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Watercourse, Wetlands and Riparian Lands Study

Update - December 2023

Since the completion of the public exhibition Council has been consulting the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (the Department) on the proposals as part of a special “pilot project”.

In late November 2023, Council received final advice from the Department about the project. Amongst other things, that advice directed Council to:

  • retain existing conservation zoning throughout the Local Government Area, and
  • remove natural hazard criteria (e.g. bushfire prone or flood prone land) and “Medium Environmental Value” criteria from the zoning methodology

Council is currently amending its Conservation Zones criteria and re-mapping the outcomes for further consideration.

Upon completion of this work and other work associated with Council’s new Local Environmental Plan (LEP), a report will be presented to Council (mid-2024) to endorse a Planning Proposal for submission to the Department for a ‘Gateway Determination’. The Planning Proposal and updated draft land use zoning maps will be placed on statutory public exhibition following endorsement by Council and the issue of a Gateway Determination by the Department.

Project updates

This calendar year (2023), we have been finalising a draft of the new Northern Beaches Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP) to provide our community with a clearer, simpler, and fairer set of planning rules.

This has included a series of meetings with the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) on the Conservation Zones Review. We are currently waiting on written advice from DPE to finalise the Review methodology and other key aspects of the draft LEP.

In the interim, we commenced a program of engagement with the Councillors to discuss proposed LEP content based on the community feedback we have already received.

In 2024, we aim to report to Council a draft LEP for submission to DPE for approval, also referred to as ‘Gateway Determination’.

Once we receive the Gateway Determination, we will prepare the LEP for public exhibition together with a draft DCP. The exact timing of reports to Council and public exhibition relies upon the receipt of final written advice from DPE, the timing of the Gateway Determination from DPE, and the interrelationship of these key decisions with the timing of Local Government Elections (September 2024).

You can view the project timeline at the end of our ‘Planning our Sustainable Future’ webpage.

Pilot Project with Department of Planning and Environment (DPE)

We have completed a series of meetings with the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) as part of a ‘Pilot Project’ and now we are awaiting their formal advice which we are expecting in early September.

This advice may result in changes to the Conservation Zones Review methodology depending on DPE’s final views on each of the environment and hazard criteria proposed for use in the methodology (see draft methodology).

Once we receive this advice, we will prepare updated mapping of relevant criteria and review the outcomes against previous community submissions to determine the impacts. We anticipate that this process will in many cases resolve the concerns raised in these submissions.

Site Investigations

As resolved at Council’s meeting 23 August 2022, we will undertake an independent review, including a site inspection, where there remains a dispute about rezoning of land under the Review. These independent reviews cannot commence until we receive the DPE advice, re-runs the maps and reviews the impacts on land that may be the subject of a dispute.

Impact on the LEP/DCP Process

The Conservation Zones Pilot Project has resulted in delays to the LEP/DCP Program. Consequently, the updated methodology for the Conservation Zones Review is likely to finalised by late 2023 and the draft LEP/DCP will now go to Council in 2024, with the statutory public exhibition expected in late 2024/early 2025.

Pilot Project with Department of Planning and Environment (DPE)

Earlier in March, Council met with the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) to discuss a Pilot Project to further investigate the methodology and mapping used in our Conservation Zones Review and to explore potential changes to address community and stakeholder feedback.

This is important because the Department will have the final say about any proposed zoning changes resulting from the Review.

Site visit requests and mapping Investigations

We have also undertaken a review of all the submissions to the public exhibition. This has shown:

  • Over three hundred submissions raised concerns with the accuracy of mapping, including approximately fifty which requested a site visit.
  • Approximately forty submissions requested a site visit based on their concerns about the methodology.

We are conducting a desktop/ online assessment of those submissions which raised issues with mapping accuracy. This work will continue over the next few months concurrently with the Department of Planning and Environment Pilot Program.

Once we reach agreement with the Department of Planning and Environment on a revised methodology, site inspections will be arranged for landowners whose submissions on mapping have not been resolved.

Due to the timing of the Pilot Project with the Department, site visits may not now commence until July/August. We will contact those who requested a site visit to notify them of the delay.

Whilst Council is considering changes to its methodology to address submissions received, it does not propose to conduct site visits where a submission requests one based on methodology, as specific site conditions will not impact methodology.

We are aiming to complete all relevant work by early September.

The outcomes from the Review will help us develop a draft Northern Beaches Local Environmental Plan and Development Control Plan, which will be presented to Council and exhibited for community feedback in 2024.

We will continue to keep you updated.

We anticipate many of the issues raised can be resolved by potential changes to the draft methodology which Council is currently investigating.

Where areas of dispute remain about the accuracy of Council mapping of criteria used in the review, we will engage relevant consultants and contact those landowners who have requested a site inspection.

We are expecting to commence site visits from May 2023.

We are also meeting with the Department of Planning and Environment to discuss the Review, the submissions received, and possible changes. This is important because the Department will have the final say about any proposed zoning changes resulting from the Review.

The outcomes from the Review will help us develop a draft Northern Beaches Local Environmental Plan and Development Control Plan, which will be presented to Council and exhibited for community feedback in 2024.

We will continue to keep you updated.

Consultation outcomes

We have reviewed all 935 submissions received in response to the public exhibition of the Conservation Zones Review and Technical Studies. We received 63 submissions relating to the Watercourse, Wetlands and Riparian Lands Study.

The main aim of this exhibition was to seek feedback on a draft methodology for the use of Conservation Zones across the Northern Beaches.

You can read the Consultation Report below which summarises the key issues and Council’s response to this feedback. You can also view the redacted submissions received through the public exhibition. The snapshot is also a great overview of the issues raised.

If you have any questions about this study or the consultation outcomes, please call the Strategic and Place Planning Team on 1300 434 434.

Engagement history

We are creating one new planning framework that will guide and manage future development in the Northern Beaches.

Our planning framework is made up of a Local Environmental Plan (LEP) which is used to control development of land in a Local Government Area and a Development Control Plan (DCP) which provides detailed local planning and design guidelines to support the planning controls in the LEP. A new LEP and DCP for the Northern Beaches will provide a clearer, simpler and fairer set of planning rules.

To establish these rules, we have carried out several technical studies to identify the issues and recommend controls for specific environmental characteristics.

One of those studies is the Draft Watercourse, Wetlands and Riparian Lands Study. This study reviewed the existing controls relating to watercourses, wetlands and riparian lands and identified new riparian and wetland buffers to be incorporated into a new LEP and DCP.

Your feedback on our Draft Watercourse, Wetlands and Riparian Lands Study will help us understand if we have got the right balance of due diligence and avoiding difficult development application requirements.

Note: Council recently picked up an error in the mapping tool. The buffer zone has now been correctly updated to 30m from the riparian corridor, as described in the Study, rather than 40m from watercourse centreline, as was previously presented. This will be reflected in any further exhibition of the maps through the Draft DCP process. This error does not affect the Conservation Zone Review mapping and proposed zone changes.

Snapshot of the study

The Draft Watercourse, Wetlands and Riparian Lands Study (the Study) summarises a series of technical studies undertaken by environmental consulting firm BMT Commercial Australia Pty Ltd, which reviewed existing planning controls across the three former Councils (Manly, Warringah, Pittwater) associated with watercourse, wetland and riparian matters, and provided recommendations and updated mapping to be incorporated into a single Northern Beaches Council Local Environment Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP).

The Study comprises Council’s objectives, key terms and definitions, and a draft set of watercourse and wetland maps, including proposed buffers to riparian corridors and wetlands, that apply a consistent mapping methodology across the local government area (LGA).

Northern Beaches LGA has seven major catchments which drain to our coastal lagoons, directly on to the beaches, or into North Harbour, Middle Harbour and Pittwater. Approximately 637 kilometres of watercourses and 240 hectares of wetlands are in the LGA.

Watercourses, wetlands and the riparian land surrounding them are important ecological systems that support aquatic and terrestrial habitat and wildlife, provide connectivity and biodiversity, reduce impacts from stormwater runoff and pollution, and contribute to the character, aesthetics and recreational value of the local area. It is important to protect these areas not only for their own intrinsic significance, but also for the benefits they provide in terms of downstream waterbodies and in modulating flood response.

Northern Beaches Council aims to protect, enhance and restore watercourses, wetlands and riparian land while ensuring protection of public and private property across the Northern Beaches. Council must consider the environmental impacts and risks associated with development adjacent to watercourses and wetlands before giving development consent. The three former Councils mapped and assessed watercourses and wetlands differently, so this Study is necessary to provide a fair and consistent mapping methodology across the LGA.

The outcomes of the Study include:

  • Consistent terms and definitions regarding watercourse, wetlands and riparian land.
  • Objectives to protect or improve the environmental values and functioning of watercourses, wetlands, and riparian land
  • Delineation of riparian corridor widths based on stream order and State Government guidelines, and the development of watercourse categories based on vegetation mapping - Category 1 (Native Vegetation) and Category 2 (Disturbed and Cleared).
  • Proposed additional 30 metre buffer for riparian corridors on each side of the watercourse. A 100 metre buffer is proposed from the edge of wetlands.
  • New proposed watercourse and wetland maps including proposed riparian and wetland buffers for inclusion in the Northern Beaches LEP/DCP (

The Study and associated maps provide a consistent and evidence-based approach to mapping watercourse and wetland values and buffers across the LGA.

Is the proposed approach to mapping watercourse, riparian corridors, wetlands and associated buffers in the Study a fair way of ensuring that impacts of development on watercourses, riparian corridors and wetlands are adequately considered?

Read more about the technical studies that informed the Conservation Zones Review

Our Conservation Zones Review has been informed by a series of technical studies that identify areas with high environmental value and significant environmental hazards.

You can find out more about each of the technical studies by clicking on the boxes below.

Have a question?

To learn more about this study, please contact:

Name Strategic and Place Planning
Phone 1300 434 434 (during business hours)
Email council@northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au
Website www.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au
In writing

Marked 'Watercourse, Wetlands and Riparian Study', Northern Beaches Council, PO Box 82 Manly NSW 1655.