Lower Hunter Regional Sustainability Planning and Strategic Assessment

On 14 August 2012, the Australian and New South Wales governments entered into an agreement to undertake regional sustainability planning and a collaborative strategic assessment of the Lower Hunter region of NSW, in accordance with Section 146 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Sustainable Regional Development program
The Australian Government has invested $29.2 million into the Sustainable Regional Development program. This program aims to secure a sustainable future for Australia's high growth areas and is one of the measures under Sustainable Australia - Sustainable Communities: A Population Strategy for Australia.

The focus of this program is to protect matters of national environmental significance in selected high growth regions. The Lower Hunter will be the first region to benefit from this program.

Spotted Gum Ironbark Forest

Spotted gum ironbark forest, Hunter Valley
Copyright: Chris Tzaros

About the Lower Hunter region

The Lower Hunter is Australia's sixth largest urban area and is expected to continue to grow as more people are attracted to the area for the opportunities and lifestyle available. There are many significant environmental assets worth protecting in the region, including habitat for the swift parrot and regent honeyeater. It is important to get the planning right to give business and communities greater certainty about the future.

What does regional sustainability planning in the Lower Hunter involve?

Regional sustainability planning is a collaborative process involving all levels of government working together to foster economic prosperity, liveable communities and environmental sustainability. In the Lower Hunter, the regional sustainability planning process has involved two main stages. First, the Australian and NSW governments worked together to identify key knowledge gaps and scientific research to inform sustainability planning for the Lower Hunter region. This work to date has complemented and informed the NSW government review of the NSW Lower Hunter regional strategy and Lower Hunter regional conservation plan. The second stage is to undertake a strategic assessment of proposed urban development and related infrastructure corridors.

What is the scope of the Lower Hunter strategic assessment?

The Lower Hunter strategic assessment will assess broad environmental, social and economic sustainability aspects within the local government areas of Newcastle, Maitland, Cessnock, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens (Figure 1). The strategic assessment incorporates urban development areas and associated infrastructure corridors, with a focus on matters of national environmental significance protected under national environmental law. Through endorsement and approval under this law, the strategic assessment will streamline environmental regulation and provide greater certainty for business and local communities.

Map of the Lower Hunter Region - Click to enlarge map

Figure 1. Map of Lower Hunter region

What are the Australian Government's funds used for?

Funding has been made available through the Sustainable Regional Development program to undertake research and collect data to inform regional sustainability planning in the Lower Hunter region (see research projects). A grant of $400,000 was provided to Lake Macquarie Council to engage, collaborate with communities and build local capacity for sustainability planning. Outcomes from the Lake Macquarie City Council regional sustainability planning project are:

 

Research projects

Research projects to address key information gaps in the Lower Hunter region are nearing completion. The final reports from these research projects will be published on this website as they are completed. A description of each project and completed reports are provided below.

Swift parrot

Swift parrot (Lathamus discolor)
Copyright: Chris Tzaros

Regent Honeyeater

Regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia)
Copyright: Chris Tzaros

 

Research projects for the Lower Hunter region include:

Swift parrot and Regent honeyeater habitat assessment and mapping

The Swift parrot and Regent honeyeater habitat assessment and mapping study has identified the extent and quality of foraging habitat, breeding sites, movement corridors and recoverable habitat for both species in the Lower Hunter region. These two species overlap closely in range and habitat usage and the study has provided critical information on potential vegetation corridors and protected area networks within the Lower Hunter region.

Grey-headed flying-fox management strategy for the Lower Hunter

Research into the Grey-headed flying-fox was undertaken to develop a management strategy for the species in the Lower Hunter region. The research focused on existing scientific information about the local flying-fox population, the history of previous management attempts and experience in similar situations elsewhere. The contract for this project was awarded to GeoLINK. The final strategy, provided below, was completed following consultation with key stakeholders  in October 2012.

Commonwealth-owned lands mapping

The Commonwealth lands mapping project resulted in a consistent and comprehensive spatial data set for Commonwealth-owned and managed land in the Lower Hunter region. The results of this mapping provide an opportunity for further targeted work in other regions using methods identified through this project. The information gathered as part of the project supplements existing data held by the Department for the region and will assist with land management decision-making processes. This is particularly relevant for activities that may impact on the environment under the EPBC Act. The information will also be made available to state and local governments to assist with regional sustainability planning activities.

The contract was awarded to OMNILink. The final report for this project is provided below.

Lower Hunter vegetation mapping

The vegetation mapping project involved mapping and assessing existing native vegetation in the Lower Hunter region. The purpose of this project was to identify and make recommendations regarding high priority conservation areas and key threatening processes (e.g. land clearing, mining, climate change, fire, and introduced species such as weeds, feral cats, rabbits and changes in hydrology) that have the potential to impact on vegetation and threatened flora and fauna species. The outcomes of this research support regional sustainability planning activities by informing decision making for the NSW Lower Hunter Regional Strategy and NSW Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan.

The contract was awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff. The final report for this project is provided below.

EPBC Act listed ecological communities mapping

The EPBC Act listed ecological communities mapping project gathered and consolidated information on EPBC Act listed ecological communities from federal, state and local government agencies. It  incorporates information gathered from the Lower Hunter vegetation mapping project outlined above. The project addresses a key knowledge gap identified by local, state and Australian governments in relation to the Lower Hunter region. Information gathered in this study has been collated into a mapping product suitable for use by decision makers in the Lower Hunter region.

The contract was awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff. The final report for this project is provided below.

Resilience to natural hazards in the Lower Hunter region

The resilience to natural hazards study involved research and consultation with key stakeholders to develop a discussion paper on opportunities for improved natural hazards resilience planning under varying development scenarios in the Lower Hunter region. Planning for natural hazards has become increasingly difficult due to climate change uncertainty and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. It is now recognised that planning approaches need to reflect anticipated natural hazard risks to prevent (where possible), or reduce the impact on communities. This project provides recommendations for future research, policy development and/or capacity building programs related to resilience planning for natural hazards in the Lower Hunter region.

The contract was awarded to AECOM. The final report for this project is provided below.

Lower Hunter Koala study

The Lower Hunter Koala study has collated best available information from experts, published literature and mapping, to fill current knowledge gaps about the Koala in the Lower Hunter region. This research will be used to provide recommendations for the long-term conservation of this species within the Lower Hunter region and will provide a robust, scientific basis for decision-making in relation to potential urban and associated infrastructure development and conservation scenarios.

The contract was awarded to EcoLogical Australia. The final report for this project is provided below.

Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area values study

The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area values study involved the assessment of complementary world heritage values in the Lower Hunter region, through investigating relevant portions of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and adjacent lands. This study was conducted to identify potential threats to world heritage values as a result of development and identifies conservation scenarios and potential measures to protect, maintain and improve world heritage values in the region.

The contract was awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff. The final report for this project is provided below.

Lower Hunter important agricultural lands

The Lower Hunter important agricultural lands project involved undertaking an assessment of agricultural lands within the Lower Hunter region to identify potential threats and measures to protect important agricultural lands. Rural landscapes have played a significant role in the settlement and development of the Lower Hunter region and are predicted to continue to have significant value associated with social and cultural heritage, rural production and scenic amenity. Many of these areas are currently under pressure from development associated with tourism, recreational activities and sub-division for rural lifestyle plots.

The contract was awarded to HCCREMS. The final report for this project is provided below.

Proximity of residential blocks to open space in the Lower Hunter region

Open spaces provide areas for recreation, exercise and socialising. They can provide valuable contributions to surrounding ecosystems and can play a vital role in the physical and psychological health of people living in urban communities. Using the Lower Hunter as a pilot region, the open space study investigated the proximity of residential blocks to open space and used sustainability metrics to determine the proportion of Lower Hunter communities living within close proximity to open space. This approach is used internationally and the study demonstrates how this method can be adopted in Australia to improve planning outcomes.

This project was undertaken by the Department. The final report is provided below.

Planning for green open space in urbanising landscapes

Green open space is a key component for social and environmental sustainability. Many metrics exists to guide the planning and configuration of open space, however there is a lack of data about how to achieve a diversity of social and environmental goals when creating open space. The aim of this project was to provide high quality, practical data to inform the open space planning approaches in Australia. The study involved a literature review, a paper based survey of community values in four case study suburbs in the Lower Hunter using public participation GIS, followed by an analysis of the key social and biophysical variables that contribute to a range of benefits of open space.

This project was undertaken by the Environmental Decisions Hub of the National Environmental Research Program. The final report is provided below.

Mapping community values for regional sustainability in the Lower Hunter region

Community values broadly refer to the social values and development preferences that individuals assign to places on the landscape. The National Environmental Research Program's Landscapes and Policy Hub was engaged to assess community values for regional sustainability in the Lower Hunter. The project used a map based mail survey of rural and urban residents to identify particular places valued by each group. The survey results were used to generate maps of community values to biodiversity and preferences for conservation and development. The project developed a robust methodology for eliciting community values for natural and built features and provided policy recommendations to assist sustainability planning in the Lower Hunter region. The final report is provided below.

General approach to planning connectivity from local scales to regional (GAP CLoSR)

Habitat fragmentation as a result of human activity is a key threat to natural systems, resulting in landscapes that support smaller, more isolated populations of native species. A consequence is reduced population viability and increased extinction risk. Mitigation efforts often focus on identifying, conserving and restoring habitat patches to maintain connectivity through wildlife corridors or scattered trees that function as stepping-stones for dispersal. This study has developed a decision support framework - the General Approach to Planning Connectivity from Local Scales to Regional (GAP CLoSR)-  to identify and prioritise where re-vegetation and habitat restoration works can best be targeted to most ecologically and cost-effectively link existing habitat patches at regional and local scales. This project was undertaken by the Landscape and Policy Hub of the National Environmental Research Program.  The final report, describing the development of the prototype framework in the Lower Hunter Region of New South Wales, is provided below.

Next Steps

The above research outcomes will be helpful inputs into the continuing Lower Hunter strategic assessment process.

How to contact us

For more information contact:

Regional Sustainability Planning
Department of the Environment
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Email: rsp@environment.gov.au