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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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The North Coast has the foundations for a thriving economy. It has strong cities and centres with distinctive character, developing inter-regional and cross-border links, growing farming and tourism sectors, high-quality infrastructure and a unique environment. Leveraging these assets will grow jobs and the economy over the longer term.

Opportunities exist to build relationships across communities by leveraging their longstanding social and economic associations and the increasing connectivity being provided by region-shaping infrastructure like the Pacific Highway upgrade, the Gold Coast Airport expansion and the new Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport.

The region’s northern communities will develop stronger ties with South East Queensland; coastal communities will continue to benefit from upgrades to the highway; and hinterland communities will benefit from new opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness. 

The North Coast will continue to be the number one tourist destination within regional NSW. The number of international and domestic visitors able to access the region will increase, thanks to the $380 million upgrade currently under way of the Gold Coast Airport, ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.9

Enhancing the social, economic and transport links between cities and centres, adjoining regions and with South East Queensland will open up new markets and increase job opportunities. Continued infrastructure delivery will be required to support the growth of the region’s communities and economy. 

The North Coast has growing and dynamic relationships across local government and state boundaries. These relationships are building broader communities of interest based on unique social and economic linkages, and are creating a more vibrant and diverse economy.

The greater connectivity provided by the Pacific Highway upgrade is expected to increase these opportunities. For example, by working together, Coffs Harbour-Clarence Valley and Kempsey-Port Macquarie can deliver employment lands in areas that have the least constraints and greatest land availability.

In a similar vein, there are economic opportunities arising from the rapid growth of South East Queensland, where the number of residents is projected to increase by 80,000 each year.10 Investors and businesses are seeking to leverage this growth with greater housing choice and affordability, and employment land with good access to local, national and international markets.

Cross-border servicing and land use relationships will be pivotal when planning for future growth, especially on the Far North Coast given the benefits of its outstanding natural environment and proximity to the Gold Coast.

Hinterland communities such as Lismore, Kyogle and Richmond Valley will also continue to prosper as relationships with inland communities of Beaudesert and Toowoomba are enhanced and access to freight transport opportunities at Beaudesert and West Brisbane Wellcamp Airport are improved.

The growth of the regional economy will be supported by the delivery of key enabling infrastructure. This infrastructure will unlock opportunities for future economic and employment growth.


5.1 Collaborate on regional and intra-regional housing and employment land delivery, and industry development.
5.2 Integrate cross-border land use planning between NSW and South East Queensland, and remove barriers to economic, housing and jobs growth.
5.3 Encourage ongoing cooperation and land use planning between the City of Gold Coast and Tweed Shire Council.
5.4 Prepare a regional economic development strategy that drives economic growth opportunities by identifying key enabling infrastructure and other policy interventions to unlock growth.

The North Coast has a unique mix of cities and centres, and their distinctive character, accessibility and vitality make them hives of economic opportunity. Centres play a significant role within the regional economy as a centrepiece for employment activities.


The region’s cities have sizeable anchors like major hospitals and university campuses that will shape change and growth. The creation of clusters of economic activity in the regional cities will continue to be a source of economic diversity and provide more high-skilled job opportunities (refer to Direction 7). Strategic centres and centres have opportunities to intensify economic activity around local industries. For instance, activities associated with the Kempsey District Hospital, the North Coast TAFE at Mullumbimby or creative industries in Byron will foster employment and economic activity. The employment activities within these centres will be enhanced as a focal point for enabling economic growth.


The healthcare and education sectors will continue to deliver important services and sustain employment growth, particularly with the ageing population. These sectors will continue to provide more high-skilled job opportunities and improve access to services for residents.


The education sector will continue to help retain and attract younger residents to deliver the jobs needed to serve the growing and ageing population. Southern Cross University’s campuses will provide future opportunities for more interstate and international students by promoting a range of specialist courses.


The roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) is enhancing digital connections and growing knowledge-intensive industries and small businesses. The NBN will continue to provide people with more options to enjoy the region’s lifestyle while accessing wider markets.


There is enormous potential to leverage the significant concentration of creative professionals in the fields of visual arts, design, literature, publishing, screen and digital content. The growth of knowledge industries will drive demand for purpose-built business facilities in well-located and accessible areas that offer the benefits of agglomeration, corporate prestige, amenities and proximity to cost-effective labour.


Growing cities and centres as the principal centres of employment for commerce and retail sectors as well as for social activity will support tourism, foster a strong sense of place and service growing populations. The vitality of central business precincts will be promoted.


New commercial precincts, outside of centres, will be of an appropriate size and scale relative to the area they will be servicing. They should demonstrate how they will deliver positive social and economic benefits for the wider community and maintain the strength of the regional economy. Proposals for new commercial centres will need to demonstrate how they:

  • respond to retail supply and demand;
  • respond to innovations in the retail sector;
  • maximise the use of existing infrastructure (including public transport and community facilities) commensurate with the scale of the proposal; and
  • enhance the value of the public realm.


An appropriate supply of employment land will be identified through local growth management strategies in locations that are supported by freight access and protected from encroachment by incompatible development. Certain industries may also need to be located away from existing centres due to their type, scale and nature, and this should be addressed in these strategies.

New investment will be attracted to the centres of employment by harnessing their unique local qualities and competitive advantages. To achieve this, partnerships will be forged with business and community leaders to:

  • engage communities in the development of their area;
  • develop initiatives that make cities and centres more attractive, grow employment and business opportunities, and improve the quality of life for the community; and
  • develop opportunities for job growth to attract and retain younger people, and professional and skilled workers.


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6.1 Facilitate economic activity around industry anchors such as health, education and airport facilities by considering new infrastructure needs and introducing planning controls that encourage clusters of related activity.
6.2 Promote knowledge industries by applying flexible planning controls, providing business park development opportunities and identifying opportunities for start-up industries. 6.3 Reinforce centres through local growth management strategies and local environmental plans as primary mixed-use locations for commerce, housing, tourism, social activity and regional services.
6.4 Focus retail and commercial activities in existing centres and develop place-making focused planning strategies for centres.
6.5 Promote and enable an appropriate mix of land uses and prevent the encroachment of sensitive uses on employment land through local planning controls.
6.6 Deliver an adequate supply of employment land through local growth management strategies and local environmental plans to support jobs growth.
6.7 Ensure employment land delivery is maintained through an annual North Coast Housing and Land Monitor.

The region’s cities are popular places to live and work. Over three-quarters of future population growth is projected to occur in the Port Macquarie-Hastings, Coffs Harbour, Lismore and Tweed local government areas.11


Action plans will be prepared, in collaboration with councils, to coordinate the investment and infrastructure that will underpin the delivery of over 32,700 homes 12 and a significant number of new jobs.


The Department of Planning and Environment will chair steering committees, which will include council officers and representatives from relevant State agencies, to oversee the delivery of these plans.


The action plans will identify opportunities, while protecting the unique character of these places. Providing greater housing choice in regional cities through more townhouses, villas and apartments will maximise the use of existing and new infrastructure and provide greater access to jobs, services and lifestyle opportunities.


Regional cities also have employment, health, education, residential and airport precincts that are capable of promoting employment growth for the entire North Coast.


Tweed Regional City

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Lismore Regional City

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Coffs Harbour Regional City

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Port Macquarie Regional City

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7.1 Prepare action plans for regional cities that:

  • ensure planning provisions promote employment growth and greater housing diversity;
  • promote new job opportunities that complement existing employment nodes around existing education, health and airport precincts;
  • identify infrastructure constraints and public domain improvements that can make areas more attractive for investment; and
  • deliver infrastructure and coordinate the most appropriate staging and sequencing of development.

Over 12 million people visit the North Coast annually13 and the region will remain a major tourism destination, particularly given the greater access from an upgraded Gold Coast Airport.


There is an opportunity to expand nature-based tourism and heritage attractions, including the many ports, harbours, crown reserves and forests – and to capitalise and build on the region’s reputation as a host of major sporting events and cultural festivals.


The North Coast’s first people – the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr, Dunghutti, Biripi and Yaegl – have a rich cultural heritage. In consultation with local Aboriginal people, opportunities could be identified to celebrate and recognise this rich cultural heritage, which in turn could provide opportunities to economically empower local Aboriginal communities. Destination NSW’s Aboriginal Tourism Action Plan 2013-2016 aims to support opportunities for visitors to engage with Aboriginal people and experience their culture.


Destination management plans or other tourism-focused strategies will showcase existing tourism sites and activities, build relationships with the regional and international airports of Ballina-Byron, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Lismore, Newcastle and the Gold Coast, and capitalise on new and emerging trends such as the growing Asian tourism market. Opportunities associated with ports, harbours and Crown reserves should also be considered when developing these plans.


The NSW Government recognises that tourism can both benefit and increase pressure on the environment and smaller communities. Tweed Heads, Ballina, Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie are prime tourism development areas, with conference and function centres, access to public transport and large-scale accommodation venues.


Medium-to smaller-scale nature-based and coastal tourism accommodation can be provided outside these prime tourism areas. Event, dining and accommodation options in rural areas should only be considered where they complement and are consistent with prime agricultural pursuits.


Eco-tourism and nature-based tourism should only be located where a long-term, beneficial and sustainable relationship with the environment can be established.


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Tourism on the North Coast in 2036

The North Coast’s world-class network of national parks, pristine marine parks, magnificent wildlife – such as the iconic koala population and famous surf breaks – deliver unique and authentic tourism experiences that set the region apart from other tourism destinations.


Diverse range of communities enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and immediate access to a high-quality environment. This will continue to draw visitors for family holidays, tranquil getaways and vibrant cultural and sporting events and festivals.


Roadside stalls selling fresh produce, paddock-to-plate cafes and a mix of rural experiences add to the appeal of travelling across the North Coast.


Aboriginal culture is showcased in a way that respects the wishes of local Aboriginal communities.


Enhanced walking and cycling trails will improve opportunities to enjoy the spectacular environment. Eco-tourism and adventure-based tourism will be sympathetically located in the environment. A dynamic events calendar showcases the diversity of the region and its communities.



8.1 Facilitate appropriate large-scale tourism developments in prime tourism development areas such as Tweed Heads, Tweed Coast, Ballina, Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.


8.2 Facilitate tourism and visitor accommodation and supporting land uses in coastal and rural hinterland locations through local growth management strategies and local environmental plans.


8.3 Prepare destination management plans or other tourism-focused strategies that:

  • identify culturally appropriate Aboriginal tourism opportunities;
  • encourage tourism development in natural areas that support conservation outcomes; and
  • strategically plan for a growing international tourism market.


8.4 Promote opportunities to expand visitation to regionally significant nature-based tourism places, such as Ellenborough Falls, Dorrigo National Park, Wollumbin-Mount Warning National Park, Iluka Nature Reserve and Yuraygir Coastal Walk.


8.5 Preserve the region’s existing tourist and visitor accommodation by directing permanent residential accommodation away from tourism developments, except where it is ancillary to existing tourism developments or part of an area otherwise identified for urban expansion in an endorsed local growth management strategy.

The region benefits from regional infrastructure corridors that provide businesses with good access to South East Queensland and international markets, and residents with easier movement around the region.

The Pacific Highway upgrade is one of Australia’s most significant infrastructure investments, and should be finished by the end of the decade. The upgrade will improve user safety and travel times and generate new economic and employment opportunities.

The upgrade of the highway has highlighted opportunities for new and expanded freight facilities and distribution centres. 

These have particular locational needs as they depend on efficient supply chains, access to customers, land availability and access to main roads. Local growth management strategies should consider the location of these facilities to maintain jobs growth and grow transport-related industries.


Maintaining the safety of this transport corridor is important. Access to motorway-class sections of the highway will only be allowed via grade-separated interchanges. Local traffic will be directed along service roads or local arterial road networks, and highway service centres that encourage motorists to take breaks will be appropriately located.

Corridor strategies for State roads in NSW are being developed to identify connectivity improvements and to consistently manage and plan the State road network. These include the Lismore to Bangalow, Oxley Highway, Summerland Way and the Waterfall Way draft corridor strategies. The strategies will respond to current and future challenges and issues, and set short-medium and long-term priorities and actions.

Improved regional roads are also increasing the efficiency of the freight network across the North Coast, which is contributing to job and business growth.


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9.1 Enhance the competitive value of the region by encouraging business and employment activities that leverage major inter-regional transport connections, such as the Pacific Highway, to South East Queensland and the Hunter.
9.2 Identify buffer and mitigation measures to minimise the impact of development on regionally significant transport infrastructure including regional and state road network and rail corridors.
9.3 Ensure the effective management of the State and regional road network by:

  • preventing development directly adjoining the Pacific Highway;
  • preventing additional direct ‘at grade’ access to motorway-class sections of the Pacific Highway;
  • locating highway service centres on the Pacific Highway at Chinderah, Ballina, Maclean, Woolgoolga, Nambucca Heads, Kempsey and Port Macquarie, approved by the Department of Planning and Environment and Roads and Maritime Services; and
  • identifying strategic sites for major road freight transport facilities.

The North Coast’s air, rail and public transport systems are major economic assets that will help to underpin economic growth. 

Airports are important gateways for business, tourism and personal travel, as well as high-value freight. Airport precinct plans will be developed to investigate opportunities for compatible and complementary air transport-related industry and business uses on land adjoining airports. The development of retail and bulky-goods uses should be avoided in these areas.

Opportunities to further increase access to the Gold Coast Airport will be explored to leverage the benefits its proximity brings to the north of the region and the export opportunities for North Coast produce and products.

The North Coast Rail Line is a nationally significant rail line and part of the National Land Transport Network. Enhancements are being made to the regional rail network to increase freight and passenger capacity. They will enable the development of intermodal and rail freight terminals to support manufacturing and agricultural sectors, and to better connect communities.

The Australian Government is also investigating opportunities for a high-speed rail network through the region. Land uses that may affect the long-term viability of the proposed corridor should be avoided.

Transport for NSW will work with bus operators to develop routes and timetables to improve bus services in cities and centres and their connections with regional communities, as well as work on programs that serve the unique needs of each town and a variety of other transport initiatives.



10.1 Deliver airport precinct plans for Ballina-Byron, Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie that capitalise on opportunities to diversify and maximise the potential of value-adding industries close to airports.
10.2 Consider airport-related employment opportunities and precincts that can capitalise on the expansion proposed around Gold Coast Airport.
10.3 Protect the North Coast Rail Line and high-speed rail corridor to ensure network opportunities are not sterilised by incompatible land uses or land fragmentation.
10.4 Provide public transport where the size of the urban area has the potential to generate sufficient demand.
10.5 Deliver a safe and efficient transport network to serve future release areas.

The North Coast’s rich soils, reliable rainfall and range of landscapes support a diverse and important agricultural sector. The most important farmland has been identified and mapped to support long-term agricultural production  (the map below).


A review of the consistency, methodology and application of the Northern Rivers Farmland Protection Project (2005) and Mid North Coast Farmland Mapping Project (2008) will provide an opportunity to establish consistent standards and application for important farmland across the North Coast.

It is recognised that agricultural production may not be suitable on some small pockets of mapped important farmland due to non-biophysical factors that make the land more suited to other uses. Pending completion of a review of the existing farmland mapping projects, interim important farmland variation criteria will be used to assess  the suitability of these pockets of land for non-agricultural land use (Appendix B).


Minimum subdivision standards for rural zones will be used to enhance the viability of the agricultural sector, maximise production efficiencies and support the delivery of local  fresh foods by limiting land fragmentation. Limiting dwellings in rural zones will also help to avoid potential land use conflicts with agricultural activities.

Agricultural activities, such as horticulture, are growing rapidly on smaller holdings across the North Coast. Local planning controls can help to support these industries by identifying potentially suitable locations for small-lot primary production.

Encouraging greater diversity in the agricultural sector – for example, through agritourism and the processing and packaging of produce and associated retail services – can make the sector more sustainable. Boutique commercial, tourist and recreation activities that do not conflict with primary production offer similar opportunities.

Biosecurity will continue to be an important consideration for agricultural areas as it contributes to the strength of the agricultural sector. In 2013, the NSW Government developed the NSW Biosecurity Strategy 2013-2021 to highlight the measures that can be taken to protect the economy, environment and community from the negative impacts of pests, diseases and weeds.

Biosecurity risks can be minimised by undertaking risk assessments, taking into account biosecurity plans and applying appropriate buffer areas.

North Coast Important Farmland

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11.1 Enable the growth of the agricultural sector by directing urban and rural residential development away from important farmland and identifying locations to support existing and small-lot primary production, such as horticulture in Coffs Harbour.
11.2 Deliver a consistent management approach to important farmland across the region by updating the Northern Rivers Farmland Protection Project (2005) and Mid North Coast Farmland Mapping Project (2008).
11.3 Identify and protect intensive agriculture clusters in local plans to avoid land use conflicts, particularly with residential and rural residential expansion.
11.4 Encourage niche commercial, tourist and recreation activities that complement and promote a stronger agricultural sector, and build the sector’s capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.
11.5 Address sector-specific considerations for agricultural industries through local plans.

Food and fibre production, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, freight, logistics and processing all help to support agriculture. It is important that these uses are permitted in a range of locations to ensure they are efficient and viable. 

Existing agribusiness sites should be protected from the encroachment of inappropriate land uses that can limit their operation. Appropriate co-location of related industries should be encouraged to maximise infrastructure and facility, decrease supply chain costs, increase economies of scale and attract further investment. Industries that co-locate have the potential to use the by-products and waste materials of other industries to create new products and services. 

Increased confidence and opportunities in agribusiness on the North Coast have led to a number of new initiatives. The agrifood sector is recognised as an important industry and employer, and agencies are working collaboratively and with industry to support and guide its growth. There are also opportunities for exporting food to the South East Asian market.

north coast agricultural supply chain 834x516px


12.1 Promote the expansion of food and fibre production, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, freight and logistics, and processing through flexible planning provisions in local growth management strategies and local environmental plans.
12.2 Encourage the co-location of intensive primary industries, such as feedlots and compatible processing activities. 
12.3 Examine options for agribusiness to leverage proximity from the Gold Coast and Brisbane West Wellcamp airports.
12.4 Facilitate investment in the agricultural supply chain by protecting assets, including freight and logistics facilities, from land use conflicts arising from the encroachment of incompatible land uses.

The NSW Government has no intention to revive coal seam gas on the North Coast. More than $27 million has been spent to buy back the exploration licences to ensure that coal seam gas resources on the North Coast will remain in the ground.

The region’s other resources support the economy by providing the raw materials for major infrastructure projects, new housing, and industrial and agricultural businesses. It is important that these resources are not affected or sterilised by the encroachment of sensitive land uses, and that mining activities are undertaken sensitively to minimise negative impacts on the environment, significant agricultural land, neighbouring businesses and the community. Planning for these activities will help to avoid potential land use conflicts.

The location of current exploration and mining titles in NSW, explanations of mining and production titles, and information about the role of community and government in the decision-making process for mining and resource projects may be found at:

Forests provide tourism and recreation activities, and wood products. They also play a vital role in the environment in terms of water quality, native habitat and connectivity with other forests (such as national parks).

Planning for long-term timber supplies relies on balancing the relative value and compatibility of agricultural lands with plantation forestry. Protecting timber supplies, processing facilities and forestry hubs of related industries from the encroachment of incompatible land uses is necessary to support the region’s forestry industry.


13.1 Enable the development of the region’s natural, mineral and forestry resources by directing to suitable locations land uses such as residential development that are sensitive to impacts from noise, dust and light interference.
13.2 Plan for the ongoing productive use of lands with regionally significant construction material resources in locations with established infrastructure and resource accessibility.

Page last updated: 17/09/2019