Sea level rise background information

2009 to 2012 NSW Government policy and guidelines

In 2009 the NSW Government issued the NSW Sea Level Policy Statement and the Draft Sea Level Rise Planning Guidelines. These acknowledged that increased sea levels will have significant long-term social, economic and environmental impacts.

The policy stated that sea level rise will have medium to long-term impacts and cited that national and international projections of sea level rise along the NSW coast are for a rise of 40cm by 2050 and 90 cm by 2100. The policy statement set these levels as benchmarks for councils across the state to use in their planning instruments and processes to assess development applications.

2010 to 2012 Council's actions

In February 2010, and following the NSW Government guidelines, we began an extensive community information process to address how we would incorporate sea level rise in our planning instruments. The consultation included four public information sessions, media, advertising and letters to community groups and stakeholders.

This led to the preparation of a draft Interim Sea Level Rise Adaptation Policy for Council and in March 2010, this draft was placed on public exhibition. The community was invited to attend three community consultation sessions and provide further feedback.

In July 2010, after considering submissions, legal advice and the NSW Government's guidelines, Council adopted the Interim Sea Level Rise Adaptation Policy as a temporary measure until the full scope of hazards and risk associated with sea level rise were identified through the preparation of a Coastal Zone Management Plan. The interim policy's objective is to provide guidance to Council on how the Sea Level Rise threat will be considered and managed to give certainty to landowners, transparency, and to ensure Council's assessment of development applications is consistent.

2013 NSW Government changes in policy decision

In February 2013, the NSW Government commenced Stage 1 of the NSW Coastal Reforms which included a significant change in their policy position on sea level rise.

Underpinning these reforms was the decision to rescind the 2009 NSW Sea Level Policy Statement in September 2012. From this time, the NSW Government no longer recommended state-wide sea level rise projections. Instead it decided to provide information on available sea level rise projections to assist councils to develop projections relevant to their local area. The NSW Government also began investigating options to provide councils with access to expert advice.

In a letter from the Minister to all coastal councils, the NSW Government advised councils that:

the setting of a single set of projections did not satisfactorily reflect local conditions and that the NSW Government no longer recommends state-wide sea level rise projections but rather encourages councils to adopt locally relevant projections as appropriate, and that, councils should consider adopting a range of sea level rise projections that are widely accepted by competent scientific opinion, to minimise their potential liability.

The NSW Government also said that it was preparing advice to all councils that would help them guide the preparation and use of Section 149 planning certificates and provide much needed certainty for local communities on how these certificates would refer to future coastal hazards.

The above changes were a move away from the NSW Government's previous position on sea level rise and meant that local councils now needed to determine the most appropriate scientific advice to consider sea level rise in their local context.

In June 2013, legal advisers gave a presentation to Eurobodalla Shire councillors on the legal issue of sea level rise. Councillors were advised that the Council had a duty in a number of areas of law to consider climate change, particularly in the area of planning law and that there was a legal obligation for Council to consider sea level rise. The advice went on to say that we must rely on the best competent science available and at that time it was the former NSW Government benchmarks. At the same time, Councillors received similar advice from their insurers.

2014 - 15 Council adopts regional Sea Level Rise planning response

We adopted at the South Coast Regional Sea Level Rise Planning and Policy Response on 25 November 2014.  The regional approach was developed in partnership with Shoalhaven City Council with the aim of replacing the former State guidelines with a regionally relevant response.

Following this, we wrote and adopted the Interim Coastal Hazard Adaptation Code.  The Code allows Council to meet its legal and planning obligations to recognise sea level rise. The code will be replaced following completion of a coastal zone management plan.