State planners have been urged to defer approving the first stage of the proposed township of Kings Forest until a koala plan of management is finalised.
The move by Tweed Shire Council aims to give the dwindling koala population on the Tweed coast a fighting chance of survival while massive earthworks and land clearing takes place in the first stage of the development for 442 homes on the site west of Casuarina.
Council last night endorsed its staff planners’ submission to the planning department with over 150 draft conditions for the project which will eventually include 4,500 homes, two primary schools, a golf course, a community centre and a town centre.
Cr Katie Milne told councillors that state planners had to be mindful of the development’s impact on the Tweed coast koalas, with only 140 left, many of them living near or around the development site.
Cr Milne said the koala plan of management for the area was nearing completion and should be incorporated in the project plans before the first stage started.
While that was agreed to by most councillors, Crs Milne and Gary Bagnall failed in their bid to limit bulk earthworks and for management plans for the project be reviewed after each stage.
Cr Milne said she was concerned clearing of the entire eastern part of the site adjacent to the Cudgen Nature Reserve known as the Cudgen Paddock, as well as a western section of the site, would impact on koalas.
Staff planners also urged a limit to the scale of the cut and fill works so as not to create dust and transport issues, recommending no more than five hectares be disturbed at any time, as against the developer’s proposal for 49 hectares.
Cr Bagnall said koalas lived in and around the Cudgen Paddock and recent bushfires had already affected their numbers and the area should not be entirely cleared.
The Kings Forest project concept plan was approved in August 2010 and is one of two huge new estates proposed by Gold Coast-based developer Leda Developments, owned by Bob Ell, with the other at Cobaki, just west of Coolangatta airport. Both developments will eventually have around 10,000 homes.
Stage 1 includes the first 442 residential lots, entry and internal roads, bulk earthworks and a 2,126m2 rural retail development on the eastern side of Tweed Coast Road.
But koala protection at and around the site is an issue that has to be addressed, according to planning director Vince Connell, who said the developer had failed to adopt earlier recommended measures.
In his report, Mr Connell said additional fencing was needed to separate koalas and their habitat from residential areas, and the threat to the marsupial from bushfires also had not been addressed.
He said Leda’s current proposal incorporated grids ‘that they say koalas will not cross to get into residential areas’.
‘However, Council is concerned that any roaming dogs will cross these grids and be capable of entering koala habitat areas,’ he said.
Mr Connell said the developer’s koala plan of management should reflect state policy aiming to ensure ‘a viable free-living koala population, rather than simply minimising impacts’.
He said the revised plan did not address this issue and ‘given the precarious state of the Tweed coast koala population’ the proposed management plan should ‘explicitly commit to increasing the koala population rather than simply avoiding “significant impacts”’.
Mr Connell noted that no mention of the state policy’s aim is made in the initial sections of the plan, ‘nor is there any explicit aim or objective of this plan to assist population recovery on the Tweed coast’.
‘The objective “To ensure that the movement of koalas is not impeded through the site or the locality” that was present in the previous version of the plan has been removed. This is considered to be a key objective and its removal is inappropriate.’
Council earlier this year rejected a bid to ban dogs on the site, which koala-protection campaigners had lobbied for. Mayor Longland said the ban would be impossible to enforce.
Mr Connell said the management plan should specify species to be used in planting of koala habitat, but the majority of species the developer listed as koala food trees were ‘not suitable for use on the site’.
Mr Connell said if the recommended consent conditions were not applied by the department or the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), Council would still have concerns.
One of those includes the developer’s landscaping plans, which Mr Connell said would need intensive maintenance ‘which would be expensive for Council to maintain into perpetuity’.
He said revised landscaping plans would be needed to reduce Council’s maintenance obligations as a result.
Mr Connell also said maintenance of acoustic fences on public land has not been funded by the developer and the plans failed to note that some parts of the site are flood-prone.
Team Koala campaigner Jenny Hayes, observing the debate from the public gallery, welcomed Council’s move as a small but significant win for the koalas.