Lower Hunter Regional Sustainability Planning and Strategic Assessment

On 14 August 2012, the Australian and New South Wales governments entered into an agreement to undertake regional sustainability planning and a collaborative strategic assessment of the Lower Hunter region of NSW, in accordance with Section 146 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Sustainable Regional Development program
The Australian Government has invested $29.2 million into the Sustainable Regional Development program. This program aims to secure a sustainable future for Australia's high growth areas and is one of the measures under Sustainable Australia - Sustainable Communities: A Population Strategy for Australia.

The focus of this program is to protect matters of national environmental significance in selected high growth regions. The Lower Hunter will be the first region to benefit from this program.

Spotted Gum Ironbark Forest

Spotted Gum Ironbark forest, Hunter Valley
Copyright: Chris Tzaros

About the Lower Hunter region

The Lower Hunter is Australia's sixth largest urban area and is expected to continue to grow as more people are attracted to the area for the opportunities and lifestyle available. There are many significant environmental assets worth protecting in the region, including habitat for the swift parrot and regent honeyeater. It is important to get the planning right to give business and communities greater certainty about the future.

What will regional sustainability planning in the Lower Hunter involve?

Regional sustainability planning is a collaborative process involving all levels of government working together to foster economic prosperity, liveable communities and environmental sustainability. In the Lower Hunter, the regional sustainability planning process has two main stages. First, the Australian and NSW governments will work together to identify key knowledge gaps and scientific research to inform sustainability planning for the Lower Hunter region. This work will complement and inform the NSW government review of the NSW Lower Hunter regional strategy and Lower Hunter regional conservation plan. Once this review is complete, the second stage will be to undertake a strategic assessment of proposed urban development and related infrastructure corridors.

What is the scope of the Lower Hunter strategic assessment?

The Lower Hunter strategic assessment will assess broad environmental, social and economic sustainability aspects within the local government areas of Newcastle, Maitland, Cessnock, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens (Figure 1). The strategic assessment incorporates urban development areas and associated infrastructure corridors, with a focus on matters of national environmental significance protected under national environmental law. Through endorsement and approval under this law, the strategic assessment will streamline environmental regulation and provide greater certainty for business and local communities.

Map of the Lower Hunter Region - Click to enlarge map

Figure 1. Map of Lower Hunter region

What will the Australian Government's funds be used for?

Funding has been made available through the Sustainable Regional Development program to undertake research and collect data to inform regional sustainability planning in the Lower Hunter region (see research projects). A grant of up to $400,000 will also be available to enable an eligible local government authority to engage, collaborate and build local capacity with communities for sustainability planning.

Research projects

Research projects are currently underway to address key information gaps in the Lower Hunter region. The final reports from these research projects are being published on this website once completed. A description of each project is provided below.

Swift parrot

Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor)
Copyright: Chris Tzaros

Regent Honeyeater

Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia)
Copyright: Chris Tzaros

 

Current Research projects for the Lower Hunter region include:

Swift parrot and regent honeyeater habitat assessment and mapping

The swift parrot and regent honeyeater habitat assessment and mapping study will identify the extent and quality of foraging habitat, breeding sites, movement corridors and recoverable habitat for both species in the Lower Hunter region. These two species overlap closely in range and habitat usage and the study will provide critical information on potential vegetation corridors and protected area networks within the Lower Hunter region.

Grey-headed flying-fox management strategy for the Lower Hunter

Research into the grey-headed flying-fox is being undertaken to develop a management strategy for the species in the Lower Hunter region. The research focus is on existing scientific information about the local flying-fox population, history of previous management attempts and experience in similar situations elsewhere. The strategy will be finalised following analysis of key stakeholder and community submissions.

The contract for this project was awarded to GeoLINK and the final strategy is scheduled to be provided in April 2013.

Commonwealth-owned lands mapping

The Commonwealth lands mapping project resulted in a consistent and comprehensive spatial data set for Commonwealth-owned and managed land in the Lower Hunter region. The results of this mapping provide an opportunity for further targeted work in other regions using methods identified through this project. The information gathered as part of the project supplements existing data held by the department for the region and will assist with land management decision-making processes. This is particularly relevant for activities that may impact on the environment under the EPBC Act. The information will also be made available to state and local governments to assist with regional sustainability planning activities.

The contract was awarded to OMNILink. The final report for this project is provided below.

Lower Hunter vegetation mapping

The vegetation mapping project involves mapping and assessing existing native vegetation in the Lower Hunter region. The purpose of this project is to identify and make recommendations regarding high priority conservation areas and key threatening processes (e.g. fire, weeds and changes in hydrology) that have the potential to impact on vegetation and threatened flora and fauna species. This research will support regional sustainability planning activities and inform decision making for the NSW Lower Hunter Regional Strategy and NSW Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan.

The contract was awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff. The final report for this project is provided below.

EPBC Act listed ecological communities mapping

The EPBC Act listed ecological communities mapping project will gather and consolidate information on EPBC Act listed ecological communities from federal, state and local government agencies. It will incorporate information gathered from the Lower Hunter vegetation mapping project outlined above. The project will address a key knowledge gap identified by local, state and Australian governments in relation to the Lower Hunter region. Information gathered in this study will be collated into a mapping product suitable for use by decision makers in the Lower Hunter region.

The contract was awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff. The final report for this project is provided below.

Resilience to natural hazards in the Lower Hunter region

The resilience to natural hazards study involves undertaking research and consultation with key stakeholders to develop a discussion paper on opportunities for improved natural hazards resilience planning under varying development scenarios in the Lower Hunter region. Planning for natural hazards has become increasingly difficult due to climate change uncertainty and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. It is now recognised that planning approaches need to reflect anticipated natural hazard risks to prevent (where possible) or reduce the impact on communities. This project will provide recommendations for future research, policy development and/or capacity building programs related to resilience planning for natural hazards in the Lower Hunter region.

The contract was awarded to AECOM. The final report for this project is provided below.

Lower Hunter koala study

The Lower Hunter koala study will collate best available information from experts, published literature and mapping, to fill current knowledge gaps about the koala in the Lower Hunter region. This research will be used to provide recommendations for conservation of this species in perpetuity within the Lower Hunter region and will provide a robust, scientific basis for decision-making in relation to potential urban and associated infrastructure development and conservation scenarios.

The contract was awarded to EcoLogical Australia. The final report for this project is provided below.

Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area values study

The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area values study involves assessment of complementary world heritage values in the Lower Hunter region, through investigating relevant portions of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and adjacent lands. This study is being conducted to identify potential threats to world heritage values as a result of development and conservation scenarios and potential measures to protect, maintain and improve world heritage values in the region.

The contract was awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff. The final report for this project is provided below.

Lower Hunter important agricultural lands

The Lower Hunter important agricultural lands project involves undertaking an assessment of agricultural lands within the Lower Hunter region with the aim of identifying potential threats and measures to protect important agricultural lands. Rural landscapes have played a significant role in the settlement and development of the Lower Hunter region and are predicted to continue to have significant value associated with social and cultural heritage, rural production and scenic amenity. Many of these areas are currently under pressure from development associated with tourism, recreational activities and sub-division for rural lifestyle plots.

The contract was awarded to HCCREMS. The final report for this project is provided below.

Proximity of residential blocks to open space in the Lower Hunter region

Open spaces provide areas for recreation, exercise and socialising, they can provide valuable contributions to surrounding ecosystems and can play a vital role in the physical and psychological health of people living in urban communities. Using the Lower Hunter as a pilot region, the open space study investigated the proximity of residential blocks to open space and used sustainability metrics to determine the proportion of Lower Hunter communities living within close proximity to open space. This approach is used internationally and the study demonstrates how this method can be adopted in Australia to improve planning outcomes.

This project was undertaken by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The final report is provided below.

Next Steps

The next step in the Lower Hunter strategic assessment process is publication by the NSW Government of the draft terms of reference for public comment.

How to contact us

For more information contact:

Regional Sustainability Planning
Department of the Environment
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Email: rsp@environment.gov.au