SEQ Regional Plan
Formal submissions to the Queensland Government’s ShapingSEQ draft SEQ Regional Plan closed at midnight Friday 3 March 2017. Discussions at the MBQC2016 Forum indicated there were concerns about significant omissions in the draft plan (see e.g. Redlands2030 article).
Of particular concern were the limited references to readily available scientific evidence and Indigenous knowledge, and the failure to acknowledge the vital role Moreton Bay plays in determining the livability and overall health of the SEQ region. For additional concerns see Submission Topics.
A group of forum organisers and participants met in early February 2017 to outline a response to the draft plan based on the evidence presented and feedback received during the November 2016 MBQC Forum. Recognising the need for long-term engagement with the issues, it was decided an offer of ongoing collaboration with government policy and decision makers provided the best opportunity for positive impact in the region.
UQ Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts, in his role as Chair of the Moreton Bay (Quandamooka) and Catchment Forum 2016, submitted the letter below to the DILGP, the Hon Jackie Trad and the Ministers and Mayors of the South East Queensland Regional Planning Committee.
Protecting the values of Moreton Bay and the region through the Shaping SEQ Plan
A submission by Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts in his role as Chair of the Moreton Bay (Quandamooka) and Catchment Forum 2016.
The authors and contributors to the ShapingSEQ Draft Plan must be congratulated on the outcomes of their hard work and diligence. It is most welcome to see recognition of the extent and likely impacts of climate change and the need for adaptive responses. It also wisely prioritises liveability, the retention of agriculture, the protection of greenspace, wildlife corridors and biodiversity over resource extraction. It roundly captures the qualities important to our subtropical lifestyle, while giving serious attention to the need to use infill to reduce urban sprawl. Nevertheless, given the extreme importance that this Plan will have in shaping our region through the years ahead, it is with due respect that I would like to present some outcomes from our November 2016 Moreton Bay (Quandamooka) and Catchment Forum (MBQC2016).
The MBQC2016 Forum was held to provide an update to the Moreton Bay and Catchment Conference 1996. It brought together a range of stakeholders including Traditional Owners, and participants from the sciences, recreation, industry and residents.
The Forum was presented with the current state of knowledge from 10 topic clusters:
· Indigenous Knowledge and Culture;
· Water Quality, Land-Use and Land-Cover;
· Habitats, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function;
· Citizen Science;
· Education and Research Infrastructure;
· Moreton Bay Marine Park;
· Communities and Values;
· History and Change in Moreton Bay; and
Overall, there was clear recognition of the great need for sensible regional planning and growth management through the integration of community interests and key values. Further, it was clear that an evidence-based strategy is needed to ensure effective implementation.
The purpose of this submission to ShapingSEQ is to point out constructive ways to help the eventual plan most effectively meet its goals.
What’s Missing from the Shaping SEQ Plan
The DRAFT Plan has jobs and population growth as the principal drivers and objectives, which is understandable given the economic imperatives of the region. However, nowhere is there a clear presentation of the background data and accumulated knowledge that would allow the document’s conclusions to be more easily understood and assessed. To ensure the plan’s efficacy, it needs to be guided by a model that acknowledges the current state of the environment, the pressures impacting that environment, and the expected responses. For example: how will the infill strategy be implemented such that it not only copes with population growth, but is also sensitive to the ecosystem carrying capacity, particularly in regard to maintaining the currently prevailing environmental values and sensitivities?
Of particular concern is that Moreton Bay and the Bay Islands are scarcely mentioned in the document. Their inclusion is vital, as the health of the Bay is a powerful measure of the effectiveness of integrated regional planning and management. The latest Report Card from Healthy Waterways scores Moreton Bay as a “C”. Given that the objective of the Shaping SEQ Plan is to improve the lives of the residents, then the Moreton Bay Report Card score should be seen as a major index to the success of local and state government management. Further the underlying method of scoring these report cards should be integrated into future planning so as to forecast the impacts on the Bay of changes in management strategies and projected future scenarios (e.g., population growth).
The draft Plan lists Great Places of SEQ, but the examples are all of built environments. Including natural and cultural places as well is vital if we are to capture the soul of SEQ. For example, the beautiful and diverse coral reefs found within Moreton Bay, the mangroves and culturally significant waters of Myora Springs, the pristine waters and beaches of the eastern Bay, and the major seagrass beds that nurture the threatened Dugong and migratory bird species, respectively.
Similarly, the document fails to acknowledge the diverse range of users who regularly spend time on or near the region’s waterways. Residents of the Bay Islands, traditional owners, commercial and recreational fishers, boating enthusiasts, divers, snorkelers, surfers, beach goers, campers, birdwatchers, photographers, artists, teachers and scientists, etc.
The governance structure and implementation process for the Plan needs to be very clear. Much is left to the interpretation of local councils where individual decisions are often made that do not adequately consider cumulative impacts, and fail to comply with planning goals. Implementation of the Plan needs to include specific provisions for monitoring of local assessment and decision processes to ensure appropriate application of the overall Plan’s objectives.
Further, the regional plan is embedded in and affected by international, national, and state plans and agreements. This nested arrangement and interdependency is overlooked. One such example is the potential impacts of the Toondah Harbour Priority Development Area plans on Moreton Bay. This proposed dredging and reclamation of over 40 hectares is a contravention of the international Ramsar agreement deeming Moreton Bay a Wetland of International Importance.
Some Recommendations for the Plan
The discussions held at the MBQC2016 and subsequently, indicate that there is both a desire and a need for greater community input, and there are numerous avenues that should be explored for very constructive community involvement, particularly at the catchment level.
Already available to the ShapingSEQ Plan is an extensive knowledge of the region’s natural resources, cutting edge novel approaches to urban design, ways to benefit from growth by ensuring liveability, and advanced environmental decision making tools — what is still urgently lacking is a sufficient evidence-base to underpin its planning strategies.
One of the most powerful messages delivered through the MBQC2016 Forum was the profound changes that have happened in our region over the past 200 years. Historians presented the most telling evidence of declines in abundance and diversity and the broader level of environmental destruction. Social scientists confirmed the public awareness of the significant loss of biodiversity in recent generations (e.g. sea urchins at Peel Island). Indigenous presentations highlighted the importance of acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the bay, islands and coast and the potential role that Traditional Knowledge can play in long term planning of these land and sea scapes. At present ShapingSEQ gives scant regard to this past change, but perhaps more importantly, it also largely disregards two earlier authoritative regional plans that were previously developed with significantly greater informed inputs from government agencies. The Government has access to those earlier plans, as well as to rich historical and scientific data on the status of the region in the past, and this information really must be incorporated.
The region’s Ecosystem Services Framework, developed collaboratively under the direction of the Bligh Government, was setting a valuable path whereby science and planning could meet. Even the results already available would assist to inform the planning. That Framework should be retained and enhanced.
Some Solutions to the Challenges
There is growing involvement by the residents of the region in the improvement and monitoring of local resources. Citizen Science and Traditional Knowledge engages local communities and empowers them to appreciate and protect local resources. Research science benefits from these community-driven and government-backed programs. The ShapingSEQ Plan would benefit from explicit strategies to encourage and strengthen the involvement of private citizens in what happens in their catchment. Thus better collaborations with community, indigenous, business, education and science representatives must be built — this will further ensure broad “ownership” of the final Plan.
The government planners should use the Report Card status of Moreton Bay as an integrating indicator of the progress of the Plan. The objective should be for the Plan to generate and enforce decisions throughout the region, including the upper catchment areas, that would considerably improve the score from the current C –. Aiming for excellence will ensure social, economic and ecological benefits.
The Plan should encourage the built environment to include a mosaic of land uses, better use of infill and green space; as well as technologies to reduce impact such as solar power, rainwater retention, and porous ground surfaces to reduce runoff (controlling runoff into our waterways, and into the Bay, is of major importance in managing pollution and turbidity).
The Plan needs clearer and stronger statements regarding natural environment targets, especially healthy farmland, waterways and terrestrial habitat corridors, functioning forests, and healthy coastal assets. Urban construction over productive farmland, the fragmentation of natural habitats, forest removal and the degradation of coastal habitats are all contrary to optimising the liveability for SEQ residents while providing for growth and prosperity.
It is essential that the Plan recognise SEQ national and international linkages, impacts and obligations e.g. commitments under the international Ramsar Agreement and the Federal EPBC act. The Bay, and its catchment, is a huge and complicated ecosystem that is unique in some respects, but has state-wide, national, and international connections.
We need certainty going forward about where development can occur, and what areas and ecosystems need better protection and management. In this context, the actions of the State, in concert with Local Government, declaring Priority Development Areas over or adjacent to Moreton Bay wetlands, especially Ramsar-listed wetlands, needs to be considered.
An offer to collaborate
SEQ benefits from strong research and educational institutions and has a well-educated public. Indeed, those gathered so enthusiastically at the MBQC2016 Forum came from a range of walks of life, and few would be unwilling to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the planning process. We are familiar with, and have access to, existing and ongoing research and data that would provide government planners and decision makers with an enhanced ability to adapt and respond to changing conditions.
The MBQC2016 Forum participants agreed that we already have the science we need to make good decisions about the wise governance of the SEQ Region. Reflecting on the historical decline of the condition of the Bay and catchments, the sliding base-line expectations of liveability, and the challenges posed by a growing population and a changing climate, we were agreed that the time to act is now.
We would look forward to partnerships with state and local government to engage the wider public with the objectives of the ShapingSEQ Draft Plan as well as with the key findings of the MBQC2016 Forum. This could be achieved through a series of “town hall” style meetings, so as to encourage further public debate and knowledge sharing.
We thank you for your time and look forward to future communication.
Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts