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Say goodbye to southwest Sydney koala population

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The future isn't looking any brighter for Sydney's koala population (Image via Flickr)

Despite the survival of the southwest Sydney koala population being critical, a major development threatens their lives, writes Sue Arnold.

SOME STORIES are hard to tell. Some are so loaded with questions over potential corruption and conflicts of interest that the mainstream media avoids any in-depth investigation. The looming extinction of around 1,000 koalas in southwest Sydney is a perfect example.   

The politically-driven destruction of arguably the most important remaining healthy expanding population of koalas remaining in New South Wales demonstrates how governments conspire to confuse and remove public protest with legislation combined with nice-sounding policies. All designed to give green lights to developers to destroy Australia’s wildlife heritage. 

The development in question is the Greater Macarthur Growth Area, a massive urbanisation of southwest Sydney. Not only are koalas on the killing list, but the failures of Federal and State Government and councils to address the serious impending shortages of water to facilitate the urbanisation plans are nothing short of mind-blowing.

But this is a story about koalas. Scientists say the southwest Sydney koalas are chlamydia free and their survival is critical.

However, these kinds of facts are of no concern to the Berejiklian Government

Instead, with the help of the Greater Sydney Commission headed by Lucy Turnbull, the Government and developers focused on southwest Sydney as the next region to create a metropolis of three cities.

‘People living here will be close to green corridors that contain parks, green cover and open space. Being active will be a way of life. The natural environment will flourish with koalas and other species in safe and growing populations through biodiversity protection and enhancement.

 

The interim Plan proposes 12 precincts combining urban renewal of existing communities and land release areas. About 18,000 new homes are proposed from Glenfeld to Macarthur along the rail corridor. The precincts of Menangle Park, Gilead and Appin could deliver around 40,000 homes.’

The Greater Macarthur Interim Plan focuses on Campbelltown (at June 2016, there were 3,379 dwellings in the precinct with an estimated population of 8,350 people), Camden, Wollondilly and beyond. These are rural areas where many people enjoy the beauty and tranquility of peaceful lives and community.

The Department of Planning and Environment rezoned 210 hectares of land at Mt Gilead from rural to low-density residential.

Reading the blurb about the Growth Area sounds like every prospective home owner’s dream.

Somehow or other, the koala population is supposed to survive, in spite of the Government’s own admission on the Greater Macarthur website.

‘In 2040, the Greater Macarthur Growth Area will be a highly connected and accessible urban region. It will support and be serviced by a thriving and diverse Campbelltown-Macarthur.

 

The Growth Area includes Cumberland Plain vegetation and is home to threatened species including the largest, disease-free koala population in Sydney.’

But wait, there’s more for any prospective buyer who might be worried about how 1,000 koalas will survive the human invasion.

The now axed Office of Environment and Heritage comments reported in the plan state said:

At the heart of Greater Macarthur, a koala reserve will secure habitat and movement corridors.

 

OEH has identified habitat and movement corridors for koalas. A primary corridor runs along the Georges River, east of Appin Road and connects with Wilton and Douglas Park. This corridor will be protected by limiting development east of Appin Road.

 

Roads and Maritime Services will be displaying two Review of Environmental Factors (REFs) for the proposed upgrade of Appin Road between Ambarvale and Mt Gilead and proposed Appin Road safety improvement work between Mt Gilead and Appin.

 

Appin Road is a busy state road which caters to thousands of vehicles each day, including many trucks carrying freight between Wollongong and Sydney’s south-western suburbs so it’s exciting to see progress on these projects.

In a frantic effort to speed up the first stage of the developments, the Campbelltown Council Local Planning Panel was given the power to provide certain approvals for the Lendlease Mt Gilead project — now renamed Figtree Hill.  An anticipated approval by the Federal Government came through in December, containing no adequate protections for koalas.   

The local communities have organised protests, put together major submissions which are based on well-researched information, given evidence at Council hearings, lobbied Councils, State and Federal Government members of Parliament.

To no avail.

Major conservation groups have come to inspect the sites but there’s been no change in the Government’s intentions nor any attempt to ensure koala corridors. 

Objections to the developments were not able to made by conservation organisations who did not have an office in Campbelltown as the Lendlease Mt Gilead documents were not available online.

At the most recent Council meeting last week, Lendlease moved one step closer to allowing up to 10,000 homes to be built on Mount Gilead. Council will receive $37,000 for each lot up to 1,700 homes and $50,000 per lot up to 8,300 homes.

One community activist advised Independent Australia that the Council has also committed to helping a local sports group by giving them thousands of dollars. 

However, wildlife corridors will not be in place across Appin Road and corridors on the property leading into houses, fencing and concrete barriers will trap koalas, wombats, possums, wallaroos, wallabies and echidnas.

The project is accessed by Appin Road.

As a result, Appin Road will have an extra 2,500 large trucks plus trailers with dogs travelling along Appin Road. All trucks have to travel through Appin or Campbelltown to get to the Lendlease Mt Gilead development. 

Lendlease will be building and upgrading the road in an unusual arrangement with the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS).

According to the RMS, Lendlease will carry out the construction of the project on behalf of Roads and Maritime Services. The commencement of the construction is subject to the completion of detailed design and the approvals. 

RMS and Lendlease relationship — major conflicts of interest.

From the Department of Planning’s website:

‘As part of the land release, Lendlease has offered $45 million to upgrade Appin Road and the Government will also contribute $10 million to fund road improvements through the Housing Acceleration Fund.

According to the HAF website:

The Housing Acceleration Fund (HAF) is a capital program under the Restart NSW fund. It supports State agencies, State-owned corporations and councils in delivering critical infrastructure to support new housing. The fund is administered by the Department of Planning and Environment, in conjunction with Infrastructure NSW and the NSW Treasury. Projects delivered under the fund are subject to prioritisation and project assurance processes to ensure value for money and timely delivery.

 

There have been five rounds of funding since 2012 with over $1 billion reserved. 14 major projects have been completed so far, delivering critical flood management, water supply, waste water and transport infrastructure to high growth areas of NSW. A quick check of the funding rounds do not indicate any grants to developers.

 

The HAF partners with key Government agencies, including Sydney Water, Hunter Water, Transport for NSW, Roads and Maritime Services, Landcom, local councils and developers to prioritise the delivery of water, power, road and transport infrastructure to support the development of communities in NSW.

However, the Appin Road construction is not part of the Lendlease Development Application, it is a separate commercial matter between RMS and Lendlease.  No contracts available, questions as to who monitors, compliance and breaches. Lendlease will carry out the construction on behalf of the RMS ‘to unlock new housing at Mt Gilead and improve safety and access for local residents and through traffic’.

The only koala “protection” will be exclusion fences. The RMS and Lendlease have rejected community demands for overpasses and underpasses to be constructed before any development of the Mt Gilead site commences.

The Total Environment Centre, heavily engaged in opposition to the project, outlined its concerns:

Lendlease’s “exclusion fencing” will run the length of Appin Road from Rosemeadow to Appin and will remove koalas from Lendlease’s Gilead site west of Appin Road. It is literally enabling a “localized Koala extinction plan”. The cost will likely be the long term survival of the Campbelltown chlamydia-free Koala colony, as:

 

  1. It will accelerate contact with the Chlamydia infected Koalas further south in the Southern Highlands.
  2. There will be no east-west escapes/exits for koalas in case of a large fire or other koala threats emanating from the Holsworthy Army Base.
  3. It dramatically reduces the connectivity options for koala movements and funnels them into one super koala highway that could face any number of unforeseen blockages, obstacles, complications and certain to increase koala stressors, a cause of chlamydia.
  4. Loss of genetic diversity

In bulldozing ahead with its juggernaut growth development ‘at any cost plans’, the Berejiklian Government has completely ignored the government’s Koala Strategy, funded with $44 million taxpayer dollars. The primary recommendation of the Strategy is koala habitat conservation, followed by conservation through community action.

There’s a raft of taxpayer-funded koala plans which the Government has conveniently dumped in the trash. They include the Save our Iconic Koala Project, a Koala Research Plan which recently allocated $1.92 million to research projects which ignore any conservation focus.

In November 2018, the Department of Planning and Environment failed to approve a Campbelltown Council Koala Plan of Management. No reasons were given.

A State Environment Planning Policy for koala habitat protection, known as SEPP 44 continues to be valid, but not mandatory, although a severely weakened draft is in train.

SEPP 44 encourages the inclusion of areas of core koala habitat in environment protection zones. There are no environment protection zones for koalas in the Mt Gilead and Greater MacArthur Interim Plans

In the finalisation of Greater Macarthur 2040, there is a recommendation for ‘improved pest and feral animal management to help reduce the risk of predation on koalas’.

Unfortunately, the definition of pest and feral management doesn’t currently include politicians and anti-environmental governments.

The level of outrage over the Mt Gilead project and the Greater Macarthur Plan is intense and widespread.

Both the NSW and Federal Governments are deaf to the protests. Meantime, koalas keep dying.

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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