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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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The North Coast’s tapestry of coastal and hinterland communities are central to the region’s identity. As the region grows over the next twenty years, well designed communities will support local character, active lifestyles and provide residents with a greater sense of wellbeing and belonging.

Many communities are set amongst spectacular natural features and green breaks. Access to recreational and environmental areas will be retained and best practice design features will be pursued to respond to our unique natural surrounds. Communities will also be supported with appropriate social infrastructure to respond to local needs.

The region has a rich and diverse Aboriginal and historic heritage. The Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr, Dunghutti, Biripi and Yaegl are the first people of the region. They have a spiritual, social, cultural and economic relationship with their traditional land and waters, and make an ongoing contribution to regional identity. Aboriginal cultural heritage and communities will be respected and supported as the region grows.

European settlement on the North Coast has resulted in a range of buildings and places that also have community significance. Historic heritage also contributes to the identity of a local community and its sense of place and belonging.


north coast 2016 to 2036 population pyramid 834x528px

The North Coast has communities with a distinct character, and this is a significant draw card. Most communities have a vision for their local area, and local precinct planning can be used to deliver that vision.

Precinct planning can be used to plan urban renewal and expansion, coordinate development and infrastructure, protect the local character and environment of an area, and establish stronger relationships between communities.

Through the precinct planning process, councils will work with their community to establish land use and development standards; coordinate environmental, community facility and infrastructure improvements; and promote housing and jobs. Local precinct planning should be consistent with the guidelines in Appendix C.

It is particularly important that precinct planning is undertaken for proposed urban areas and locations that are anticipated to undergo significant change, such as communities that will be bypassed by the Pacific Highway upgrade. Precinct plans for these areas will help deliver development that is consistent and in keeping with the community’s desired future. Precinct plans can take different forms, including locality plans, structure plans or master plans.


14.1 Prepare precinct plans in growth areas, such as Kingscliff, or centres bypassed by the Pacific Highway, such as Woodburn and Grafton, to guide development and establish appropriate land use zoning, development standards and developer contributions.
14.2 Deliver precinct plans that are consistent with the Precinct Plan Guidelines (Appendix C).

North Coast communities enjoy the great outdoors and being active. It is critical that urban environments continue to enable this lifestyle. The design of the urban environment, including streetscapes, and recreation and community facilities, can help build community health, social wellbeing and cohesion.


Providing housing, services and facilities that are within walking distance of each other, or easily accessible by public transport, can also help to deliver these outcomes. The NSW Government is in the process of developing healthy living guidelines to support active living.


Expanding on the recreational walking and cycling trails that already exist will allow more people to experience the region’s villages and wonderful natural areas. Waterways, such as the Clarence, Hastings and Tweed rivers, also support important water-based recreational activities.


All communities need access to social infrastructure, such as child care facilities and emergency accommodation. Councils should establish benchmarks to ensure communities are supported with timely social infrastructure delivery that responds to community needs and creates focal points for social participation. Planning controls need to ensure these opportunities are available and delivered relative to the needs of the community.


Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) principles can be used to reduce the potential for crime through design and place management. Integrating CPTED principles can help deliver community safety and comfort. Safe, active and lively community spaces are often supported by events and promotion. In turn, healthy living through physical activity, social interaction and community pride is fostered.

Supporting increases in walking and cycling

The North Coast has an extensive and expanding walking and cycling network focused on centres and access to waterways.


The design of the network needs to consider equal access, shade, landscaping, seating, water bubblers, rest points, signage, changes in surface treatments and ‘end of trip’ facilities, such as showers and lockers.


Many councils have prepared Pedestrian Access and Mobility Plans to map and prioritise improvements to their networks.


Transport for NSW, in partnership with councils, has created a number of programs to increase opportunities for people to be more active and healthier. These programs focus on:  

  • prioritising infrastructure improvements for two-kilometre footpaths and five-kilometre cycling tracks that lead to town centres, as well as improving access to transport interchanges; and
  • using information and events to promote walking and cycling as a form of transport.


Beyond supporting communities, well-designed pedestrian and cycling options should be pursued to value-add and support the tourism industry by linking tourism areas, or to capitalise on emerging tourism opportunities.


Relevant examples within the North Coast include:

  • the potential to reuse parts of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line to support nature-based tourism and recreation, subject to further community consultation and relevant legislative requirements; and
  • the implementation of the Coffs Harbour Jetty4Shores Project, which includes generous shared paths and interpretive walks within a larger landscaped public space that is expected to increase visitation.



15.1 Deliver best-practice guidelines for planning, designing and developing healthy built environments that respond to the ageing demographic and subtropical climate.

15.2 Facilitate more recreational walking and cycling paths and expand inter-regional and intra-regional walking and cycling links, including the NSW Coastline Cycleway.

15.3 Implement actions and invest in boating infrastructure priorities identified in regional boating plans to improve boating safety, boat storage and waterway access.

15.4 Create socially inclusive communities by establishing social infrastructure benchmarks, minimum standards and social impact assessment frameworks within local planning.

15.5 Deliver crime prevention through environmental design outcomes through urban design processes.


The connection of Aboriginal communities to their ancestral country is a result of passing down histories and ‘place awareness’ through generations. Consultation processes on future land use planning should ensure that Aboriginal people have their interests and responsibilities acknowledged, respected and considered through the planning process.

Local growth management strategies and local environmental plans should be prepared in consultation with Aboriginal communities to build a relationship based on trust and integrity, and to tap into their unique knowledge. Involving Aboriginal people in planning empowers their communities to identify their own issues, strategic directions and solutions. It requires appropriate mechanisms that acknowledge the diversity of Aboriginal communities and the resources they need to participate.


16.1 Develop partnerships with Aboriginal communities to facilitate engagement during the planning process, including the development of engagement protocols. 
16.2 Ensure Aboriginal communities are engaged throughout the preparation of local growth management strategies and local environmental plans.

There are significant opportunities to build wealth and strengthen economic independence in Aboriginal communities. Economic strength will assist in community empowerment and participation in, and the protection of, cultural heritage. Economic opportunities stem from a range of sources, including land held by Aboriginal communities, promotion of language and culture and from the enterprise and innovation already empowering many Aboriginal communities.

OCHRE (Opportunity, Choice, Healing, Responsibility and Empowerment) is the NSW Government’s plan for Aboriginal communities. It focuses on revitalising and promoting Aboriginal languages and culture, creating opportunities and capacity, providing choice, and empowering Aboriginal people to exercise that choice, as well as giving them the tools to take responsibility for their own future.

Together, Aboriginal Affairs NSW and the Department of Planning and Environment will work with the Local Aboriginal Land Councils to identify their landholdings and to map the level of constraints for each site. This information can be used by Aboriginal communities to consider potential uses of the land for housing and employment opportunities. This approach has the potential to provide economic returns to local communities that can be invested in community programs.

Other approaches to increasing economic independence include developing tailored training on the planning system to assist in knowledge sharing and the empowerment of local Aboriginal communities, devising targeted procurement policies that engage Aboriginal consultants and contractors, and supporting place-based initiatives that identify opportunities to support local communities, such as Aboriginal cultural tourism. 


17.1 Deliver opportunities to increase the economic independence of Aboriginal communities through training, employment and tourism.
17.2 Foster closer cooperation with Local Aboriginal Land Councils to identify the unique potential and assets of the North Coast communities.
17.3 Identify priority sites with economic development potential that Local Aboriginal Land Councils may wish to consider for further investigation.

Aboriginal heritage includes places and objects that are of significance to Aboriginal people because of their traditions, observances, lore, customs, beliefs and history, such as pre-contact, habitation and usage sites, burial sites, battle sites and camping, hunting or fishing sites. Aboriginal cultural heritage also relates to the connection and sense of belonging that people have with the landscape and with each other.

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.


18.1 Ensure Aboriginal objects and places are protected, managed and respected in accordance with legislative requirements and the wishes of local Aboriginal communities.
18.2 Undertake Aboriginal cultural heritage assessments to inform the design of planning and development proposals so that impacts to Aboriginal cultural heritage are minimised and appropriate heritage management mechanisms are identified.
18.3 Develop local heritage studies in consultation with the local Aboriginal community, and adopt appropriate measures in planning strategies and local plans to protect Aboriginal heritage.
18.4 Prepare maps to identify sites of Aboriginal heritage in ‘investigation’ areas, where culturally appropriate, to inform planning strategies and local plans to protect Aboriginal heritage.


Historic heritage is a major contributor to the region’s identity and character. It also has the capacity to generate economic value, particularly through tourism.

Developing local heritage studies in consultation with the wider community will help to identify and secure the ongoing protection and management of heritage items.

Regeneration of heritage assets through adaptive re-use can help preserve and restore heritage items and can deliver unique and exciting places that can be used well into the future. Where impacts from new development near heritage items and areas cannot be avoided, proposals that reduce impacts through sympathetic design should be developed, in accordance with relevant statutory processes.


19.1 Ensure best-practice guidelines are considered such as the Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Charter for Places of Cultural Significance and the NSW Heritage Manual when assessing heritage significance.
19.2 Prepare, review and update heritage studies in consultation with the wider community to identify and protect historic heritage items, and include appropriate local planning controls.
19.3 Deliver the adaptive or sympathetic use of heritage items and assets.

The distinctive and diverse character of communities defines the North Coast and makes it unique from other areas in NSW. The region’s character is drawn from its environment and environmentally responsive communities. Whether it’s the waterside communities that facilitated the early commerce via rivers and ports, the roads that follow historic farming trails through rolling terrain or the humble fishing shacks positioned to enjoy the climate, the region’s history acknowledges and celebrates the environment.

The North Coast Urban Design Guidelines (2009) were prepared to maintain the unique character of the region. As the North Coast grows, they will become increasingly important. A review of the guidelines will be undertaken to ensure they are still relevant and continue to protect the character of the region.


20.1 Deliver new high-quality development that protects the distinct character of the North Coast, consistent with the North Coast Urban Design Guidelines (2009).
20.2 Review the North Coast Urban Design Guidelines (2009).

New development should be located to take advantage of both existing and new road, water, sewer, social and stormwater infrastructure. The design of infrastructure should accommodate, wherever possible, the capacity for cost-effective expansion. This will maximise the efficient use of land, reduce costs and limit environmental impacts.

Detailed infrastructure service planning should be undertaken for new major release areas to establish that the land can be feasibly and cost-effectively serviced. This will support the timely and affordable release and development of land. 

Communications infrastructure is essential in increasing employment opportunities and satisfying the day-to-day communication needs of residents. In accordance with the Australian Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) initiative, a fibre-ready pit and pipe network that allows for the installation of Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) broadband service should be considered as part of local infrastructure planning.

The provision of sufficient space for cemeteries and crematoria for communities also needs to be addressed through future land use planning.

The North Coast Housing and Land Monitor will provide annual information about the rate at which housing and employment land is being developed across the region. This information will be used to prioritise future infrastructure and services to support growth.


21.1 Undertake detailed infrastructure service planning to support proposals for new major release areas.
21.2 Maximise the cost-effective and efficient use of infrastructure by directing development towards existing infrastructure or promoting the co-location of new infrastructure.

Page last updated: 17/09/2019