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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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The best region in Australia to live, work and play thanks to its spectacular environment and vibrant communities

The natural beauty of its environment continues not just to enrich the lives of its residents, but also to sustain a thriving tourism and lifestyle economy. The North Coast’s 15 World Heritage Areas are a symbol of its stunning biological diversity. The region’s natural environment is safeguarded and enhanced to deliver a prosperous future and to ensure that it remains one of the most beautiful parts of the State.


Adding to the attraction of the region is a network of cosmopolitan cities and centres linked by the Pacific Highway and interconnected to vibrant coastal, hinterland and rural communities.


The regional cities of Tweed Heads, Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie are the primary growth anchors, delivering new jobs, and more diverse housing as well as high quality essential services.


The cities are complemented by two strategic centres, Ballina and Grafton, with new housing and employment opportunities and major infrastructure, such as the Grafton Hospital and Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport. A network of attractive coastal and hinterland centres, such as Bellingen, Byron Bay, Casino, Kempsey, Kyogle, Murwillumbah and Macksville complement the cities and strategic centres.


By supporting local and creative industries, agriculture and tourism, reinforcing local character and providing greater housing choice, the network of centres has enlivened their communities and enhanced the region’s charm and community wellbeing.


Communities of interest deliver greater services and economic opportunities for residents and business.


Northern communities have established important links and are integrated with a burgeoning South East Queensland. Hinterland and rural communities are making the most of the increasing global demand for their high-quality agricultural products. Southern and coastal communities are building relationships and leveraging opportunities from the Pacific Highway upgrade.


This is a region where a myriad of lifestyles – rural, coastal, bohemian, cosmopolitan – and opportunities are available. This diversity and opportunity continues to make the North Coast one of the great places to live, work and visit.


To achieve this vision the NSW Government has acknowledged the importance of the environment and the opportunities of the Pacific Highway, South East Queensland and the region’s cities and centres and set the following regionally focused goals:

  • The most stunning environment in NSW
  • A thriving, interconnected economy
  • Vibrant and engaged communities
  • Great housing choice and lifestyle options


Planning principles guiding growth on the North Coast

Principle 1: Direct growth to identified urban growth areas

Urban growth areas have been identified to achieve a balance between urban expansion and protecting coastal and other environmental assets. They help maintain the distinctive character of the North Coast, direct growth away from significant farmland and sensitive ecosystems and enable efficient planning for infrastructure and services.


Maps of these areas are shown in the Local Government Narratives.


Principle 2: Manage the sensitive coastal strip

The coastal strip comprises land east of the planned Pacific Highway alignment plus the urban areas of Tweed Heads around the Cobaki Broadwater. The coastal strip is ecologically diverse and contains wetlands, lakes, estuaries, aquifers, significant farmland, and has areas of local, State, national and international environmental significance. Much of this land is also subject to natural hazards, including flooding, coastal inundation, erosion and recession.


Demand for new urban and rural residential land in this area is high. To safeguard the sensitive coastal environment, rural residential development will be limited in this area, and only minor and contiguous variations to urban growth area boundaries will be considered.


Principle 3: Provide great places to live and work in a unique environment

Making cities and centres the focus of housing diversity, jobs and activities makes communities more vibrant and active, reduces pressure on the environment, and makes it easier for residents to travel to work and access services.


The Plan guides councils in preparing local growth management strategies and planning proposals to deliver great places to live and work that maximise the advantages of the North Coast’s unique environment.


north coast settlement planning principles diagram


North Coast regional plan 2036

Click to enlarge.

north coast 2036 map 2017

A key component in the North Coast’s success

The Pacific Highway upgrade is one of the largest and most important projects ever undertaken in Australia. By 2020, approximately $15 billion will have been invested to deliver a four-lane divided highway through the North Coast, from Newcastle to Queensland.4 The focus for the future is to harness new opportunities that arise from the improved travel safety, reduced travel times, improved transport efficiency and lower freight transport costs. 

Economic development will continue to be leveraged off the highway upgrade with stronger connections between the region’s cities and centres as the engines of economic growth. The increased connectivity is building stronger partnerships and collaboration across communities of interest that will drive future prosperity.

The highway not only links the region together but connects it to the wider world. It is providing greater access to new markets and economic opportunities in adjoining regions, particularly the important and rapid growth in South East Queensland. Making the most of this access will underpin a vibrant economy that will deliver homes, jobs and infrastructure for the region’s communities.

Network of stronger cities and centres 

Leveraging and maximising the social and economic links being delivered by the Pacific Highway upgrade to cities and centres will provide business with access to new markets and offer residents greater choice in where to live and work.

Tweed Heads, Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie are regional cities. Ballina and Grafton are strategic centres and Kempsey, Macksville, Bellingen, Casino, Kyogle, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah are important centres. These cities and centres are the vibrant social and economic hubs of their surrounding communities.

By working together across councils, there are opportunities for more integrated communities of interest, such as Coffs Harbour-Clarence Valley and Kempsey-Port Macquarie. This will provide a diverse range of industry choices in areas that have the least constraints and greatest land availability.

Over the next 20 years, almost 77 per cent of population growth on the North Coast will be in the regional cities.5 There are opportunities for these regional cities to deliver greater housing choice, more jobs and services, and vibrant precincts that suit the needs of the growing and changing population.

To capitalise on these opportunities, action plans will be prepared for the regional cities to enable opportunities for growth and to manage development. A steering committee with representatives from each council will be established to oversee the coordination and implementation of these plans.

Cross-border opportunities with South East Queensland

South East Queensland is having a growing influence on the North Coast. The Pacific Highway and digital technology in particular are helping to spread the influence of South East Queensland beyond the border areas and through the region towards the Mid North Coast. The access being provided by the Pacific Highway will enable the North Coast to deliver housing, jobs, tourism and recreation activities that maximise the opportunities provided by the growth of South East Queensland to more than five million people by 2041.6

The Tweed Shire already has a strong relationship with the Gold Coast, which provides many services and facilities to the Far North Coast. Tweed Heads and Coolangatta function as ‘twin towns’, with retail and business opportunities as well as healthcare and education services used by residents from either side of the border.

Gold Coast Airport serves as the major international gateway to the region. Transport and economic linkages continue to develop between the rural hinterland areas of Lismore, Kyogle, Casino, Toowoomba, Beaudesert and the Darling Downs. New tourism and freight movement opportunities for the North Coast economy are also emerging from the expansion of the Gold Coast and Brisbane West Wellcamp airports.

The NSW Cross-Border Commissioner, the Queensland Government and councils will work together to better integrate cross-border servicing and land use planning to remove any barriers to economic, housing and jobs growth.

north coast interconnected communities map 834x1417px

The North Coast of NSW is undoubtedly one of the state’s most desirable places to live and work. 

More than 12 million people visit the region each year, making it also one of the great tourist attractions of the nation. 

With the State’s most biologically diverse environment and vibrant communities increasingly connected to economic powerhouses to the north and south, the North Coast has a solid foundation for a sustainable and prosperous future.

The North Coast Regional Plan 2036 is our blueprint for the next two decades that reflects community and stakeholder aspirations and opportunities from leveraging the North Coast’s position between two of the fastest growing population corridors in the nation.

The Pacific Highway is a critical link for Australia, NSW and the North Coast. Ongoing upgrades to the Highway and access to a series of regional and international airports will drive economic growth and bring communities closer together. 

Tourism, agribusiness and commerce throughout the region will benefit from vastly improved access to national and international markets, whilst our environment and vibrant communities will be showcased, energising an increasing resident population.

The region’s cities – Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Lismore and Tweed Heads – will be vibrant cosmopolitan hearts, accommodating more than three-quarters of the region’s population growth over the next 20 years, as well as supporting critical jobs growth and health and education services.

New housing will be also be accelerated in other centres to maximise existing services, meet the community’s diverse housing needs and to improve housing affordability. 

New release areas, including Cumbalum, Kings Forest, Cobaki and Thrumster will be new communities providing the North Coast with greater housing choice. 

By focusing growth in cities and centres we have protected the sensitive coastal strip, productive farmland and land with significant environmental and cultural values. 

This environment will be enhanced and managed to ensure future generations enjoy the same outstanding lifestyle that we have. 

The distinctive design and character of the North Coast will be promoted and cycling and walking paths will be extended and embellished as we support active and healthy lifestyles and greater enjoyment of the North Coast’s subtropical climate and natural beauty. 

We recognise the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr, Yaegl, Dunghutti and Biripi people are the traditional custodians of the North Coast region.

They are important partners in the economic, social and environmental future of the North Coast and we will work in greater collaboration into the future.  

The North Coast Regional Plan 2036 encompasses a vision, goals and actions geared towards delivering greater prosperity in the years ahead for those who live, work and visit this important region.

I urge everyone committed to the North Coast to work together to support its success.

Anthony Roberts MP

Minister for Planning 
Minister for Housing 
Special Minister of State

The Pacific Highway is unlocking the potential of one of Australia’s most beautiful places


The North Coast boasts more endemic plants and animals than any other NSW region.1 The subtropical climate and panoramic landscapes attract new residents and visitors, and support growing and thriving agriculture and tourism sectors.

The North Coast will harness the opportunities provided by its spectacular environment, growing cities and centres, and increasing connectivity between communities and with South East Queensland. Connectivity and prosperity will be delivered by significant infrastructure investment, led by the Pacific Highway and Gold Coast International Airport upgrades, which are expanding the global reach of the North Coast. 

The North Coast Regional Plan 2036 is the blueprint to deliver this exciting future. 

The Plan will guide the NSW Government’s land use planning priorities and decisions to 2036. It is not intended to be a step-by-step approach to all land use planning. Rather, it provides an overarching framework to guide subsequent and more detailed land use plans, development proposals and infrastructure funding decisions. While a series of priority actions are included, medium-and longer-term actions will be identified to coincide with population growth and economic change.

Priorities for each council are set out in Local Government Narratives, which will guide further investigations and implementation.

The Plan is the product of extensive consultation with councils, stakeholders and the wider community, conducted around a draft Plan in 2016. The feedback from this consultation has been integral to finalising the North Coast Regional Plan 2036.

The NSW Government has listened to the North Coast community and 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 handed out by the previous government. This Plan makes it manifestly clear that coal seam gas resources on the North Coast will remain in the ground.

Investment on the North Coast2

NSW Government investments on the North Coast include: 

  • a share of $1.5 billion in funding towards the upgrade of the Pacific Highway in 2016-2017, including more than $954 million towards the Woolgoolga to Ballina project; 
  • more than $110 million committed in 2016-2017 for upgrades to hospitals and health facilities, including over $75 million to fund the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment and $35 million for other health facilities; 
  • over $7 million in funding in 2016-2017 to fund upgrades to North Coast TAFE Institute campuses and facilities; and
  • $8.8 million funded by the Regional Tourism Infrastructure Fund for upgrades to Lismore, Ballina-Byron and Coffs Harbour airports, with an additional $9.5 million identified for potential further works to Ballina-Byron and Port Macquarie airports to boost their capacity, safety and ability to attract more visitors to regional NSW.3 
pacific hwy freight transport north coast regional airport passengers have increased by 250% North Coast tourism impact in 2016 north coast blue berry production north coast agriculture gross value is $930million between 2014 and 2015 North Coast gross regional product is $20billion New Dwelling Construction in North Coast 2016 to 2036 North Coast population growth from 2016 to 2036


The NSW Government’s commitment

To deliver the North Coast Regional Plan 2036, all levels of government, the private sector and the community will need to work together. The Plan will be incorporated into each stakeholder’s future activities.


The NSW Government has established the North Coast Delivery, Coordination and Monitoring Committee to deliver, coordinate and be accountable for achieving the vision and goals of the Plan (see below). This is a new dedicated body that will comprise councils and State agencies. It will listen and work with all stakeholders and the community to make sure that growth is aligned with infrastructure and delivered in the right places and at the right time.


North Coast Delivery, Coordination and Monitoring Committee

Coordination Delivery Accountability
  • Aligning across Government
  • Partnering with local government
  • Informing infrastructure priorities
  • Guiding investment
  • Listening to the community
  • Actioning the Implementation Plan 
  • Directing local growth
  • Supporting local planning
  • Monitoring activity and trends
  • Publishing annual reports and information
  • Revising and adjusting directions towards goals


The Committee will implement this Plan, prioritising the actions needed to seize on immediate and emerging opportunities for the region. In the short term, its focus will be on supporting cities, cross-border planning, and managing important farmland, renewable energy projects and tourism opportunities. Over time, new priorities will be identified to support growth and change in the region. Funding will be coordinated for regional infrastructure covering transport, health, education, open space, recreation, emergency services and justice. 

This Plan sets regional planning priorities and provides guidance and direction for regional and local planning decisions. It identifies where to focus new housing and jobs to deliver social and economic benefits. The Plan sets in place strategic, line-of-sight land use planning for the region and each local government area. Line-of-sight planning will support strategic-led planning and transparency by establishing clear objectives that will guide on-the-ground outcomes.

An Implementation Plan for 2017-2019 accompanies this Plan.

Regional district planning may be undertaken through a partnership with all stakeholders, led by the Committee. Priorities for regional district planning are highlighted in this Plan where matters cross jurisdictional boundaries.

A Government direction will be issued to councils so that when they prepare new planning proposals or update local planning controls, they are consistent with the directions and actions outlined in the Plan. The Committee will support the preparation of local growth management strategies that translate the vision and guiding principles of this Plan into more detailed priorities for growth and change that can be applied at the local level. 


The Committee will monitor and review progress towards achieving the vision and goals for 2036. This will help prioritise infrastructure delivery and influence policy settings.

An annual report will be prepared that presents indicators for housing, employment, communities and the environment, as well as advice to government on the delivery of short-term actions. The report will also include an annual review and, if necessary, an update of the appendices, and urban growth area maps. This monitoring will be conducted in partnership with councils. Every five years, or as necessary, the Plan will be reviewed and adjusted to make sure the vision for 2036 is realised.

Local Growth Management Strategies

Local growth management strategies will be prepared by councils to reflect the directions and actions contained in this Plan. Guidelines will be prepared to help councils develop local growth management strategies, which will be developed prior to preparing a local environmental plan to zone land for residential, rural residential, commercial and industrial land uses.

State planning hierarchy


north coast state planning hierarchy 400x330px

Page last updated: 17/09/2019