Why do We Need to Know about Coastal Planning
We must now address several real and diverse needs of people if we are
to educate an informed, thinking populace that can act effectively on
issues of concern. These needs can be divided into four broad categories.
These educational objectives are essential if we are to consolidate the
efforts of the last decades that focused on raising awareness of the changing
status of our coastal environment. To fail to do so runs the risk of creating
a generation (or more) of Australians with a cynical, powerless outlook
on environmental issues. We run the risk of endless apathy if we fail
to provide people with the information, both in the environmental and
social fields, that they need to work together for social change.
The topic of coastal planning is inherently interdisciplinary. This interdisciplinary
approach to coastal and marine topics is to be encouraged as it reflects
the reality of life in the coastal zone. The decisions that society makes
are not based on one actor alone: they are the result of complex interactions
that involve many people and areas of expertise - scientists who provide
information about the environment, users of resources such as commercial
and recreational fishers, developers, conservationists and the three levels
of government whose job it is to manage common resources.
While any level of understanding of the processes involved in decision-making and implementation of agreed policies is desirable, it is recognised that the inherent complexity of the topic requires high level decision making skills. The ideas in this module can serve to equip teachers with the concepts and some strategies for equipping students with the understanding they need to participate in the future of their environment. As such, coastal policy and planning should be considered a priority learning area for all Australian students, particularly for the majority whose livelihood depends on the coast.
Terms and Definitions: A List for Facilitators
Goals: Things we've decided or agreed we would like. A goal is usually considered the endpoint of some endeavour.
Objectives: A list of things we would like to happen, or that need to happen to achieve a goal.
Plan: A list of things to do to achieve the goal(s). A plan sets out intended activities over a specific period of time.
Policy: A set of guidelines or principles for decisions and actions that allow, encourage or cause the goal to be achieved.
Implementation: Specific steps or actions to achieve the goal, or create conditions so that the goal can be achieved.
Enforcement: Monitoring the specific steps and actions to make sure the goal can be achieved and maintained.
Management: A rather broadly used term in planning that means the execution of all the steps involved in coastal planning. Managing a coastal habitat or region involves all the steps defined above, but also specifically refers to the day-to-day implementation and enforcement of policies.
Programmes: These are usually projects or a related group of activities such as research, monitoring, surveying, etc. that are targeted to one particular issue. In planning language, programmes and strategies may be interchangeable terms. A specific, targeted Commonwealth Programme is the Marine Protected Areas Programme, which is one part of the Marine Programme (formerly known as Ocean Rescue 2000), which is overseen by the Marine Portfolio Group of Environment Australia. This programme aims to establish a system of marine protected areas that are representative of all marine habitats Australia-wide.
Strategies: These are usually sets of principles and programmes that steer the development of specific policies, and can be specific or broad in scope. An example of a broad strategy is the Commonwealth Coastal Action Programme which aims to improve the planning and management of Australia's coastal habitats through a number of measures, including better communication amongst government authorities and the improvement of professional education and training for those involved in coastal management. An example of a more specific strategy is the National Strategy on Aquaculture which aims to provide a framework for orderly development of the aquaculture industry to maximise efficiencies and competitive advantages.
Legislation: The act of making laws on statutes; a document describing a law or statute. For example, all fisheries management plans, rules and regulations under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Government are legalised under the Fisheries Management Act 1991. Each State/Territory also has legislation that formalises the management of fisheries under their jurisdiction. Some State/Territory governments give the responsibility for everyday management of the coast to local councils. Land Use Zoning, the regulations that set out the details of allowed developments, is a commonly used example of a planning tool or instrument.
Management Plans: These are documents that describe how the agreed goals will be achieved and set out a time table for their completion. They may be broad in scope, such as in a Strategic Plan, or a more specific management plan that applies to one habitat, such as an Estuary Management Plan.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): The term for the process that evaluates the potential effects of a proposed development or activity on the environment. States/Territories are responsible for providing the structures, support and processes involved in EIA, although Commonwealth activities are regulated by the Environment Protection Impact Proposals Act 1974. Ideally, an EIA process should examine the economic, social, cultural and environmental effects of a proposal within the framework of the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development. The process should involve managers, planners, policy makers, scientists, engineers and the public.
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS): A sub-set of the EIA process - a report that summarises and evaluates the potential effects of a specific development on the environment. Not all developments must have an EIS prepared, but large projects usually require one. Each State/Territory determines which proposals require an EIS to be prepared. In all States and Territories, the public is given an opportunity to comment on the EIS in writing. EISs are paid for by the proponent of the development and usually involve a variety of specialists such as water quality experts, hydrologists, pollution specialists, planners, ecologists and engineers.
Proponent: The 'body' that puts forward a proposal for a development or an activity. Proponents can be individuals, companies, groups of people or authorities from any of the three levels of government.
'Approving Authority' or Consent Authority: This refers to the authority or agency that has the power to decide on the fate of development proposals. For proposals that are assessed to be minor or limited in scope, a local council is usually the consent authority. In such cases the proposed project is planned to be built or carried out on land zoned under a Local Environment Plan (LEP) For larger, more significant proposals that potentially have a great impact, the State/Territory planning authority (usually the Minister for Planning or similar title) appoints the consent authority, based on the nature and scope of the proposal. For example, the consent authority for a major proposal for mining in the coastal zone would be the authority that regulates extractive industries in that State/Territory. In some cases the proponent and the consent authority could be the same body.
How Does Coastal Planning Work?
The management of our coastal zone reflects the structure and powers of government. The Australian Constitution sets out the specific powers of the Commonwealth Government; powers not specified (or implied) by the Constitution rest with State/Territory governments. Thus, the laws that provide for the planning and management of the coast are mainly made by the States or Territories, given that they are consistent with Commonwealth law. The State/Territory legislature often delegates the day-to-day running of the coastal zone to local councils. However, the Commonwealth Government has responsibilities in the coastal zone because some issues that affect the coastal zone are Australia-wide, or even international in scope, and the Commonwealth Government has jurisdiction over these issues.
Resource 5 presents the Commonwealth Government roles in coastal planning and management, including the area of their jurisdiction, what activities they are responsible for, and some of the Commonwealth legislation affecting coastal planning and management. It also details which agencies have roles in coastal planning and management.
Resource 6 presents the State or Territory Governments roles in coastal planning and management, including the area of their jurisdiction, some of the many activities they are responsible for and some of the legislation which affects coastal planning and management.
Resource 7 presents the Local Government roles in coastal planning and management, including the area of their jurisdiction, what activities they are responsible for. The legislation used by local governments varies greatly from place to place, but the power to pass and act on the legislation is controlled by the State/Territory Government. In effect, Local Government is responsible for the day-to-day implementation of coastal policies. It also are responsible for implementing Commonwealth Government programmes at the local level, such as the Landcare and Coastcare programmes.
Overlaid on this three-part division of responsibilities for the coastal zone is the source of funds to implement coastal policies. The Commonwealth Government has the power to collect taxes and distributes that money to the States and Territories to carry out local policies. Local Government has only limited powers to collect taxes (usually in the form of rates) and, hence to a large extent, is dependent on the allocation of funds from the State and, ultimately, the Commonwealth Government to implement coastal policies. There are, however, increasing numbers of projects that are jointly funded by various combinations of Commonwealth, State and Local Governments.
Given this division of responsibilities and complexities in funding, it is not surprising that there are some significant problems with effective coastal zone management. The Resource Assessment Commission spent several years studying the current status of coastal management and resources in their 'Coastal Zone Inquiry'. OHT 3 summarises its findings regarding the present management of the coast.
The direction coastal management is taking is illustrated in OHT 4. Comparison between the older tools used for environmental planning and those currently being implemented demonstrate that planners and the public are becoming aware that local decisions must be set into a broader framework to ensure the integrity of the coastal zone.
The Environmental Impact Assessment Process
The measurement of potential changes to the natural environment is an important but often ignored aspect of the EIA process. If measurement of change to natural environments is not done after the development or activity commences, then we will never know how that development actually affected the environment. This lack of knowledge about specific impacts means that we are less able to predict the effects on similar proposals in the future.
The end product of the EIA process is advice on decisions to approve or reject a specific development or activity based on the compatibility of the proposal with stated goals and standards. The Commonwealth and State/Territory governments agree with the goals and principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development and are currently drafting and implementing legislation that gives legal support to these goals and principles. Recent efforts have seen policy statements and legislation at the State/Territory and Commonwealth levels that support the implementation of those goals into coastal planning processes. Local governments, also, are responding to the challenge of implementing the goals and principles of ESD. The adoption of ESD goals, principles and objectives has provided a more comprehensive framework in which to plan coastal developments at all levels of government.
Ideally, EIA involves a wide range of professionals (planners, managers, economists, scientists, engineers, etc), levels of government, government legislation and the public. The general process is shown in Resource 17, but it is important to understand that processes in each State/Territory and Commonwealth level do vary (see Resources 5-15). For example, the Commonwealth process is not an approval process, in itself, but one which provides advice and information for other approval processes in order to ensure that matters affecting the environment are fully considered in Government decision making.
A major tool of the EIA process is the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This is usually a lengthy, technical document (often with multiple appendices) which compiles the assessment and evaluations of numerous specialists such as planners, traffic engineers, civil engineers, historians, anthropologists, air and water quality specialists, hydrographers, biologists, ecologists, fisheries experts, aquaculture experts, specialists in sewage pollution, wetland remediation, ground water pollution, and others. For large proposals EISs may take more than a year to complete. They are paid for by the proponent of the proposed development or activity. The completed EIS is exhibited publicly and comments can be made in written form by any person or organisation. The proponents are required to respond to the public comments as part of the approval process. If the planning authority assesses the EIS to be inadequate in some way, or the proposal has initiated a high level of public concern, it may request a hearing of further information in the form of a Commission of Inquiry (this term varies). A final decision is then made to allow the proposal to proceed, or to prevent the development or activity. The consent authority usually imposes conditions to approved proposals. There may include measures to reduce environmental impacts during construction or, less frequently, monitor the effects of the development on the environment.
Not all proposals require an EIS. For proposals that are likely to have small or limited environmental effects, approval of the development may require no EIS-type study. In some other states, the decision regarding the requirement for an EIS is made on a case by case basis. In general, large developments and activities require the preparation of an EIS as part of the approval process.
The process of EIA and, specifically, the key role of the EIS is less than perfect. Many criticisms have been made of the process, and some of these are listed in OHT 6. Perhaps one of the most important criticisms in light of the widespread adoption of the goals and principles of ESD is that the process focuses too narrowly on the quality of the EIS, making the process a reactive one which responds on an ad hoc basis to submitted proposals, rather than being anticipatory, preventive and proactive. A second important flaw is that the opportunity for input to the process by the public is generally seen to be too little too late. However, there are some important achievements of EIA, notable when the relatively short history of the process is considered. Some of these are summarised in OHT 7. In summary, EIA is a necessary, if flawed, process that has the potential to improve the nature of coastal management throughout Australia.