Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) is listening to community views on the importance of protecting our environment as it undertakes a review of the current environment planning policy.
Council will consider how it might implement a new environment policy within the Planning Scheme, as well as options for short term implementation to protect significant vegetation.
TRC Planning and Development Committee Portfolio Leader Cr Bill Cahill said Council had heard concerns expressed by members of the community regarding the loss of significant vegetation.
“The protection and enhancement of our environment is an important issue for our residents.” Cr Cahill said.
“We’re being proactive in reviewing existing environment policy and how Council wants to apply any new policy in the preparation of new Planning Scheme, as well as considering options for implementation.
“Many examples of good initiatives used by neighbouring local governments can be cited. These examples will be of benefit to consider as Council shows leadership in constructing a new Planning Scheme to suit our Region’s diverse needs. This will complement our Green Infrastructure Strategy that already exists. These examples are managed and administered by both the Planning Scheme and Local Laws.
“Council regulates the development of land in the Toowoomba Region through the Toowoomba Regional Planning Scheme. The Planning Scheme identifies when development requires approval from Council, the process an application must go through and the requirements that must be met to obtain approval.”
The Toowoomba Regional Planning Scheme took effect on 2 July 2012. It identifies areas of environmental significance and applies a policy of avoiding or minimising the impacts of development on environmental values.
The Council in place at the time the Planning Scheme was prepared in 2010/2011 took the position that vegetation protection controls administered by the State Government were sufficient to achieve this policy.
“A lot has changed over the past decade and as such, the Planning Scheme does not include a requirement that Council approval is obtained to remove significant vegetation,” Cr Cahill said.
TRC Planning and Development Committee Chair Cr Megan O’Hara-Sullivan said Council was preparing a new Planning Scheme and reviewing all existing policies relating to development, including its environmental policy.
“This provides an opportunity for Council to establish a new approach, including protecting significant vegetation throughout the Region,” she said.
“Since 2020 Council has completed several studies relating to the environment that will inform the review of Council’s environmental policy and the ways it is implemented. Council has consulted with stakeholders and community during the preparation of these studies to ensure their issues are considered and will continue to do so as preparation of the new Planning Scheme progresses.”
Those studies include:
- The Green Infrastructure Strategy has been prepared to guide the development, management and delivery of green infrastructure across the Region. Water, stormwater and sewer infrastructure (grey infrastructure) are traditionally used to service development to maintain community health and safety. The Green Infrastructure Strategy looks at how trees and other vegetation (green infrastructure) can also be used to achieve the same outcomes.
- Landscapes of the Toowoomba Region mapped and described the natural landscapes throughout the Region and identified areas that are highly valued for their scenic amenity.
- Mapping Matters of Local Environmental Significance for the Toowoomba Region mapped areas containing local environmental values, including flora and fauna values.
- Integrating Green Infrastructure into the new Planning Scheme considers options for protecting local environmental values through the new planning scheme.
“In January 2023 Councillors will spend two half days reviewing the current environmental policy and the ways the policy is implemented,” Cr O’Hara Sullivan said.
“The outcomes of that review will inform the way future development is delivered in areas with environmental values throughout the Region.
“There have been calls by members of the community to immediately enact regulations preventing further loss of vegetation. Before any action can be taken, Council must review its current environmental policy and how it wants any new policy to be implemented.
“It’s critical that Council forms and implements its policies responsibly, giving careful consideration to all of the possible consequences, but with minimal delay.
“This includes identifying the reasons for protecting vegetation – which may be for environmental and/or aesthetic reasons – the areas where vegetation protection is required, e.g. urban and/or rural areas, the type of vegetation being protected, e.g. trees and/or other types of vegetation, and the mechanisms that will be used to protect it.
“Council must also consider the financial cost to the community, including to the value of affected land and the level of resources required to implement vegetation protection regulations.”
Implementing a new environmental policy in the short term (before the new Planning Scheme takes effect in early 2025), should Council decide to do so, will require the current Planning Scheme to be amended.
This process can take a year or more to undertake.
Council may consider putting in place a Temporary Local Planning Instrument (TLPI) to protect the significant vegetation for up to two years while the Planning Scheme is being amended. To use a TLPI State Government legislation requires that Council and the Minister for State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning must decide there is significant risk of serious adverse environmental loss occurring while the Planning Scheme is being amended.
A TLPI requires the Minister’s approval and takes three to four months to put in place.