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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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Panoramic coastal and rural landscapes define the distinctive environment, character and lifestyles of this region. The North Coast is one of the most biologically diverse regions in Australia,7 including the outstanding biodiversity assets of 15 World Heritage Areas, covering over 117,000 hectares.

These assets, in addition to their intrinsic value, deliver clean air and water to communities, and improve lifestyles and wellbeing. They provide the natural resources that underpin industries and are the foundation on which a significant tourism sector has been built.

The focus for the future is to deliver sustainable land use that protects the North Coast’s biodiversity and environmental values, and its stunning environment. Directing growth to locations that do not compromise the natural environment will ensure the region grows sustainably and in line with community aspirations.

Growth can put pressure on environmentally sensitive areas, including the 49 coastal lakes and estuaries, 900 wetlands and 70 littoral rainforests on the North Coast. Opportunities for sustainable growth will be provided that protects highly valued environment for future generations.

Important planning principles that will help to achieve these outcomes are shown on the next page.

Ecosystems are also subject to natural hazards and climate change. It is important to build resilience and develop innovative ways to manage water, harness renewable energy and prepare for natural hazards.

Protection of koalas and their habitat 

Koalas are an iconic species on the North Coast, and both landholders and the wider community hold the key to the future of this special animal.

The koala population on the North Coast is coming under increased stress, and protecting habitat is an important factor in reducing this stress and halting the decline of the population. 

State Environmental Planning Policy 44 – Koala Habitat Protection and koala plans of management are important components  of the strategy to protect koala habitat. Protecting koala habitat will have flow-on benefits for a wide range of other species and ecological communities. State policy will continue to seek ways to improve and implement appropriate measures to help minimise the impacts of development on koalas and their habitat.


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North Coast's potential high environmental values

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The North Coast is known for its diverse rural and coastal landscapes and world-class natural environment. The focus for the future is to manage growth to protect the conservation and economic value of these important assets so that the region remains a great place to live and work.

The region’s low-density settlement pattern has exacerbated growth pressure on sensitive environments. Directing future growth to locations that can sustain additional development, and are readily serviced, will deliver sustainable growth across the region and help protect the environment.

Most of the urban settlements are separated by farmland, bushland, floodplains or environmental features that give the region its distinctive character. The urban growth areas will maintain these ‘green breaks’ to protect environmental values and attract people to the region.

The coastal strip covers 12 per cent of the region and is home to 49 per cent of the population.8 As the region grows, development pressure is expected to continue in this area. A balanced approach to the use of this land is necessary to safeguard the sensitive coastal environment.

The NSW Government and councils will manage the growth of new land releases in the coastal strip by directing development to the mapped urban growth areas (see the Local Government Narratives). This will distribute housing across the region and strengthen the growth of hinterland communities, where there is capacity for additional rural and urban housing. It will also help to avoid pressure on the sensitive coastal environment.

Investigation areas within the urban growth areas represent potential future land release opportunities. Not all of these areas will be suitable for development and further detailed assessment will be required. Councils will use the urban growth areas to define the land available to investigate for release as they prepare their local growth management strategies.

Local growth management strategies will enable communities to assess the broader implications and consequences of identifying locations for proposed urban and employment land.

There may be a need to vary the urban growth areas as new information becomes available or to correct anomalies. Any variations must be in accordance with the Urban Growth Area Variation Principles (Appendix A) and will need to be considered and justified through a strategic planning or rezoning process.

Only minor and contiguous variations to urban growth areas in the coastal strip will be considered due to its environmental sensitivity and the range of land uses competing for this limited area.

Active and passive community open spaces may be located outside the urban growth areas. When deciding whether to locate future open space outside the urban growth areas, high-value environmental, heritage or natural resource areas should be avoided.

north coast map in vision on most endemic plants and animals within nsw


1.1 Focus future urban development to mapped urban growth areas.
1.2 Review areas identified as ‘under investigation’ within urban growth areas to identify and map sites of potentially high environmental value.
1.3 Identify residential, commercial or industrial uses in urban growth areas by developing local growth management strategies endorsed by the Department of Planning and Environment.
1.4 Prepare land release criteria to assess appropriate locations for future residential, commercial and industrial uses.

Enhancing areas of high environmental value is integral to maintaining the biological diversity of the North Coast. Areas with potential high environmental values have been mapped as shown below. Using an evidence-based approach to identifying high environmental value areas and protecting important assets will help to maintain diversity and habitat for flora and fauna, including the region’s iconic koala population.

The map showing areas of potential high environmental value will also be used to consider opportunities for biodiversity offsetting and to inform council planning strategies and local environmental plans.

The coastal environment, aquatic habitats and freshwater catchments are critical components for ecosystem health. They also support aquaculture, commercial and recreational fishing and boating, and tourism. To support these activities and ecosystem health, water quality should be managed in accordance with the NSW Water Quality and River Flow Objectives. The NSW Department of Primary Industries is continuing to allocate water in the region through water sharing plans.

New development should be appropriately located to limit any adverse impact on the region’s biodiversity, coastal and aquatic habitats and water catchments. 

Explanatory note: Potential high environmental values map

A range of criteria were used to map areas of high environmental value, including:  

  • existing conservation areas, including national parks and reserves, marine parks, declared wilderness areas, 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 forests and rainforests;
  • threatened ecological communities and key habitats;
  • important wetlands, coastal lakes and estuaries; and
  • sites of geological significance.

Some areas not identified on the map, including terrestrial and aquatic environments, will still require environmental assessment. 

The data used to identify high environmental values in this Plan is intended to provide a regional-level overview for the purposes of strategic planning. This data will continue to be updated as new information becomes available. Interested parties should contact relevant agencies, including the Office of Environment and Heritage, Local Land Services and the Department of Primary Industries, for current data and further support.


2.1 Focus development to areas of least biodiversity sensitivity in the region and implement the ‘avoid, minimise, offset’ hierarchy to biodiversity, including areas of high environmental value.
2.2 Ensure local plans manage marine environments, water catchment areas and groundwater sources to avoid potential development impacts. 

Many of the features that make the North Coast such a great place to live also make it prone to natural hazards, including bushfires, coastal erosion, rising sea levels, storms, floods, acid sulfate soils and landslips. Climate change may worsen some of these hazards. 

The Integrated Regional Vulnerability Assessment undertaken by the Office of Environment and Heritage for the North Coast has identified climate change vulnerabilities and potential actions in response. This has provided an evidence base to enable State and Local Government to incorporate climate change considerations into service planning and delivery.

Thermal and energy-efficient buildings, greenways and stormwater re-use should be incorporated into the design of developments and subdivisions to create resilient environments for the future. Land that is prone to hazards should not be developed unless the hazards can be managed appropriately into the future.

The impacts of rising sea levels and climate change will be critical to managing coastal and floodplain risks. Planning and natural resource management authorities will need to consider mapping and model the impacts of sea-level rises, storm surges and inundation to provide adequate buffers for landward migration, protection of coastal saline wetlands, and to limit development in areas adjoining these wetlands. The Office of Environment and Heritage’s Adapt NSW website provides information and tools to support communities to adapt to climate change.

Relevant councils will need to have coastal zone management plans and associated controls to deal with current and potential erosion. The Office of Environment and Heritage has developed a Community Resilience Innovation Program to support community-led projects designed to increase all-hazard disaster preparedness and build community capacity and resilience.

Flooding is a major hazard on the North Coast due to its topography and climate. The NSW Floodplain Development Manual: the management of flood liable land (2005) promotes a merit-based approach to flood risk management that balances social, economic, environmental and flood risk issues to determine the appropriate and sustainable use of the floodplain. 

Some developments (such as aged care facilities) can be sensitive to natural hazard events due to the difficulty of evacuation in an emergency. Local environmental plans and development control plans will include appropriate controls for areas subject to natural hazard events.


3.1 Reduce the risk from natural hazards, including the projected effects of climate change, by identifying, avoiding and managing vulnerable areas and hazards.
3.2 Review and update floodplain risk, bushfire and coastal management mapping to manage risk, particularly where urban growth is being investigated.
3.3 Incorporate new knowledge on regional climate projections and related cumulative impacts in local plans for new urban development.

The region is fortunate to have a number of potential sources of renewable energy, including solar, bio-waste, small-scale hydro, wind, geothermal and wave power. These sources will contribute to electricity generation, reduce the region’s carbon footprint and create new economic opportunities and industries.


A strategic and integrated approach to renewable energy projects is needed to leverage the opportunities of renewable energy, long-term sustainability, and to support the NSW Government’s goal of a carbon-neutral NSW by 2050.


The Department of Industry’s Renewable Energy Action Plan (2013) guides renewable energy development. Negotiations between network service providers and investors will be streamlined so that timeframes for grid connections in NSW are competitive.


View renewable energy potential maps for the North Coast.


Incorporating small-scale cogeneration measures into the design of new developments and providing employment lands for research and development opportunities in the sector will lend further support to the growth of the renewable energy sector.


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4.1 Diversify the energy sector by identifying renewable energy resource precincts and infrastructure corridors with access to the electricity network.
4.2 Enable appropriate smaller-scale renewable energy projects using bio-waste, solar, wind, small-scale hydro, geothermal or other innovative storage technologies.
4.3 Promote appropriate smaller and community-scale renewable energy projects.

Page last updated: 17/09/2019