Adapting to sea level rise

24 August 2010

The NSW Government has now finalised and published the NSW Coastal Planning Guideline: Adapting to Sea Level Rise.

This document has a number of flaws. In our original submission responding to the exhibition draft we raised serious concerns with the underlying philosophy of this document.

Many of the points we raised have not been addressed in the final document, nonetheless, we were able to secure some improvements on the exhibition draft.

Most importantly, on page 2, “coastal risk areas” are defined to be those areas “currently at risk and those additional areas that are likely to be at risk in the future as sea level continues to rise unless the impacts of sea level rise can be effectively mitigated“.

The reference to the effective mitigation of sea level rise, may allow individual developers to demonstrate that engineering solutions will adequately deal with sea level rise in an area. If this case can be made out, the land may therefore be excluded from a “coastal risk area”.

Less satisfactory is the inclusion of section 2.3 “Sea level rise investigation areas for strategic planning”. This provision allows back-of-the-envelope maps to be prepared to show “potential coastal risk areas”, prior to the completion of robust studies.

While the document says that these areas “should not be included in environmental planning instruments such as LEPs, or in DCPs until they can be confirmed by relevant local studies”, the document also says that “consideration should be given to not increasing the zoning intensity in sea level rise investigation areas without more detailed information”.

Please note, low-lying urban areas some distance from the coast may be impacted by such maps because a “coastal risk” includes tidal inundation. The guideline says that areas where tidal water flows back up the stormwater drains in king tides may be affected.

More information is here.