New South Wales Government Orders Councils To Sidestep IPCC Models

  • Date: 29/12/13
  • Ean Higgins, The Australian

Australia’s New South Wales government will order councils to study the scientific evidence for sea-level rise on a beach-by-beach basis, amid fears that many local authorities may be undermining property values by imposing punitive planning conditions based on predictions contained in reports of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Great Lakes Council on the mid-north coast has told one home owner who wants to extend his house that, while it may be approved, he may have to demolish it in coming decades and restore the whole site to its natural state pre-settlement. The council is relying on the IPCC model that predicts sea-level rise at nearly 10 times the actual rate recorded in recent decades – 40cm by 2050 – compared with just more than 4cm, based on a projection of the recent historical record.

It has ignored those elements of a scientific report the council itself commissioned, which says that rather than becoming more eroded over time, Boomerang Beach and Blueys Beach have actually been getting bigger, with several natural factors leading them to accumulate more sand.

In September last year, the O’Farrell government ditched the previous, Labor government’s policy of instructing councils to apply the IPCC predictions of sea-level rises in their planning for coastal hazards.

That followed revelations in The Australian that owners of 62 beachfront properties at Lake Cathie, on the NSW mid-north coast, had suffered huge drops in the value of their homes after the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council placed notations on their Section 149 planning certificates saying they were at risk of coastal erosion, based on the IPCC model.

Special Minister of State Chris Hartcher said at the time “the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer has identified uncertainty in the projected rate of future sea-level rise given that the scientific knowledge in the field is continually evolving”.

But some local councils, including Great Lakes Council, have chosen to stick to the IPCC predictions.

The council has defined Blueys and Boomerang beaches, the first to be analysed in a new round of coastal assessments, as subject to coastal erosion hazard, and has submitted a local environmental plan to the Planning and Infrastructure Minister, Brad Hazzard, who will consider it in the new year.

But the minister’s department will soon issue a circular to local coastal councils, in which, Mr Hazzard indicated to The Australian, he expects councils to adopt a commonsense approach to sea-level rises based in part on the science of what is actually happening in each location.

“The NSW government has been concerned at inconsistent treatment of people’s properties by councils on Section 149 certificates,” a spokeswoman for Mr Hazzard said.

“The NSW Liberals and Nationals seek to work with councils in partnership – in this case with coastal hazard policy which takes into account local topography and conditions.

“Councils which fail to respond to their communities can ultimately be held accountable by their residents/electors.”

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