Coastal Reforms in New South Wales - The Next Stage

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On Tuesday, 3 April, coastal reforms in NSW took another step forward. The Coastal Management Act 2016 commenced, replacing the Coastal Protection Act 1979. In addition, a new Coastal Management SEPP came into effect and a new Coastal Management Manual was gazetted.

These reforms have been discussed and debated for some years. There was little doubt that previous legislation, policies and guidance documents required revision. Teams in two agencies, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and Department of Planning and Environment, worked on the reform process since 2012. Advice obtained from a Coastal Expert Panel assisted the various teams and the Ministers responsible for the reforms. I felt very privileged to have participated in the process.

The new Act has 13 key objects which underpin the vision to manage the coastal environment in a manner consistent with the principles of ESD for the “social, cultural and economic well-being of the people of the State”. These objectives are wide-ranging and flow into other provisions of the Act in ways to reinforce the intent of the legislation. The Act recognises seven different coastal hazards and divides the coastal zone into four areas. Local councils are to use these areas to achieve the objects of the Act through the development and implementation of what are termed Coastal Management Programs (CMPs). The new SEPP assists in mapping these areas, for the first time as interactive spatial data, and providing development controls appropriate to each of the four areas. Councils will be able to use a staged approach as outlined in the new Manual to assist in delivery of the reforms assisted where possible by State support.

A new Coastal Council has been established under the new Act. The existing Coastal Panel continues in a transitional phase given certain responsibilities that were not transferred to the new Council. Council’s functions are set out in Section 25 of the Act. They include advice to the Minister responsible for the Act, currently the Minister for the Environment, and a role to undertake performance audits on the implementation of CMPs (see Section 26). The Council will not serve as a consent authority in a way similar to the Coastal Panel.

The State Government has made funds available to support the coastal reform process. Details of the funding process are available from OEH. NSW is also fortunate in having a sound technical and scientific base to assist in coastal management by councils, agencies and communities.

The stage has now been set for implementing these coastal reforms. It will take time and patience. There is an expectation that they will improve the way the NSW coast meets the challenges of population growth; property and infrastructure development; maintaining environmental health, public access and amenity; mitigating impacts of extreme events and climate change; and as set out in Object 3 (g), managing coastal use and development in areas where there exists an inherently ambulatory and dynamic shoreline resulting in possible loss of land to the sea.

The NSW reforms are introduced at a time when many other states are also reviewing and modernising their coastal legislation and policies. Over time, the outcomes from NSW reforms will add to a national view of how successful we are meeting our commitment to sustainable management of our precious coast.


Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author’s thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2018, posted 5 April 2018, for correspondence about this blog post please email