NSW Department of Planning and Environment

A stronger, healthier environment and diverse heritage

The Central West and Orana’s distinctive natural environment includes some of Australia’s most unique ecological systems. The region is home to the Ramsar-listed Macquarie Marshes, covering over 200,000 hectares; the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve;15 and more than 149,000 hectares of national parks, including Australia’s only Dark Sky Park, the Warrumbungle National Park.

The region’s waterways and water resources, including the Macquarie and Lachlan rivers, underpin the health of the natural environment. They also provide essential water to the community and support water-based recreational activities.

The natural environment enhances the lifestyle of residents; provides clean air and water along with attracting investment and tourism.

The Central West and Orana can leverage its natural assets and proximity to Sydney and Canberra to generate more jobs and economic activity from tourism. Good planning and design will protect biodiversity and environmental values.

Achieving environmentally sustainable development will balance rural and urban compatibility issues that arise with reduced water allocations and climate change.

The Central West and Orana’s ecosystems and communities are subject to natural hazards that will be exacerbated by climate change.

Innovative ways to manage water, harness renewable energy and prepare for natural hazards will build regional resilience and improve adaptation. Land use and infrastructure planning must respond to these risks.

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Direction 13: Protect and manage environmental assets

The region supports environmental assets and native vegetation communities, many of which are protected through existing legislation. Protecting these values is important for communities and the economic and environmental wellbeing of the region.

Using improved data to inform land use planning will allow early consideration of the potential impacts of new development on areas of potential high environmental value at the strategic planning stage, rather than later at the development assessment stage.

The Office of Environment and Heritage has mapped potential high environmental value areas, including groundwater-dependent ecosystems. The Department of Primary Industries maps aquatic fish habitats.

Travelling Stock Reserves primarily move livestock and provide supplementary grazing areas in times of drought, bushfire or flood. These can have regionally significant biodiversity value, as well as Aboriginal cultural heritage value. Strategic planning can help to carefully manage this land.

Potential high environmental values criteria

Areas identified as having high environmental value have known natural features that are protected under legislation, regulation, policy or intergovernmental agreement. A range of criteria were used to map high environmental value areas. These areas include:

  • existing conservation areas, including national parks and reserves, declared wilderness areas, Crown reserves dedicated for environmental protection and conservation, and flora reserves;
  • areas with native vegetation of high conservation value, including vegetation types that have been over-cleared or occur within overcleared landscapes, old growth forests and rainforests;
  • threatened ecological communities and key habitats;
  • important wetlands; and
  • sites of geological significance.

Areas not identified on the Environmental Assets map, including terrestrial and aquatic environments, will still require environmental assessment.

The data used to identify high environmental value provides a regional-level overview for the purposes of strategic planning. This data will continue to be updated as information becomes available.

The Office of Environment and Heritage, Local Land Services and the Department of Primary Industries, can provide current data and further support.

Environmental Assets

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13.1 Protect high environmental value assets through local environmental plans.

13.2 Minimise potential impacts arising from development in areas of high environmental value, and consider offsets or other mitigation mechanisms for unavoidable impacts.

13.3 Improve the quality of, and access to, information relating to high environmental value.

13.4 Develop a Biodiversity Conservation Investment Strategy to identify priority investment areas and principles for investment.

13.5 Recognise, plan for and consider the production, cultural heritage, recreation and ecological conservation values of Travelling Stock Reserves in local land use strategies.

Direction 14: Manage and conserve water resources for the environment

Protecting water catchments and sustaining high quality and dependable water supplies is essential for the wellbeing of both the community and the environment. This has to be managed so water is available for agriculture and aquaculture, and to meet the increasing demands of communities and industry.

Water has been conserved through the environmental rules set out in water sharing plans and through significant water recovery programs, such as NSW RiverBank.

Specific planning and development controls in Lithgow and Oberon local government areas, which are within the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment, require developments to have a ‘neutral or beneficial’ impact on water quality. They must not reduce the quantity of water reaching reservoirs.

The NSW Government’s Water Quality and River Flow Objectives represent the agreed environmental values and long-term goals for the State’s waterways.

Surface water in some areas may not be suitable for potable use, placing pressure on groundwater supplies. All water sources, including groundwater, need to be carefully managed to meet the competing needs of communities, the environment and industry.

The fragility of the Central West and Orana’s landscape and climate variability mean that water resources are vulnerable to individual and cumulative impacts. The location of development should mitigate risks to the environment and minimise negative effects on catchments, aquatic habitats such as waterways and wetlands, and areas downstream.


14.1 Adopt an integrated approach to water cycle management across the region that considers climate change, water security, sustainable demand and growth, and the natural environment.

14.2 Locate, design, construct and manage new development to minimise impacts on water catchments, including downstream areas and groundwater sources.

14.3 Minimise the impacts of development on fish habitat, aquaculture, commercialised and recreational fishing, and waterways (including watercourses, wetlands and riparian lands) and meet the Water Quality and River Flow Objectives.

14.4 Collaborate with industry and other catchment stakeholders to clarify changes to the supply and management of water for users and the environment.

14.5 Plan for the effects of a changing climate on water availability and use for the environment, settlements, communities and industry.

Direction 15: Increase resilience to natural hazards and climate change

Many people in the Central West and Orana live near areas such as bushland and rivers that are subject to natural hazards. The appeal of these places is obvious; however, they may also come with risks, such as flooding and bushfires.

Climate change is likely to result in lower rainfall, higher temperatures and prolonged dry periods. This may cause more frequent and more intense weather events, which will impact ecosystems, agricultural productivity and the health and wellbeing of rural communities.18 The NSW Climate Change Policy Framework and the draft Climate Change Fund Strategic Plan set policy directions and prioritise investment to reduce carbon emissions and adopt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

A systematic and coordinated approach to managing climate change risk will give communities the skills and knowledge to deal with the changes, and provide a better understanding of the nature and location of hazards.

Most councils include Flood Planning Area mapping in local environmental plans, giving government, developers and landowners a level of clarity about the risks for particular sites. The NSW Floodplain Development Manual (2005) and the NSW Flood Prone Land Policy aim to reduce the impact of flooding on individual owners and occupiers of flood-prone property, and private and public losses resulting from floods.

Councils are responsible for managing flood risks in urban areas through floodplain risk management plans. The Office of Environment and Heritage provides financial and technical support to councils to fulfil this responsibility.

Councils map bushfire hazards and risks, and these are certified by the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service. With the extent of bushfire risk possibly increasing as a result of climate change, mapping will be reviewed regularly.

Naturally occurring asbestos that may be affected by ground-disturbing activities is found primarily in the Dubbo Regional, Cabonne, Orange, Cowra, Blayney, Mid-Western Regional and Bathurst Regional local government areas. Geological areas containing natural asbestos include the Ordovician to Early Silurian rocks east of Orange and Ultramafic complexes near Fifield, south-west of Dubbo.19 Councils will consider these areas when preparing local planning strategies.

Naturally occurring asbestos only poses a health risk when elevated levels of fibres are released into the air, either by human activities or by natural weathering, and the fibres are inhaled. The Office of Local Government’s Model Asbestos Policy for NSW Councils (November 2015) helps councils to formulate asbestos policies to ensure a consistent approach to managing asbestos.

Potential climate change effects on the Central West and Orana

  • A drier and warmer climate, resulting in increased evaporation, more heat waves, extreme winds and fire risk.
  • Potential increases in seasonal extreme rainfall events leading to changes in flood behaviour.
  • An overall change in rainfall, with varying rainfall patterns across the region, and a generally drier spring and wetter autumn.
  • A substantial reduction in stream flow, including an 11–30 per cent decrease in flows upstream in the Macquarie River by 2030.
  • Impacts on natural systems, species and ecosystems, with those unable to adapt likely to decline, contract or become extinct.
  • Days on average 0.4–1ºC hotter across all seasons by 2030 and 1.8–2.7ºC hotter by 2070.
  • Minimum temperatures to increase 0.5–0.9ºC by 2030 and 1.5–2.6ºC by 2070.
  • Increased frequency of very high or extreme fire-risk days and greater fire intensity from temperature increases.
  • An increase in average fire weather and severe fire weather days in summer, spring and winter.
  • A substantial reduction in the magnitude, frequency and duration of broad-scale floods.
  • More short and intense rainfall events and more localised flooding events from smaller urban streams and urban drainage systems.

Central West and Orana Integrated Regional Vulnerability Assessment

In 2012, the NSW Government, in partnership with the University of Technology Sydney, spoke to communities and other stakeholders to identify and better understand regional vulnerabilities and emerging risks from a changing climate. This work is known as the Integrated Regional Vulnerability Assessment.

The project for the Central West and Orana will identify adaptation pathways and opportunities to minimise climate change impacts on communities; responses to vulnerabilities; and the region’s ability to cope (known as its ‘adaptive capacity’). This will inform government service delivery at a regional and subregional scale.

The Office of Environment and Heritage will continue to develop information to help councils protect and manage ecosystems and minimise risks to environmental assets.

Orana Regional Organisation of Councils (OROC) weather radar

In contrast to other regions in Australia with similar demographics, industry, geography and weather patterns, the area covered by the OROC is poorly served by current Bureau of Meteorology weather radar.16

A new weather radar system in the OROC region would improve access to real-time weather information, creating economic, social and environmental gains for industry and the community.17


15.1 Locate developments, including new urban release areas, away from areas of known high biodiversity value; areas with high risk of bushfire or flooding; contaminated land; and designated waterways.

15.2 Incorporate the outcomes of the Enabling Regional Adaptation project to ensure future land use and planning decisions reduce regional climate change vulnerabilities.

15.3 Adopt a whole-of-government approach to information exchange on climate change adaptation and preparedness.

15.4 Respond to climate-related risks by applying and communicating fine-scale climate information to support decision-making.

15.5 Implement the requirements of the NSW Floodplain Development Manual by updating flood studies and floodplain risk management plans.

15.6 Incorporate the best available hazard information in local environmental plans consistent with current flood studies, flood planning levels, modelling and floodplain risk management plans.

15.7 Update and share current information on environmental assets and natural hazards with councils to inform planning decisions.

15.8 Manage the risks of disturbance in areas affected by naturally occurring asbestos by increasing public awareness and providing mapping to councils.

Direction 16: Respect and protect Aboriginal heritage assets

The Central West and Orana contains natural features that are important to the cultural heritage of Aboriginal communities because of traditions, observances, lore, customs, beliefs and history. They include pre-contact and habitation and usage sites, burial sites, battle sites, and camping, hunting and fishing sites. Aboriginal cultural heritage also relates to the connection and sense of belonging that people have with the landscape and with each other.

Conserving these assets, and respecting the Aboriginal community’s right to determine how these assets are identified and managed, will preserve their significant values.

Engagement and partnerships with Aboriginal communities provide opportunities for information sharing and more effective management of cultural values and cultural heritage. Harm to Aboriginal objects and places, or areas of significance to Aboriginal people, should be avoided. Any proposed management or development activity must consider the potential impacts on Aboriginal cultural heritage values.


16.1 Protect, manage and respect Aboriginal objects and places in accordance with legislative requirements.

16.2 Undertake Aboriginal cultural heritage assessments to inform local land use strategies and to identify any appropriate heritage management mechanism.

16.3 Consult with Aboriginal people and the broader community during strategic planning to identify and protect heritage values; minimise the impact of urban growth and development; and recognise their contribution to the character and landscape of the region.

Direction 17: Conserve and adaptively re-use heritage assets

Cultural heritage enriches the character of places and can generate economic value, particularly through tourism, which can in turn sustain smaller communities.

Enhancing main streets and town centres through heritage conservation attracts new businesses and residents, and offers tourism potential. Better promotion and targeted community education initiatives can increase community support for managing and protecting heritage assets.

Removing barriers to the adaptive re-use of heritage items will help communities to retain physical connections to their settlement history and promote the benefits of re-use, particularly in smaller communities.

Areas of high growth can have a cumulative impact on Aboriginal cultural heritage values and historic places. Early investment to protect and preserve heritage at the strategic planning stage will provide greater certainty for stakeholders.


17.1 Increase heritage protection and revitalise main streets and town centres through community education and development incentives in local plans.

17.2 Prepare, review and update heritage studies in consultation with the wider community to recognise and conserve heritage assets and items, and include appropriate local planning controls.

17.3 Work with the Central NSW Councils (CENTROC) to scope barriers to the adaptive re- use of heritage items.

Page last updated: 28/07/2022