Item 11 MM7/20 Rural Boundary Clearing Code....................................................................... 1
Mayoral Minute No. MM7/20
Date of Meeting: 9/12/2020
11 RURAL BOUNDARY CLEARING CODE
In October the Minister for Police and Emergency Services announced that the Rural Fires Act would be amended to make it landowner friendly legislation that would allow rural landowners to clear up to 25 metres on their property from the boundary without onerous approvals.
Legislation to amend the Rural Fires Act 1997 and introduce provisions for a Rural Boundary Clearing Code was subsequently passed by the NSW Parliament and assented to on 25 November 2020. When commenced and supported by a Rural Boundary Clearing Code, these amendments will enable landholders with rural zoned land to clear vegetation within 25 metres of a boundary for the purpose of bush fire hazard reduction despite any requirement for a licence, approval, consent or any other authorisation for the work made by the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 or the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 or any other instrument made under an Act (other than the Rural Boundary Clearing Code). The Rural Boundary Clearing Code is prepared by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and requires the agreement of the Minster for Planning and Public Spaces, the Minster for Energy and Environment, and the Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales.
Much of the rural land within the Hornsby LGA interfaces with bushland and is bush fire prone, and Council supports reasonable measures to enable residents to protect their homes and properties.
Council notes that the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Bush Fire Risk Management Plan 2016-2021 (HKBFRMP) identifies communities at risk and sets out a five-year program of coordinated multi-agency treatments minimize the risk of adverse impact of bush fires on life, property and the environment.
The objectives of the HKBFRMP are to:
· Reduce the number of human-induced bush fire ignitions that cause damage to life, property and the environment;
· Manage fuel to reduce the rate of spread and intensity of bush fires, while minimising environmental/ecological impacts;
· Reduce the community’s vulnerability to bush fires by improving its preparedness; and
· Effectively contain fires with a potential to cause damage to life, property and the environment.
Annual works programs are identified under the HKBFRMP that consist of four main treatment types as follows:
1. Prescribed Burning
2. Asset Protection Zone (APZ) works
3. Fire Trails
4. Community Engagement
A full list of planned treatments including the responsible agency and timeframe can be found at the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Bush Fire Management Committee website http://hkbfmc.org/
Hazard Reduction Certificates authorise the carrying out of bush fire hazard reduction work on private land in accordance with a bush fire risk management plan. Hazard Reduction Certificates are free, issued by the NSW Rural Fire Service following an assessment by an RFS officer and provide a single approval process for planned hazard reduction works to responsibly and effectively reduce fuel levels.
Fire Permits are required during the Bush Fire Danger Period, are issued locally by the RFS and are designed to ensure that a fire will be managed safely and imposes conditions on the way a fire is lit and maintained. They also inform the RFS exactly when and where landowners intend to burn, to ensure adequate and appropriate measures are in place so that fires remain under control.
The 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code has been in place since August 2014 and allows people within bushfire prone areas to clear trees on their property within 10 metres of a home, without seeking approval; and clear underlying vegetation such as shrubs (but not trees) on their property within 50 metres of a home, without seeking approval. In this regard it is noted that Council has previously indicated its concern regarding the integrity of vegetation clearing being undertaken under the 10/50 entitlement scheme, and the ongoing loss of trees in 10/50 entitlement areas that appear to have little to do with bushfire risk or hazard reduction.
Additionally, the NSW RFS has the power to investigate bush fire complaints and issue a Hazard Reduction Notice to a landowner (including public authorities) to carry out bushfire reduction work specified in the notice.
Preliminary analysis shows that on a worst-case scenario the Rural Boundary Clearing Code could allow up to 1035 hectares or 49% of mapped vegetation on Rural zoned lands within the Hornsby LGA to be cleared.
I note that there is a Notice of Motion due to be considered by Council regarding the Rural Boundary Clearing Code at this General Meeting that calls on Council to write to the Minister for Energy and the Environment and the Minister for Planning seek an exemption for properties twelve hectares or less in size.
I am concerned that a twelve-hectare threshold as proposed does not provide sufficient protection to our rural vegetation given as spatial analysis shows that whilst a twelve-hectare threshold would exempt 95% of rural zoned properties within the Hornsby LGA from the Code; up to 213 hectares or 10% of mapped vegetation in rural zoned properties would still likely be covered by the Code and subject to a clearing entitlement.
The NSW Government has a commitment to increase tree canopy and green cover across Greater Sydney by planting one million trees by 2022 as part of a broader commitment to plant five million trees by 2030, more than doubling the tree canopy in Greater Sydney from 16.8 per cent to 40 per cent. Additionally, Planning Priority N16 of the North District Plan is to protect and enhance bushland and biodiversity. It is therefore important that Hornsby seek to strike an appropriate balance between bush fire risk management activities (such as through actions contained within the HKBFRMP and the existing Hazard Reduction Certificates process) and vegetation preservation.
The Rural Boundary Clearing Code applies to Rural zoned land across NSW and it is important that a tailored approach is considered, otherwise there is a risk that what might be an appropriate measure striking a suitable balance between bush fire hazard reduction on large rural holdings outside of metropolitan rural areas, may not be as well suited to smaller rural holdings within metropolitan rural areas as clearing works may serve to shift that balance too far and have an outsized impact on vegetation.
As such, I am seeking Council’s support to write to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Minister for Energy and the Environment, the Minister for Planning and Public Places, and the Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales seeking to either exempt the Hornsby Shire LGA from the Rural Boundaries Clearing Code or have specific conditions identified in the Code which reflect the particular characteristics of Hornsby.
1. Council reiterate its support for appropriate measures to enable residents to protect their homes and properties from bush fire risk including actions contained within the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Bush Fire Risk Management Plan, the Bush Fire Hazard Reduction Certificate process and the Fire Permit system.
2. Council note the ‘Greening our City Premiers Priority’ to increase the tree canopy and green cover across Greater Sydney by planting one million trees by 2022 as part of a broader commitment to plant five million trees by 2030, more than doubling the tree canopy in Greater Sydney from 16.8 per cent to 40 per cent.
3.1. That there is a need to strike a suitable balance between bush fire hazard reduction and vegetation preservation.
3.2. That the potential impact of the Legislation and Rural Boundary Clearing Code on vegetation on smaller metropolitan rural holdings is likely to be greater than on large rural holdings outside of metropolitan rural areas, which may serve to shift the balance too far and have an outsized impact on vegetation.
3.3. That there are existing pathways to facilitate hazard reduction activities on private land including Hazard Reduction Certificates, Fire Permits and the 10/50 vegetation clearing scheme.
The Mayor write to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Minister for Energy and Environment, the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, and the Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales calling for the Hornsby Local Government Area to be either exempted from the Rural Boundary Clearing Code or have specific conditions identified in the Code which reflect the particular characteristics of Hornsby.
4. The Mayor seek a meeting with the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Minister for Energy and Environment, the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, and the Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales to raise Council’s concern about the potential impacts on vegetation on rural zoned land in the Hornsby Local Government Area from the Rural Boundary Clearing Code.
5. Council call upon the NSW Government to expand collaborative community engagement programs as a way to increase local knowledge about bush fire risk and preparedness.
The Honourable Cr PHILIP RUDDOCK
There are no attachments for this report.
File Reference: F2009/00836