A guide to why environment matters in the state election


The council will borrow money to upgrade the Mardi Water Treatment Plant due to unacceptable risks to the provision of clean and safe drinking water to the community.

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Most local candidates for the 25 March state election are silent on climate, conservation and coal ash so we’ve assembled an inventory of the major environmental issues currently confronting the electorates of Wyong, The Entrance, Gosford and Terrigal.

Central Coast Council asset selloff
Central Coast Council’s asset selloff continues

By Jacquelene Pearson

Poker machines, cost of living and housing have been the big political talking points during the current NSW state election campaign. They are substantial issues that impact many Central Coast residents but what about the environment, not to mention global warming? Protecting nature and endangered species, preparing for climate crises and legacy issues like coal ash dams and air pollution may also be worthy of consideration before you vote in the NSW Government election.

We’ve assembled an inventory of the major environmental issues confronting the Coast right now and into the future. Use it to ask questions of candidates before you vote.

The Central Coast is a place of natural magnificence. It has stunning beaches, lakes and national parks. It is also a place of profound Indigenous significance with many cultural sites and landscapes worthy of treasuring.

Its natural assets attract many to choose the Central Coast as home but the need to protect the environment and deal with global warming have been underplayed, even swept under the carpet, by most candidates in this campaign.

The election is now 11 days away and it remains to be seen whether the protection of nature will be a deciding factor.

The following issues need to be placed in the context of the Central Coast’s absence of local government democracy. The Central Coast Council has been in administration for five out of the seven years of its existence. This has given the NSW Government complete control over development decisions, rezonings and capital works priorities and the impact on the environment has been noticeable. Both major parties have indicated there is no scope for a council election before September 2024.

The other contextual matter to consider before voting is that both the incumbent Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition have pledged their support for the Six Cities Strategy overseen by the Greater Cities Commission.

In a nutshell, the Six Cities Strategy states that three million more residents need to be housed along the east coast of NSW between Wollongong and Newcastle. The economic growth strategy published by the Greater Cities Commission in February stated that the Central Coast’s population will have to grow by 88,000 by 2040.

The Commissioner for the Central Coast ‘City’, former Liberal Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, has made it clear that housing those 88,000 additional residents will require the clearing of bushland.

Let’s take a tour from the shores of Lake Macquarie in the north down to the shores of the Hawkesbury River in the south, to identify the environmental issues facing the Central Coast now and into the future.

  1. Regional extinctions

Research by the Barrington to Hawkesbury Climate Corridor Alliance has found that if we are to avoid regional extinctions of endangered species we will need to establish permanently protected climate refugia. This will involve the immediate transfer of State Forests to the National Parks estate and planning to permanently protect privately owned bushland.   

2. The health of our lakes and estuaries

We have had fish kills recently that have not been fully explained by the EPA investigation. High ammonium measurements taken on August 5, 2022 had been dismissed by August 30 when the EPA concluded the fish kill causes were ‘natural’. Other investigations conducted by the EPA of contamination in Lake Macquarie and Lake Munmorah, including the presence of PFAS in fish and shellfish in the lakes, were never definitively concluded by the EPA.

3. Coal-fired power, ash dams and air pollution

The Coast has cancer clusters and significant air pollution related to massive coal ash dams at the region’s coal-fired power stations. During her time as Environment Minister, Robyn Parker (Central Coast’s City Commissioner) located an air quality monitor at the Wyong racecourse as a way to measure fine particulate pollution from the power stations. A second monitor has now been located on the Coast. Meanwhile we continue to have operating coal- and gas-fired power stations that are poorly regulated and there is no plan to manage or remediate the massive ash dams. The EPA gave Delta Energy an exemption from compliance with pollution limits for its Vales Point power station in 2021 so small particulate pollution on the Coast is an ongoing issue.

4, Over-development

The NSW Government promised the community of the Central Coast a brand new, comprehensive Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP) as an outcome of the amalgamation of the Gosford and Wyong Councils to form the Central Coast Council. Instead residents are living under a consolidated LEP, which took the weakest elements of the former Gosford or Wyong LEP and applied them to the whole region.

That means we have smaller lot sizes for ‘low density’ residential land. We have not been given the opportunity to participate in any of the consultation that would be required to put together a comprehensive LEP for the whole region. Instead, the planning outcomes for the Central Coast continue to be dictated by an appointed council administrator, appointed planning panels and the DPE for state significant developments.

Comprehensive research conducted by the Central Coast Council to develop its housing strategy found that the region already had enough land zoned as residential and industrial/commercial to meet future demand (even with projected population growth). Nevertheless developers continue to apply for rezonings through planning proposals and the vast majority of those planning proposals are approved.

The outcome is higher density living, poor town planning and the loss of habitat. Whilst this problem is not unique to the Central Coast the absence of an elected local government means the community has very little input into planning and development outcomes. Keep an eye on the planning proposals and state significant developments to see how developers are being allowed to stretch and change the rules.

And keep an eye on the projects and programs being rolled out by Central Coast Council while it is under administration, with no community representatives present to influence decisions and the general strategic direction.

5. Asset selloff

When Central Coast Council was placed under administration in October 2020 we were told assets (land) would need to be sold to replace the money that had been spent by council’s staff from restricted funds (reserves that legally couldn’t be spent without the consent of the elected council or, in some cases, the Minister for Local Government). The interim administrator and interim CEO made assurances that no environmental land would be sold and that there would be no fire sale of assets. Both promises were broken. The Point is currently investigating the sale of highly environmentally valuable land at Doyalson, including the Spring Creek Wetland. Meanwhile small community groups continue to argue against the sale of other assets they consider of value to the community.

6. Wetlands versus airports

Residents were shocked to find that Porters Creek Wetland, the regions largest fresh water wetland, had not been included in Central Coast Council’s recent consultation about its categorisation of community land. Community land cannot be sold by any NSW council because it is deemed to be of value to the community. It includes parks, sportsgrounds and natural areas. Porters Creek wetland was not included in the consultation because it is currently classified as operational land. That means it can be sold by Council without community consultation.

The Greater Cities Commission’s economic growth strategy for the Central Coast shows the runway at the Warnervale airport extended into the wetland. The State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP14) that protected wetlands like Porters Creek has been replaced by a broader SEPP. The NSW Government and Central Coast Council are hell-bent on expanding the airport at Warnervale even though the results of an expression of interest from commercial  partners advertised in 2021 and closed in March 2022 have never been made public.

Porters Creek Wetland is a reserve water supply for the region during drought. It provides habitat for threatened species and it is the major filtration system for the Tuggerah Lakes. Warnervale, however, is slated as a major growth corridor. It does not appear that the council or the Greater Cities Commission has considered the liveability of new suburbs under the flight paths of an expanded airport.

7. Coastal zone and floodplain risk management

The Central Coast has been extremely fortunate in recent years. It was largely spared from the worst of the Black Summer Bushfires and, with some exceptions, flooding has been limited when compared with other parts of NSW. However, local flooding is common around the lakes and Brisbane Water and sea level rise will exacerbate coastal erosion and localized flooding without proper prior planning.

The Central Coast Council’s five-page climate change policy is dated July 2019 so it pre-dates Black Summer and the floods of recent years. Its success was also contingent on the development of a sea level rise policy, energy and emissions reduction policy, sustainability strategy, disaster resilience strategy, greener places strategy and biodiversity strategy.

The biodiversity strategy is in place and a greener spaces strategy was adopted in 2021 but other parts of the climate change policy appear to have been left in abeyance since elected councillors were dismissed.

The Coast’s vulnerability to global warming is a topic taken very seriously by Climate Future, a group of concerned locals asking all candidates to commit to measures to keep temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

8. Development west of the M1

Development west of the M1 freeway was consistently opposed by both the former Gosford and Wyong Councils. However, developers continue to push the envelope and the economic strategy being put forward by the Greater Cities Commission implies developing west of the freeway. This plateau region has traditionally been seen as an important agricultural area and it is the Central Coast’s water supply catchment. Another issue worth keeping your eye on.

9. The Coast’s drinking water

The Central Coast water catchment is small when compared with our projected population of around 440,000 by 2040. In times of above-average rainfall we can manage but population growth since the millennial drought will certainly make the next drought harder to manage. The Central Coast Council CEO has been delegated authority to explore the business structure of the water authority, which is the third largest in NSW after Sydney Water and Hunter Water. That could mean corporatization or it could mean a sell off.

When the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) allowed the council to raise its water rates it did so on the basis that CC Council needed to improve water quality and expend some money on infrastructure. The public was recently informed via the council’s meeting agenda that it needed to borrow money to complete a major upgrade of the Mardi Water Treatment Plant. According to the council’s agenda item, “The upgrades to MWTP are required to mitigate existing unacceptable risks to the provision of clean, and safe drinking water to the community.”

“Water quality risks related to MWTP were initially identified in 2013. An ‘Investigation and Options Analysis’ completed in 2015 recommended the addition of a clarification stage to the direct filtration plant. Initially, an inclined plates settlement process was adopted for clarification however an emerging blue-green algae risk was identified in 2019…”

The details and cost of the upgrade were contained in a confidential report but The Point is not aware of any notification by the council to the public since 2015 of the unacceptable risks associated with the state of the Mardi water treatment plant.

10. Community land

As reported by The Point, the Central Coast Council has just undertaken a substantial consultation with the public about management of community land. It exhibited a draft generic plan of management and a schedule of over 2000 lots of community land.

The community’s task was to provide feedback on the generic plan of management and then examine a schedule and map of lots in their local area to inform the council as to whether or not they were happy with the way the land was categorised.

The Community Environment Network (CEN) prepared a comprehensive analysis of the generic plan of management and concluded that it did not meet the requirements of the Local Government Act, particularly in terms of the management of the council’s natural areas – bushland, wetlands, escarpments, foreshores and waterways. CEN wants CC Council to commit to having a plan of management for, at the very least, each category of community land – so one for natural assets, another for parks, another for sportsgrounds and one for general use.

Documents in the public domain dating from the 2020 ‘financial crisis’ indicate that the council prepared a schedule of all its land holdings – that’s both land classified as operational, which can be sold without community consultation, and community land. CEN has also asked the council to make its schedule of operational land public so the community can provide feedback on whether any land that is currently operational should be reclassified as community land so it cannot be sold. Watch this space.

The above are the first 10 environmental issues that are either relevant to the whole CC local government area or are live issues in the top half of the region. Next week we will keep moving south to bring you up to speed on a range of other, equally important issues we’ve run out of time to cover this week. They include the wreckage of Gosford CBD, Gosford waterfront, the Coastal Open Space System (COSS), PEP11, the Wamberal Seawall and Wamberal Lagoon Nature Reserve, over-development of the Woy Woy Peninsula, Umina Coastal Sandplain Woodland, the Mangrove Mountain Landfill, overdevelopment of Mooney Mooney foreshore, protection of the area’s Conservation land and Indigenous heritage. That’s another 11 issues. Will you let the candidates get away without answering your questions on the environment?

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