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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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The Illawarra-Shoalhaven is home to an estimated 1,800 native plant species, including over 60 threatened plant species.  Surveys have identified over 100 threatened animal species, 26 endangered ecological communities and 19,120 hectares of wetlands.30


National parks and the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment are significant landscapes in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven. More than 250,000 hectares (43 per cent of the region) have high environmental value or form part of a biodiversity corridor.


Important environmental marine values are conserved in the Jervis Bay Marine Park, showcasing distinctive wildlife and providing opportunities for the scientific study of marine biodiversity in a relatively untouched state.


This Plan takes a landscape-based approach to regional planning that understands the importance of these unique environmental features to residents, and as tourist and recreational attractions that help to enhance the economy. 


The Plan identifies regional landscape values and connections, and management challenges, and sets directions for regional growth. It aims not just to protect but also restore environmental values and connections, support clean air and water, and contribute to healthy, engaged communities.

Illawarra-Shoalhaven's environmental values map

Click to enlarge.

Map of Illawarra-Shoalhaven's environmental values including high environmental values, biodiversity corridors, marine parks and waterways

The region’s ‘high environmental value’ lands have been mapped (see Illawarra-Shoalhaven's environmental values map). This mapping identifies land with significant environmental value, such as the Illawarra Escarpment, lands at Seven Mile Beach and the network of biodiversity corridors that link high environmental value lands.


The mapping criteria for these lands of high environmental value are set out below:

  • existing conservation areas, including national parks and reserves, declared wilderness areas, marine parks, Crown reserves dedicated for environmental protection and conservation, and flora reserves;
  • native vegetation of high conservation value, including vegetation types that have been over-cleared or occur within over-cleared landscapes; old growth forest; and rainforest;
  • threatened ecological communities and key habitats; and
  • important wetlands, coastal lakes and estuaries.


Groundwater resources (including high priority, groundwater dependent ecosystems), aquatic and marine habitats also have high environmental value. Maps of these areas are available from the Department of Primary Industries.



ACTION 5.1.1: Avoid, minimise and mitigate the impact of development on significant environmental assets

Councils will use the high environmental values map; high environmental values criteria (established by the Office of Environment and Heritage); fish community status and aquatic threatened species distributions; key fish habitat maps; and marine protected areas maps (from the Department of Primary Industries), during strategic planning and when developing planning proposals. They will be used to identify environmental assets and areas of important environmental value that need to be protected. New or more intensive developments in areas of environmental value can then be located to avoid or mitigate potential impacts on these values.


Where it is not possible to avoid impacts, Councils will be required to consider how the impacts can be managed through particular planning controls or other environmental management mechanisms.


Councils are also encouraged to review and update existing local environmental plans to determine if existing environmental protections for areas of high environmental value are appropriate or need to be enhanced.


The NSW Government will:

  • require Councils and development proponents to apply high environmental value mapping and criteria to rezoning decisions.


ACTION 5.1.2: Protect high environmental value land at Seven Mile Beach, Gerroa

Land at Seven Mile Beach, Gerroa has both a potential sand resource and high conservation value. The land supports a vast array of flora and fauna, including endangered ecological communities, numerous threatened species and areas mapped under State Environmental Planning Policy No 26 – Littoral Rainforests, 1988. The land has also been identified as an important regional corridor between Seven Mile Beach and Barren Grounds Nature Reserve and has been mapped as part of the Berry Corridor – one of 10 priority corridors identified in the region. Extraction would have considerable impact on this sensitive habitat and ecological link.


The NSW Government will:

  • retain the area zoned E2 Environmental Conservation under the Kiama Local Environmental Plan, which prohibits further sand mining.


ACTION 5.1.3: Protect the region’s biodiversity corridors in local planning controls

The Illawarra Biodiversity Action Plan 2011 and the South Coast Regional Conservation Plan have identified regional biodiversity corridors in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven. The corridors run south from the Woronora Special Area, along the escarpment connecting to the corridor around Jervis Bay and further south to Ulladulla. These corridors include important east-west links between coastal parks and forests, and the hinterland. Maintaining and improving these corridors will protect and enhance the ecology of the region and the movement of plants and animals.


The biodiversity corridors shown in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven's environmental values map link areas of high environmental value. Identifying environmental corridors that expand upon and link different habitats is a critical step towards securing ecological connections and long term viability.


Councils will need to clarify the location of a biodiversity corridor when planning new development and consider other appropriate land uses within the corridor to maintain and, where possible, enhance ecological connectivity.


The biodiversity corridors identified within the region can support mixed uses if impacts can protect or improve the values of the corridor. For example, the areas at Dunmore Hills and Yallah Corridor are identified for both extraction and urban development.


The NSW Government will:

  • look for opportunities to improve the functioning and resilience of corridors in strategic planning.


ACTION 5.1.4: Create a consistent approach to protect important riparian areas in planning and development controls

Riparian lands help to stabilise banks, maintain water quality, and provide habitat and links for native species and communities. In 2004, the NSW Government undertook a program of strategic assessments and mapping of riparian corridors in the region. This information, however, has not been consistently applied in Council local environmental plans.


The NSW Government will:

  • review riparian management outcomes to deliver greater consistency and certainty in the way they are applied in development controls.


Major hazards such as flooding, sea-level rise and shoreline recession are already a challenge for the region and are expected to be exacerbated by climate change.


A number of waterways run from the escarpment to the ocean through low-lying coastal floodplains, major river systems and lakes. Rainfall events can trigger floodwater so quickly there is limited opportunity for flood warning and evacuation. By 2070, rainfall is predicted to increase by 6.5 per cent on current levels.31


Substantial work has been done by State agencies, Councils and the community to develop natural resource management policies, plans and guidelines. Council growth management strategies, local environmental plans and development control plans will implement the principles and recommendations of these initiatives, in particular the:

  • NSW Coastal Policy (NSW Government 1997);
  • State Environmental Planning Policy No. 71 – Coastal Protection;
  • NSW Government Water Quality and River Flow Objectives (1999);
  • South East Catchment Action Plan (2014);
  • Southern Rivers Catchment Action Plan 2013-2023;
  • local stormwater management controls;
  • floodplain risk management plans, prepared in accordance with the Floodplain Development Manual (NSW Government 2005);
  • coastal zone management plans under the Coastal Protection Act 1979 No. 13;
  • Coastal Zone and Estuary Management Plans prepared in accordance with NSW Government policy;
  • soil landscape mapping;
  • Planning for Bushfire Protection 2006 (Rural Fire Service in coordination with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment);
  • Planning Guidelines for Acid Sulphate Soils (NSW Government 1998);
  • Local Planning Directions 2.2 (Coastal Protection), 4.1 (Acid Sulphate Soils), 4.3 (Flood Prone Land) and 4.4 (Planning for Bushfire Protection) under section 9.1(2) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979; and
  • water-sharing plans.


ACTION: 5.2.1: Apply contemporary risk management to coastal and other hazards

Flood risk and coastal zone management is currently managed by floodplain risk and coastal zone management plans.


Other hazards include bushfires, storm events and landslip, some of which are predicted to occur more frequently and possibly with greater intensity in the future. These events are associated with some of the areas experiencing the greatest development pressure.


The NSW Government will:

  • work with Councils so that planning controls incorporate the best available hazard information to build resilience to natural hazards; and
  • require that Councils review and update their floodplain risk and coastal management plans, particularly where new growth opportunities are being considered that may be affected by natural hazards.

The Regional Plan is focused on restoring environmental values, supporting clean air and waste management, and giving direction to Councils about managing these issues at the local level.


Planning processes will be used to encourage sustainable urban design requirements, and best-practice energy-efficiency standards for development and investment in public transport.

An overview of coastal reforms

The NSW Government is responding to community concerns about coastal hazards through a coastal reform process. The reforms include:


A new Coastal Management Act


The NSW Government aims to replace the Coastal Protection Act 1979 with a new Coastal Management Act that is less complex, and a better fit with land use planning and local government legislation. The new Act will establish requirements for State, regional and local land use planning instruments that deliver on the Act’s objectives; and new provisions requiring Councils to undertake coastal zone management planning within the local government Integrated Planning and Reporting framework.


Improving support to councils


The second element of the coastal reform package is focused on improving the way NSW Government agencies, and particularly the Office of Environment and Heritage, support council decision-making. The NSW Government will work in partnership with Councils to co-design a new coastal management manual that will provide a single, consolidated source of Government-endorsed guidance on the full suite of tools that Councils need for coastal management to meet local circumstances.


Sustainable funding and financing arrangements


The third element of the reform package identifies more sustainable funding and financing arrangements for coastal management strategies. This will be based on a set of cost-sharing principles to fairly and transparently identify who benefits from proposed coastal management actions, and therefore who should contribute to the costs. To support the new approach, the Office of Environment and Heritage will review various funding and financing mechanisms to see if they can be better used by Councils.


ACTION 5.3.1: Develop long term waste-management capacity as the population and development of the region increases

In 2011-12, over 210,000 tonnes of domestic waste was generated in the region – 50 per cent of which was recycled. Waste generated between 2005 and 2012 increased by 11 per cent, consistent with the rate of population growth over the same period. Recycling for the same period increased by 14 per cent.32


The Regional Waste Avoidance and Resource Strategy, developed by the Southern Councils Group, provides a framework for Councils to work together on managing cross-regional issues such as littering and illegal dumping; securing waste and recovery contracts; and joint waste infrastructure, where appropriate.


The NSW Government will:

  • work with Councils and the Illawarra Pilot Joint Organisation to develop a long term capacity to manage waste as the population and development of the region grows.


ACTION 5.3.2: Finalise and implement the Illawarra Air Quality Action Plan

An Illawarra Air Quality Action Plan is being developed by the NSW Environment Protection Authority to improve air quality in the region. It will be achieved by engaging communities, improving planning and regulatory decisions, conducting programs targeting key air pollution sources and improving the evidence base.


The NSW Environment Protection Authority will support Councils to implement the Illawarra Air Quality Action Plan via their planning instruments.


The NSW Government will:

  • finalise and implement the Illawarra Air Quality Action Plan.


The region encompasses important coastal lakes and lagoons, significant coastal wetlands, sensitive estuaries and the protected waters of Jervis Bay. The environmental, social and economic values of these environments can be affected by over-extraction of water, contamination and conflicting land uses such as urban expansion.


The agreed environmental values and goals for the State’s surface waters are set out in the NSW Water Quality Objectives. They express:

  • the uses and the values the community places on our rivers, creeks, estuaries and lakes (for example, healthy aquatic life, water suitable for recreational activities like swimming and boating, and drinking water; and
  • a range of water-quality indicators for assessing whether the current condition of our waterways supports these uses and values.

As the region grows, coastal landscapes such as Lake Illawarra and Lake Wollumboola will need to be protected. A strategic approach will be adopted to provide certainty about future land use and to preserve the unique characteristics of the natural environment.

Sensitive estuaries in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven

LGA Sensitive estuary
Wollongong Towradgi Creek, Fairy Creek, Lake Illawarra, Bellambi Gully, Bellambi Lake
Shellharbour Lake Illawarra, Elliot Lake
Kiama Spring Creek, Werri Lagoon
Shoalhaven Lake Wollumboola, Shoalhaven River, Durras Lake, Tabourie Lake, Wowly Gully, Willinga Lake, Swan Lake, Narrawallee Inlet, Captains Beach Lagoon, Butlers Creek, Nerrindillah Creek, St Georges Basin, Moona Moona Creek, Berrara Creek, Meroo Lake, Termeil Lake, Currarong Creek


ACTION 5.4.1: Protect sensitive estuaries and coastal lakes

Systems that are particularly susceptible to the impacts of land use development are identified as sensitive estuaries. A higher level of management intervention is needed to protect, maintain and/or restore the water quality and ecological condition of these sensitive estuaries.


Based on recent data from the NSW Natural Resources Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Strategy 2010-2015, more than half of the 46 estuaries in the region have been identified as sensitive (see the sensitive estuaries in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven table above) as they met characteristics associated with flushing, dilution capacity and retention of runoff. Typically, the most sensitive estuaries are shallow, poorly flushed and from poorly diluted creeks, lakes and lagoons.


Other significant water bodies are protected under State Environmental Planning Policy No. 14 – Coastal Wetlands 1985 and the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia. They are also mapped in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven's environmental values map under the high environmental values layer.


The NSW Government will:

  • protect these sensitive estuaries from inappropriate development that affects water quality or ecological function.


Protecting sensitive urban lands in Shoalhaven

The Sensitive Urban Lands Panel was set up by the NSW Government in 2006 to guide the planning outcomes for seven potential urban development sites in sensitive coastal locations within the Shoalhaven (Culburra Beach, Badgee Lagoon, Comberton Grange, Berrara, North Bendalong, Bendalong and Berringer Lake/Manyana). The Panel’s recommendations have been reflected in planning that is either finalised or substantially progressed for all but one site – Culburra Beach.


The Culburra Beach site contains land within the catchment of Lake Wollumboola. This lake is considered an ecological jewel that must be protected. A planning proposal for development was lodged with the Department in November 2014. The lands within the catchment are considered unsuitable for urban development because of potential negative impacts on the lake, which is a sensitive, intermittently closing and opening lake with very high conservation values.


The NSW Government has also completed a joint agency study entitled the Environmental Sensitivity of Lake Wollumboola.33 The outcomes and recommendations of the Sensitive Urban Lands Review and the joint agency study will guide protection and conservation of the Lake Wollumboola catchment, and future land use planning decisions such as that for the Culburra Beach site.


ACTION 5.4.2: Implement a risk-based decision-making framework to manage water quality and waterway health outcomes for Lake Illawarra

To help support and manage potential water quality impacts, the Environment Protection Authority and the Office of Environment and Heritage have developed a risk-based decision-making framework to integrate NSW Water Quality Objectives into the strategic planning process. This framework follows the risk-based methodology outlined in the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (2000 ANZECC guidelines), and focuses on setting management targets that meet the community’s expectations of estuary health.


The Lake Illawarra catchment is a priority for this framework, given the planned urban growth in the lake’s catchment, and increased pressure for recreational uses and foreshore access, particularly on the western side.


The NSW Government will:

  • apply the framework through planning and infrastructure programming of development sites within Lake Illawarra catchment; and
  • work with Councils on implementation with support from the Office of Environment and Heritage and other stakeholders.


ACTION 5.4.3: Implement a risk-based decision-making framework to manage water quality and waterway health for all coastal lakes and estuaries in the region where development is planned, with priority given to listed sensitive lakes and estuaries

The risk-based decision-making framework for Lake Illawarra, formulated by the Office of Environment and Heritage, can be used as a model for managing all coastal lakes and estuaries in the region where there is planned development. It will inform consideration of water quality outcomes in all strategic planning decisions for the region, consistent with the methodology in the ANZECC Guidelines.


The NSW Government will:

  • apply a risk-based decision-making framework for all coastal lakes and estuaries. In the medium term, priority will be given to sensitive estuaries, which are susceptible to the impacts of land use developments (see Sensitive estuaries in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven table above).

Page last updated: 25/09/2019