The City of Gosford, population 155,000, lies 47 miles north of Sydney and five miles inland from a part of the Pacific Ocean known as the Tasman Sea. Gosford has a long history of environmental preservation. According to the 1996 Residential Strategy, in 1978, Gosford preserved six sites totaling 400 hectares with the assistance of the State of New South Wales. During this same time period, Gosford’s Chief Town Planner proposed a Coastal Open Space System (COSS) consisting of roughly 3,000 hectares of environmentally significant reserves. In the early 1980s, Gosford initiated COSS and within 15 years over 2,000 hectares had been brought into public ownership either through acquisition or through Gosford’s TDR program, a “bonus provision subdivision” mechanism which allows smaller lots to be created in the C7(c2) zone, the receiving area, when developers dedicate land eligible to become COSS reserves, pay a cash contribution in lieu of dedicating land (which the City uses to acquire significant properties), or both.
The sending area can be land zoned 6(d), 6(e) or 7(a) which meets environmental and other criteria specified in the Coastal Open Space System (COSS) Strategy. As set forth in the Interim Development Order as of 30 November, 2012, the 7(a) zone minimizes or prohibits development and promotes the conservation of important environmental resources. As spelled out in Appendix IV of the 2010 COSS Strategy, the land to be acquired for the COSS reserve includes wetlands, floodplains, woodlands, salt marshes, rainforests, twelve endangered ecological communities and 20 different types of regionally significant vegetation. Each characteristic is assigned a score in order to evaluate a site’s overall significance. In addition to natural attributes, sites are also rated according to their scenic value, disturbance, development and potential for passive recreational opportunities.
The receiving area is the 7(c2) zone which the Interim Development Order as of November 2012 describes as a transitional zone between conservation and urban areas. The minimum lot size in the 7(c2) zone is 2 hectares unless the owner does either or both of the following actions. The owner can dedicate land to the COSS program and obtain one bonus lot for each five dedicated hectares as long as a minimum lot size of one hectare is maintained in the receiving area. Or the owner can gain one bonus lot, as long as minimum lot size of at least one hectare is maintained, by making a cash contribution equal to the value of five acres of sending area land.
In March 2013, Larry Melican, Gosford Natural Open Space Coordinator, reported that the COSS reserve had grown by 742 hectares between 2003 and 2013, apparently through a combination of TDR and other mechanisms. Of this total, 224 hectares were retained in the COSS reserve system, 450 hectares were transferred to the National Parks Reserve System and 60 hectares were included in the Cockle Bay Nature Reserve which is administered by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.