At both the Yelgun festival site and the site of the proposed West Byron suburb (around Belongil Fields) there is high-quality koala habitat that has been identified as Core Koala Habitat. State Environmental Planning Policy 44 requires that a council should prepare a Koala Plan of Management (Koala PoM) before approving development of the sites.
Unfortunately the minister for planning has usurped Byron Shire Council and is deciding these developments himself. He and his department consider that the Koala PoMs don’t need to be prepared until after they have approved the developments, which involve the clearing of koala habitat and surrounding remaining habitat with intensive development.
This makes SEPP 44, and this government’s environmental credibility, a farce. It is obviously too late to alter or exclude a development to protect koalas after it has been approved.
Back in 2005 an assessment of Belongil Fields for Splendour failed to find any koalas and considered they had a low probability of occurring. Now that Splendour have been gone for a while, the recent surveys have found that at least two koalas are regularly using Belongil Fields.
Splendour’s decision to return to Belongil Fields provides an opportunity to assess the impact it has on koalas and some other key species. While it needs to be recognised that not all species will have recovered and that we are dealing with a partially developed site, nevertheless it provides an opportunity that should not be missed.
Council is the decision-maker for this DA and so has an opportunity to ensure that a detailed and rigorous scientific monitoring program is undertaken to assess the impacts. Monitoring should be overseen by independent experts, should cover the surrounding bush and start urgently. Splendour should welcome the opportunity.
Dailan Pugh, Byron Bay