Coastal management reforms: questions and answers

The full draft of the Coastal Management State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) and related maps of the coastal management areas are now available.

Consultation is closed on the draft Coastal Management State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) and draft maps of the coastal management areas that make up the coastal zone. The public consultation period for the draft SEPP and maps was from 11 November 2016 to 20 January 2017. Visit the Department of Planning and Environment website for further information about the SEPP and related maps.

A. Overview of the coastal reforms

1) Why is the coast special? Why does coastal management need its own laws and policies?

The NSW coast is one of our greatest assets. It is a dynamic and diverse landscape with unique coastal values and resources that are vital to our way of life.

The majority of us live and work within 50 kilometres of the coast. Major cities, regional centres and villages are continuing to grow on the coast. The coast is also a vital economic zone that supports most of the state's industrial and commercial activity.

Our coast also includes a diversity of coastal habitats such as beaches, dunes, coastal heaths, rock pools, nearshore waters and offshore reefs. Many of our native species depend on these habitats and ecosystems, which also include sheltered waterways, wetlands, mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass beds, sandbars and mudflats.

At the same time, the coast is an ever-changing environment that is shaped by complex coastal processes. Wind, waves, ocean currents, storm events and shifts in climatic systems are influencing the nature of the coastal landscape over time.

The important and unique environmental, social and economic values of the coast, together with its highly dynamic and complex character, require dedicated laws and policies to ensure it is sustainably managed now and into the future.

2) What are the pressures and challenges facing our coast today and into the future?

The coast is under increasing pressure from growing urban settlements, industrial and commercial activity, and tourism and recreation. Managing these human activities, while protecting the environmental and social values of the coast, and managing current and future risks, is complex and challenging.

This is made more challenging by the coastal processes that continue to change the coast over time. These natural processes can give rise to a range of potential hazards that can dramatically alter coastal landscapes and may pose risks to the important environmental, economic and social values of the coast.

Climate change is expected to increase the risk from these processes. Recently published science tells us it is not just sea level rise that will impact our coastline. Coastal erosion and flooding in the Pacific are closely linked with climate variability associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation - which is projected to increase in frequency and intensity. This will ultimately lead to more severe coastal erosion risks in south-east coast Australia.

Existing infrastructure such as houses, commercial developments, roads, storm water and sewerage systems along some parts of the coast are at risk from these coastal hazards. With climate change and sea level rise, this risk is projected to grow over time increasing exposure both on the open coast and particularly within low lying parts of estuaries. There are also risks to coastal biodiversity values, and to social values such as cultural heritage, and public access and our enjoyment of beaches and coastal areas.

In the face of these environmental and development pressures, we need a modern, integrated framework that is up to the challenge of meeting our current needs and equipping us to face future challenges.

3) Why are the current coastal management arrangements being reformed?

The current legal framework for coastal management in NSW was originally established over 35 years ago. It was not designed for the pressures and challenges that our coastal areas and communities face today, and will face in the future. The operation of our current laws has become increasingly complex and unclear through the course of many amendments, and as the legal and policy context across the rest of government has evolved. In addition, our knowledge of coastal processes and hazards has advanced significantly over this period.

Effective coastal management is essential to protect the characteristics of the coast we all value - natural, cultural, social and economic - and to improve resilience and reduce conflict in our coastal communities. The proposed reforms are necessary to create a more contemporary framework that can achieve these outcomes, through strategic and integrated laws, practical guidance and the best available science.

The aim of the reforms is to establish a new approach that allows us to respond effectively to coastal processes and hazards, and to manage the unique environmental, social and economic values of the coast in a coherent and effective way.

4) How will the reform package as a whole improve on current arrangements?

Unlike the current Coastal Protection Act 1979, the new Coastal Management Act directly integrates coastal management and planning requirements into councils':

  • land use planning responsibilities under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act)
  • community and strategic planning responsibilities under the Local Government Act 1993.

This means land use planning decisions will better reflect coastal management issues, and coastal management activities will be linked to and delivered as part of councils' central service delivery system, the Integrated Planning and Reporting (IP&R) framework.

The proposed Coastal Management State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) will consolidate a number of current SEPPs that apply to the coast, and will better target development controls and considerations to the diverse values and characteristics of different coastal environments.

The coastal management manual will improve the quality of guidance available to coastal councils by providing more detailed technical information and a clear, step by step process for councils to follow when they are developing coastal management programs.

5) What are the key features of the new framework?

New statutory objects. The new objects in the Coastal Management Act reflect the values and aims in the Coastal Protection Act, but improve on them by:

  • better reflecting links to land use planning and local government administration processes
  • explicitly acknowledging the dynamic nature of the coast as a defining characteristic.

A new definition of the 'coastal zone'. Unlike the Coastal Protection Act, which defines the coastal zone as a homogenous strip of the coastline, the Coastal Management Act defines the coastal zone as comprising four distinct coastal management areas. This new approach means we can better manage the diversity of land use, environmental and coastal hazard issues that exist in coastal areas by directly targeting the rules and guidance that apply to them (including the development controls in the proposed Coastal Management SEPP).

An emphasis on taking action through coastal management programs. Local coastal zone management plans (CZMPs) will be replaced by coastal management programs (CMPs) that must be integrated with councils' Integrated Planning and Reporting (IP&R) plans under the Local Government Act. The accountabilities associated with IP&R plans will place new emphasis on the timely and effective implementation of coastal management programs. Councils will have until December 2021 to transition existing CZMPs to CMPs.

Improved, comprehensive guidance. The new coastal management manual will provide clear instructions and step-by-step guidance for councils to meet the requirements of the new Coastal Management Act. Current guidance is relatively high-level and fragmented across a number of guidelines and codes of practice. The new manual will consolidate and augment existing guidance to better support councils in the preparation of CMPs.

A new statutory NSW Coastal Council. The NSW Coastal Council will replace the NSW Coastal Panel. Its primary function will be to advise the Minister on a range of coastal management matters. Unlike the NSW Coastal Panel, the Coastal Council will not have a development consent role. The Coastal Council will also be able to conduct performance audits on councils' implementation of their CMPs, if asked to do so by the Minister.

Integrated compliance and enforcement. Consultation with coastal managers has highlighted to need to reduce the duplication and overlap of enforcement provisions and improve their effectiveness. This will be achieved in large part by integrating key provisions and embedding them in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

New consultation arrangements. The Coastal Management Act establishes clearer requirements for councils to consult with neighbouring councils, other public authorities and the wider community in developing and implementing coastal management strategies.

6) How do the key elements of the reforms work together?

The Coastal Management Act establishes the overarching framework and objectives for coastal management in NSW and defines the coastal zone. It will also make provisions for the Minister to make a coastal management manual and for councils to prepare coastal management programs (CMPs) in accordance with the manual.

The definition of the coastal zone (specifically the four new coastal management areas) will be reflected in the Coastal Management State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP). The SEPP will then identify the development controls that apply in each coastal management area to achieve the objectives in the new Act. The SEPP will provide the maps of the coastal management areas and also identify the approval pathways for proposed coastal protection works.

The manual will set out how councils should prepare CMPs to achieve the objectives and requirements of the Act. The essential content of the manual is outlined in the Act.

7) Will the NSW Coastal Policy continue to apply?

The detail of the NSW Coastal Policy 1997 has been considered in the development of the new arrangements and its goals are reflected in the new instruments. The Policy will no longer apply once the new Act and framework has been finalised and commenced.

8) Does the Government have plans to further investigate the issue of the effect of coastal erosion on coastal boundaries?

Yes. The NSW Government is examining how to ensure that the public have a continued right to access, use and enjoy our beautiful beaches in the face of the ambulatory and dynamic coastline.

The Coastal Management Act lays the groundwork for further reforms in the future by including a definition of the beach fluctuation zone.

B. Coastal management programs

9) What are 'coastal management programs' and who prepares them?

Coastal management programs (CMPs) will replace coastal zone management plans (CZMPs). They will be prepared by councils in consultation with their communities and relevant government authorities, and in accordance with the new coastal management manual.

A CMP may be developed for the whole, or any part, of the coastal zone within a local government area. The purpose of a CMP is to set the long-term strategy for the co-ordinated management of land within the coastal zone, and give effect to the management objectives for the four coastal management areas.

There will be a strong emphasis on the implementation of CMPs. The Coastal Management Act achieves this by requiring CMPs to be given effect within the local government Integrated Planning and Reporting (IP&R) framework. The Coastal Management Act also includes performance auditing powers to ensure that CMPs are effectively implemented.

10) What if a council already has a certified coastal zone management plan, or is almost finished preparing one under the Coastal Protection Act?

The Coastal Management Act includes transitional provisions that allow councils to move towards the new arrangements over time. Many councils have already undertaken a significant amount of work to prepare coastal zone management plans (CZMPs) under the current laws, and they will not be expected to start over.

In order to minimise disruption, those councils that have certified CZMPs in place when the new Coastal Management Act commences, or that have submitted plans to the Minister for certification by that time, will be able to transition their CZMPs into coastal management programs (CMPs) under a staged process, and will have until 2021 to be fully compliant.

The Office of Environment and Heritage and other relevant NSW Government agencies will support councils through this process with operational guidance.

11) Does every council have to prepare a coastal management program?

Councils will have a degree of flexibility in deciding whether or not they need to prepare a coastal management program (CMP). However, the Coastal Management Act gives the Minister the power to direct a council to prepare a CMP, in which case the council must do so.

The Coastal Management Act also allows the Minister to prepare a CMP on behalf of a council if it fails to comply with such a direction, or where a CMP does not meet the requirements for certification, and therefore certification has been refused.

12) Will the relevant state agencies continue to provide advice to councils in the development of coastal management programs?

Yes. State Government agencies such as the Office of Environment and Heritage will continue to provide data and technical advice to councils to support coastal management. Current support includes the provision of wave data and data on historical coastline changes, information on coastal and estuarine processes, sediment cells and coastal geomorphology/coastal engineering, advice ecosystem health, and habitat mapping.

13) Will coastal management programs be certified by the Minister?

Yes. Similar to previous arrangements, the Coastal Management Act provides that a council may submit a draft coastal management program (CMP) to the Minister for certification, and that the Minister may certify, or refuse to certify, that the draft CMP has been prepared in accordance with the Act and the manual. The Minister may seek the advice of the NSW Coastal Council in deciding whether to certify a CMP.

14) Is there any change to the operation of section 733 of the Local Government Act 1993?

The exemption from liability provided by section 733 of the Local Government Act will continue to operate. The Coastal Management Act includes a slight amendment to section 733 to require actions to be 'substantially in accordance with' the manual, or 'in accordance with' a direction under section 14(2) of the Coastal Management Act. Section 14(2) of the Coastal Management Act covers the situation where the Minister directs the local council in its preparation of a coastal management program, and resolves any inconsistencies with the manual.

15) What does a coastal management program have to include?

Under the Coastal Management Act, a coastal management program (CMP) must:

  • identify the coastal management issues affecting the areas to which the program is to apply
  • identify the actions required to address those coastal management issues in an integrated and strategic manner
  • identify how and when those actions are to be implemented
  • identify the costs of those actions, proposed cost-sharing arrangements and other viable funding mechanisms
  • if the local council's local government area contains land identified as a coastal vulnerability area and beach erosion, coastal inundation or cliff instability is occurring on that land, include a coastal zone emergency action subplan.

The Coastal Management Act also allows the coastal management manual to provide additional information on requirements for CMPs.

16) How are coastal management programs linked to the local government Integrated Planning and Reporting (IP&R) framework under the Local Government Act?

The Coastal Management Act requires councils to give effect to their coastal management programs (CMPs) in the preparation, development and review of the plans, strategies and programs they are responsible for under the IP&R framework. In tandem with this requirement, the draft manual provides guidance on supporting the development of a CMP with information from IP&R plans and processes.

These requirements are necessary to ensure coastal management activities are evaluated as part of local councils' broader service delivery and asset management responsibilities. This approach ensures that coastal management no longer occurs at the periphery of councils' main community, financial and asset management planning processes.

17) How will neighbouring councils and state agencies be involved in developing coastal management programs?

The Coastal Management Act sets out clearer requirements for councils to consult with neighbouring councils, other public authorities and the wider community in developing and implementing coastal management strategies.

Councils will be required to consult with neighbouring councils that share the same coastal sediment compartment or estuary. The relevant groupings of councils for this purpose are set out in Schedule 1 of the Coastal Management Act.

The Coastal Management Act also requires that other public authorities, such as state agencies, are consulted when a coastal management program proposes actions or activities to be carried out by that public authority.

The draft coastal management manual provides guidance to support councils' consultation activities, including where councils share a sediment compartment or border the same estuary.

18) How will coastal councils and their communities decide what actions should be included in their coastal management programs? How will they pay for those actions?

The coastal management manual will guide coastal councils and their communities to determine what actions are included in their coastal management programs (CMPs) and equitable cost sharing arrangements to implement these.

Part A of the manual includes the mandatory requirements for developing a CMP, which include community consultation. This will ensure councils and their communities work together on the content of their CMPs. Part B of the manual sets out the process of developing a CMP, which may include supporting studies for hazard identification, risk assessment, and management response evaluation including cost benefit analysis. The Coastal management manual toolkit will help councils and communities to assess the costs of coastal management actions in detail, develop cost-sharing arrangements and identify viable funding mechanisms.

19) What funding will be available from the NSW Government to prepare and implement coastal management programs?

The NSW Government will provide $83.6 million for coastal management over the next five years. This includes $63.2 million to support councils in implementing actions that reduce exposure to coastal hazards. There will be $9.5 million available for preparation of coastal management programs, which will aid councils in transitioning to the new regulatory arrangements, including additional requirements for technical studies.

Actions in certified coastal management programs may be funded, and this will be determined through a properly administered grants program. Councils will need to demonstrate that proposed actions are funded through equitable and effective cost sharing arrangements, will deliver broad beneficial outcomes for the NSW community and include environmental, social, cultural and economic public benefits.

C. Coastal management manual

20) Who has to use the new coastal management manual?

The Coastal Management Act requires local councils to use the manual in the preparation and review of coastal management programs. Councils must follow the mandatory requirements and essential elements set out in the manual to satisfy the 'good faith' requirements of section 733 of the Local Government Act 1993.

The Coastal Management Act also requires other public authorities to have regard to the manual in the preparation, development of review of any plans of management for which those public authorities are responsible.

21) What is the scope of the new coastal management manual?

The scope of the manual is determined by the Coastal Management Act. The manual guides the management of coasts and estuaries within the coastal zone, and requires consideration of social, economic, environmental and technical issues. These include the management of coastal and estuarine environments as well as the management of coastal hazards.

22) How is the manual different from current guidelines?

The Coastal Management Manual will replace the current Guidelines for Preparing a Coastal Zone Management Plan. Unlike the current guidelines, the manual sets out a step-by-step process for local councils to follow when preparing coastal management programs. This process is based on a risk management approach that is consistent with international standard ISO31000. The manual builds on the existing guidance but fills key gaps identified by councils. It also brings together the current guidelines with other pieces of guidance to provide a consolidated reference for councils.

23) Will information be added to the manual?

The manual will be supported by a technical toolkit. This is not part of the gazetted document, and will be updated regularly as new information becomes available.

24) Will the NSW Government be providing councils with information to help them plan for future sea level rise?

Yes. The NSW Government is committed to supporting local governments on the coast with the technical advice they need to make credible, balanced and sensible decisions. Consistent with its previous decisions and the advice of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, the NSW Government will not prescribe state-wide sea level rise benchmarks. Decisions on the management of risks associated with sea level rise need to consider local circumstances including both the likelihood and consequences of sea level rise. The consequences of sea level rise in particular require consideration of local factors including the amount and type of development at risk and local social, economic and environmental factors. These considerations are nuanced and are properly dealt with by local councils, in consultation with their communities.

The manual will provide information including a synthesis of recent science relating to sea level rise and guidance on undertaking coastal and estuarine erosion and inundation risk assessments. These will support councils to identify and assess coastal hazards, including those associated with sea level rise. It will consolidate a number of existing guidelines and fill critical gaps that have been identified through engagement with councils.

The NSW Coastal Council will have an ongoing function to commission technical or scientific reviews on matters such as sea level rise and provide advice to the Minister as required. Such reviews may include consideration of emerging international, national, regional and local studies to identify new information and determine its applicability in a NSW context. The Minister can then make the Council's advice and any necessary operational guidance available to councils, including as part of the manual where relevant.

The advice provided will form part of the best available scientific information councils should use to determine sea level rise scenarios to adopt for their planning purposes.

D. NSW Coastal Council

25) What's the role of the NSW Coastal Council?

The NSW Coastal Council's role will be to provide independent advice to the Minister administering the new Coastal Management Act on matters relating to the Minister's functions under the Act, and in relation to the development and implementation of coastal management programs by local councils. In addition the Coastal Council may, at the Minister's request, provide advice to another public authority on matters relating to coastal management.

Specific aspects of the Coastal Council's role includes providing advice to the Minister on the certification of coastal management programs, on the implementation of a coastal management program following a performance audit, and on technical or scientific matters of strategic importance such as sea level rise.

26) How does this role differ from that of the current NSW Coastal Panel?

The NSW Coastal Council will replace the current NSW Coastal Panel, as well as the non-statutory Coastal Expert Panel. Unlike the current Coastal Panel, the Coastal Council will not have a development consent role, rather it will be focussed on advisory functions.

27) What will be the composition of the NSW Coastal Council?

Consistent with the government's previous commitments, the NSW Coastal Council is to comprise of members that are independent of government. The Coastal Council will consist of between three and seven members appointed by the Minister. Reflecting the diversity of issues associated with coastal management, the membership is to include expertise from the fields of:

  • coastal physical sciences, including geomorphology
  • coastal engineering
  • coastal land use planning
  • coastal ecology
  • social science
  • economics
  • local government management
  • property law
  • dispute resolution
  • traditional and contemporary Aboriginal use and management of the coastal zone.

28) How will the NSW Coastal Council be established?

The appointment process will be consistent with the Public Service Commission appointment standards and Department of Premier and Cabinet requirements. This includes advertisement of roles, consideration of diversity and appointment on merit.

Further procedural details on the Council are set out in Schedule 2 of the Coastal Management Act.

29) Will there be any relationship between the NSW Coastal Council and the advisory bodies established under the Marine Estate Management Act 2014?

Yes. The NSW Coastal Council will include one member nominated by the Ministers administering the Marine Estate Management Act 2014. The nominee will need to have expertise in at least one of the fields relevant to the Coastal Council. If practicable, the nominee could be a member of the Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel. This proposal for cross-membership will allow issues of common interest to be identified and support collaboration where relevant and appropriate.

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Page last updated: 24 January 2017