Tweed mayor Barry Longland says he’s been pilloried for not joining a recent push for a ban on dogs at the proposed Kings Forest township for 4,500 homes.
Cr Longland told Echonetdaily that his recent vote not to support a motion by Greens Cr Katie Milne for the dog ban had met with a nasty ‘overreaction’ by some koala supporters and he wanted to set the record straight.
Koala campaigners say allowing dogs into the massive housing estate right next to the Cudgen Nature Reserve would spell the death knell of the shire’s dwindling coastal koala population, which is now down to around 140 animals.
But the federal government may yet step in to protect the koalas under national environmental law, with a decision due soon on whether to declare the development a ‘controlled action’, which could have a major impact on the vulnerable marsupials.
The mayor has stood by his reasons for not backing a dog ban, saying three respected koala experts had not called for a ban on dogs and that such a ban would be impossible to police given the size of the development.
‘My current position on the matter, as expressed at the last meeting of council, is that a total ban on dogs in the development is both impractical and unenforceable,’ he said.
‘To compare this development with Koala Beach, where there is a special rate levy to maintain its dog-free status, is misleading. In its final form, Kings Forest will be more than 20 times the size of Koala Beach.
‘To suggest that I am uncaring of the plight of the Tweed coast koala population is unfair and uninformed.
‘I was one of the councillors who, earlier this year, supported the reallocation of funds in the budget to complete a comprehensive koala plan of management for the shire and I have great confidence and respect for the experts that advise council on matters of koala protection and I have consistently followed their advice on development matters that come before the council.’
Cr Longland said he and Cr Milne had initially supported council staff’s draft submission on the project application, which called for a ban on dogs, but ‘it became very clear in debate that this was not favoured by a majority of councillors so other measures were explored via amendments to our submission’.
He said the final submission, without the call for a ban on dogs, was supported by a majority including himself and Cr Milne.
Cr Longland said the concept plan for the development in 2010 was supported by a koala plan of management prepared by ecologist Dr Frank Carrick, which did not recommend a ban on dogs.
He said the state government approved the concept plan without such a ban early in 2011, but given there had been some ‘disquiet’ by some in the community over the standard of Dr Carrick’s work, the developer sought the services of ecologist James Warren to prepare a koala plan of management for the preferred project application lodged late last year.
‘Again, to address community concern about koala protection issues, the developer sought a supplementary report from local ecologist and renowned koala expert, Dr Stephen Phillips,’ Cr Longland said.
‘Stephen was promoted by local koala-interest groups as the man for the job and someone with great credibility when it came to koala management issues.
‘The koala plan of management submitted with the project application and supported by the reports of both James Warren and Stephen Phillips did not recommend a ban on dogs in the development.
‘He said council’s submission adopted in January this year did not call for a ban on dogs but “sought to place restrictions on the size and breed of dogs”.’
He said the Phillips report ‘also raised issues about dog size, recommending a 10kg limit’.
The final submission also included ‘robust provisions concerning the separation of cars and koalas in the development’ aimed at avoiding koala corridors and primary habitat, which, the mayor said, were backed by council planners and the shire’s koala advisory committee.
The final draft plan for the first stage of the development will soon go on public exhibition.