Ecologist Dr Saan Ecker and the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) ACT are reviewing environmental-management reports about the Parkwood planning proposal—the NSW component of the Ginninderry development, which is a cross-border joint venture between the ACT Government and Riverview Developments.
The review of the reports, by the developers’ consultants, comes after Yass Valley Council’s decision at the August meeting to adopt a 5km buffer zone on the NSW–ACT border, which Dr Ecker said is ‘inconsistent’ in its conservation value reasoning.
In rezoning the land adjacent to the NSW–ACT border to an RU6 Transition Zone for a width of about 5km, it aims to protect conservation values and prevent residential development spilling over into NSW.
A stated objective of the transition zone is “to protect the significant environmental values of the Mulligans Flat and Goorooyaroo Nature Reserves within the ACT”.
However, the Parkwood planning proposal, which consists of Ginninderra Falls and Murrumbidgee River, is exempt from the transition zone.
Dr Ecker commended council on “protecting the conservation values of Mulligans Flat”, but she also said that Ginninderry conservation values also needed consideration.
“The ecological reports offered by the consultants for Ginninderry fail to apply the precautionary principle of good ecological management,” she said.
However, Riverview Developments’ director David Maxwell said the organisation was satisfied that the planning proposal, based on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, met the requirements of the precautionary principle.
Mr Maxwell said that the 10 ecological studies conducted by independent scientists, which Riverview commissioned or sponsored, have been peer reviewed.
“As a whole, they provide a robust basis on which the planning proposal has been developed,” he said.
Exempt because of landlocked status
Council’s director of planning Chris Berry said the Parkwood site was an exception because it was landlocked.
“The site is unique as it is geographically limited by the Murrumbidgee River and Ginninderra Creek and can only be accessed from within the ACT,” he said.
Mr Berry also said that the land with environmental value in Parkwood is proposed to be set aside as public land (and managed by a conservation trust).
“This along with Ginninderra Creek and Murrumbidgee River provide a physical barrier to a continuous line of urban development from the ACT extending northward into the Yass Valley,” he said.
“There still remains a transition buffer to the north of Parkwood in the strategy.”
Dr Ecker, however, maintains that conservation values around that site would still be impacted.
“As a conservation ecologist. I’m horrified at the design of the proposed nature reserve at the edge of the land they want rezoned.”
She said the reports were biased towards why they should get rid of the current protection and “allow development right up to the edge of the Murrumbidgee”.
“The edge effects of this narrow reserve doom the plant and animal species, several of which are threatened, to certain ecosystem decay,” Dr Ecker said.
Species, conservation values at risk
In December 2016, findings by eight environmental and wildlife researchers showed that the Parkwood planning proposal was likely to cause seven threatened species to be put at risk of extinction.
Dr David Wong, researcher and ecologist at the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra, said the findings indicated “a mismatch between currently promoted characteristics of the development...and the likely response of species as judged by leading experts”.
The findings showed that rezoning of environmental land to urban land in the Parkwood site could lead to the local decline, significant decline or decline of 77 per cent (10 of 13) of the threatened species recorded in the area.
As well, up to 30 pc (4 of 13) could be lost from the area.
“The approach to planning in the Ginninderra Falls area falls well short of best environmental practice and does not follow basic principles of reserve design,” Dr Wong said.
“It is in their [Yass Valley Council and NSW Government] power to take a truly precautionary approach to planning and decide to leave a legacy for future generations by retaining a much enlarged protected area and not rezoning environmental land to urban.
“Let's hope they buck the trend and exercise this power,” he said.
Mr Berry said the issues raised in the findings (which were submitted to council) and the expert studies undertaken by the proponent have been and continue to be considered.
“The experts in threatened species who we rely upon for advice is the Office of Environment and Heritage.
“All of the information is made available to them and we will continue to be guided by their comments,” he said.
Analysis of expert advice on possible species responses to planning scenarios
The adoption of the buffer zone is one of many key recommendations that form the draft Yass Valley Settlement Strategy by planning firm Elton Consulting, who was engaged by council in January 2016.
Elton Consulting also provides planning services to Riverview Developments.
The Parkwood planning proposal is scheduled for presentation at the September council meeting and will include discussion about this issue (among others).