdivision, dwelling houses and dual occupancy should be placed under each zone as this makes it easier for the reader to find out the matters that relate specifically to each zone.
One key component of the development control section is the introduction of a set of development assessment criteria. These are intended to provide more detail for the assessment of development applications in the local context. In addition to the objectives, it should reflect the rural strategy and catchment blueprint as well as addressing the following issues: rural land use conflict, land capability, rural landscape character, traffic generation, flooding, proximity to rivers and streams, heritage, native vegetation and regional economic impact.
The fourth part will contain all of the general provisions that relate to the whole LGA.
There should also be a section dealing with indicators of sustainability and review and monitoring.
One point that needs to be made is that LEPs for rural areas are different from ones made for metropolitan Sydney. It is noted that the PlanFirst Review Taskforce makes a recommendation for standardised zones and a template for all NSW Councils. I believe there are sufficient differences to have one template for the metropolitan areas of Newcastle Sydney and Wollongong and one for the rest of NSW. This will enable the preparation of totally integrated plans that relate to the local situation.
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