A public hearing yesterday into the state government’s assessment of the massive Kings Forest subdivision which will eventually house around 10,000 people was told by many of the 15 speakers that allowing pet dogs on the estate would spell the end of the remaining population of koalas on the Tweed Coast.
Fears were also raised that massive earthworks for the estate of 4,500 dwellings on the 880-hectare site would impact heavily on a wildlife corridor and buffer zones for the adjacent Cudgen Nature Reserve as well as eliminate the habitat of an endangered frog species.
Speakers also said the nearby Cudgen Lake and waterways feeding into it would be polluted by acid-soil and stormwater drain runoff as well as chemical fertilisers from a proposed golf course, and traffic congestion along the Tweed Coast Road would massively increase with only a single entry/exit road to the estate.
The Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) conducted the hearing into stage one of the proposal (for 431 dwellings of the eventual 4,500) after 300 objections were received against it by the state’s planning department, which has recommended conditional approval.
Up to 80 people attended the hearing at the South Tweed Sports Club chaired by former state government minister and Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) chair Garry West, who told Echonetdaily afterwards that a decision on the first stage would be made by the PAC within a few months, but that other stages would be determined by the JRPP.
The first speaker, Maria Smart, illustrated with a short video how measures including a cattle grid proposed by the developer to keep dogs out of the nature reserve and buffer areas would fail, much to the amusement of those at the hearing.
The video showed a small dog easily stepping over the cattle grid when called by its owner.
Ms Smart gave an impassioned speech about how without a dog ban, the remaining population of around 140 koalas in and around Kings Forest were doomed.
She said koalas had disappeared all over the coast in the 1970s, 80s and 90s because ‘no-one in power was listening to the koala’.
‘How many times do we need to state that koalas are threatened in NSW: the biggest threat to koalas is habitat fragmentation, dogs, cars and disease’, she said, adding that those threats were occurring at a massive rate along the coast.
Ms Smart said ‘growth, greed and profit taking and the corporate world has been destroying their habitats in northern NSW’.
She said the developer’s (the Leda Group) environmental management plans, including the one for koalas, were inadequate.
‘Kings Forest has been listed as a state significant site, and the developer has already proven he is incapable of providing clear, concise and comprehensive information about how they’ll manage this fragile area and its fauna, and the department is being flippant about when he needs to provide all the facts,’ she said.
That argument was supported by several speakers, including former Tweed shire councillor Henry James, who said he was ‘pretty shocked’ to see the project’s planning documents many years ago when it was first proposed, and ‘they’re no better now’.
Mr James said the area known as Cudgen paddock inside the estate should never have been rezoned for urban development but environmental protection, as some government agencies had proposed years ago because it was a vital and biodiverse wildlife corridor.
He said the 50-metre buffer zones should be strictly adhered to by the developer and feared much of the buffers and the habitat-rich Cudgen paddock would be ‘consumed by earthworks’, suggesting they should not be undertaken at this stage.
He said environmental protection zones were necessary throughout the site but he wouldn’t ‘go into detail as to why they were necessary’ for fear of attracting ‘another defamation suit’ by the developer, similar to one years ago which was later withdrawn in court.
Mr James said the developer should not be given another chance to get the ennvironmental management plans right and ‘if not they should be made to wait, which is reasonable’.
‘My concern is we may never get good environmental management plans and it will be approved without them,’ he said.
As an example, he pointed out that the developer had proposed some of the compensatory habitat was to be located in a road reserve and how some of the compensatory plantings were doubled up for koalas, frogs and other wildlife.
Mr James also held concerns about the dedicated land in that ratepayers may eventually have to pay to maintain them, suggesting they should first be fenced and made weed-free before the handover.
Jenny Hayes, the president of the 550-strong Team Koala, told the hearing that planting of koala habitat and feed trees had to start immediately because if done in 12 months time ‘they will be useless’.
Ms Hayes said the minimum standards used at the Koala Beach estate near Pottsville, such as dog bans and low speed limits, should also be incorporated at Kings Forest as ‘dogs and koalas just don’t mix’.
‘The koalas don’t stand a chance, dogs have to be out of the equation for them to survive’.
She said Tweed Council planners had originally recommended no dogs be allowed but a majority of councillors ‘saw otherwise’ last year and allowed them.
She said a study the Cudgen paddock was significant for koala movements and a recxebnt stuidy had showed around 75 koalas used it went through it.
She praised the addition of an east-west wildlife corridor in the new conditions but koala tree plantings had to be done immediately.
Joanna Gardner told the hearing that her Landcare group wondered how the planning department had approved the development ‘in that it is core koala habitat, koala corridor and surrounded by a nature reserve and high conservation area both within the estate site and adjoining areas’.
Ms Gardner said approval should not be granted until council had ratified the Tweed Coast koala management plan which is nearing completion.
She also said her group’s major concern was the destruction of koala habitat including 18 mature koala food trees, which should be retained.
She said the planting of 7,875 food trees proposed by Leda would ‘not replace the existing mature trees as a habitat or food source in the interim 20 years while they mature’.
Ms Gardner also said the development was not designed with ecologically sustainable principles in so far as the bulk earthworks, lack of water harvesting, saving and recycling
She also said a rehabilitation plan for the illegally cleared Blacks Creek should be submitted before approval.
Joan Vickers gave a presentation about how the endangered Wallum Sedge Frog would be heavily impacted on and possibly totally wiped out by the development’s earthworks and construction.
Ms Vickers said the federal government had declared Kings Forest a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act because of the frog and koalas, and the plight of the frog ‘was probably enough to block’ approval’ of the development when a determination is made.
Kip Whitestone said the koala’s vulnerability status had recently been upgraded by the federal government and the ‘situation is not what it used to be two years ago’ and would ‘not be solved by planting a thousand trees’.
Mr Whitestone also urged a dog ban at the estate as the koala’s extinction in the area was imminent.
He also said housing at the development should have renewable energy such as solar panels, which were now mandatory in California.
Chris Core, from the Friends of Cudgen Nature Reserve Landcare group, said he was worried about the impact of the estate’s population on the reserve and that there should be lockable gates separating residents from the reserve as he’d ‘hate to see dogs, trailbike riders and even hunting’ in there.
Mr Core said he hoped the illegally cleared Blacks Creek would be fully restored before earthmoving begins and that bulk earthmoving and major floods would ruin Cudgen Lake, which was a ‘jewel’ of the coastal area.
He also feared bush fires would kill off fauna in the reserve and that the Rural Fire Service should liaise closely with the estate managers to ensure fires did not get out of control there and burn the reserve, as had happened in the recent past.
He said a proposed full-time environmental compliance officer should be increased to several and they should have ‘some teeth’ to stop destructive work.
Menkit Prince said she didn’t think the offset plantings for koala food trees would be enough to minimise impact on their population and that the 144 recorded koalas in 2011 had since been reduced by eight or nine ‘and by the time these trees are mature there maybe none left’.
She said koalas should be allowed to stay on the site as in Koala Beach and Currumbin where they were often seen by residents in their backyards.
‘After all, we’re developing the last core koala habitat on the Tweed Coast,’ she said.
Ms Prince said the environment compliance officer should not be hired by the developer but be independent of them.
Rhonda James, on behalf of Friends of the Koala, said environmental management plans needed to be staged by being linked to performance criteria.
Ms James said the plans contained many contradictions and duplications and the department needed to ‘get it right for a development of this size’.
She said that as a former cartographer, she could even not make out their maps which were illegible and had incorrect data and were out of date.
Ms James also questioned the qualifications of the proposed compliance officer who would be employed and guided by the developer, saying ‘what are they qualified at? ecology, engineering or PR?’
Tony Thompson said a trust to manage the estate into perpetuity funded by the developer should be set up to ensure maintenance of the lands.
Katie Milne, speaking as a resident, said Cudgen paddock should be added to the nature reserve as it is the best environment for the potoroo and that smaller lot sizes could be traded off in exchange.
Ms Milne said that even Third World countries had plans for recovery of species, which was needed for the potoroo and koala.
She also said there had been no proper analysis of marine ecosystems, only water quality and asked for earthworks in Cudgen paddock to be staged.
Matt Gordon said he moved with his family away from the Gold Coast to Cabarita to enjoy ‘the beautiful northern NSW’ and see wildlife in abundance such as black cockatoos.
Mr Gordon said local native habitat supported such wildlife.
He also said Tweed Coast Road was already heavily congested and would get worse with 10,000 extra people suing it and that Leda should be made to create link roads going to the Pacific Highway and not create a problem for everyone else.
Sam Dawson from the Caldera Environment Centre attacked the developer for the ‘systematic degradation’ of the site during their tenure.
‘We don’t need compensatory habitat, we just need to protect what’s there,’ Mr Dawson said, and that ‘further development was the death knell for the Wallum Sedge Frog’.
He said Leda would be ‘happy to hear’ that the state government was revising the Threatened Species Act.
Lisa Townsend said Tweed coast residents lived off ‘not being like the Gold Coast’ and there was no general support for the development, ‘but if forced on us, then it needs to be as green and clean as possible’.
Mr West thanked speakers for focusing on the recommendations and conditions proposed by the planning department and agreed to by the developer, which included:
– a second east-west wildlife corridor to the south of the existing corridor and adjoining (retained) existing bushland;
– rehabilitation of Blacks Creek inside the adjacent Cudgen Nature Reserve (of which a 300-metre section was illegally bulldozed and planted with grass by the developer two years ago);
– dedication to [National Parks and Wildlife Service] of approximately 150ha of land as an addition to the Cudgen Nature Reserve;
– the ‘embellishment and dedication’ of 4 ha of ‘casual and structured’ open space to Tweed Shire Council; and
– a guarantee by Leda that ‘all management and maintenance activities in the environmental management plans would be undertaken ‘in perpetuity’.
Any approval would lapse after five years but could be extended at the discretion of the director-general.
An area of heathland on the site is to be provided with long-term protection and allowed to naturally regenerate.
The additional east-west wildlife corridor would have to contain koala feed trees and be specifically designed to attract native fauna.
Leda would also be required to undertake traffic, soil and geotechnical assessments, create a sports field with a sealed public access road and give details as to how it would provide affordable housing on the site.