Koala-protection campaigners have slammed the NSW Planning Assessment Commission’s (PAC) approval of the first stage of the controversial Kings Forest subdivision for ignoring their call to ban dogs from the massive development.
The PAC this week gave the conditional approval for the 431 dwelling sites of the proposed 4,500 home development on the 880-hectare site between Kingscliff and Cabarita.
Some conditions aimed at koala protection have been imposed, including earlier compensatory plantings of koala food and habitat trees, an extra wildlife corridor and a slight improvement on cattle grids proposed to try to stop dogs entering the adjacent Cudgen Nature Reserve.
The developer Leda was recently fined $35,000 by the Land and Environment Court for illegally clearing a large swathe of nature-reserve land and creek bank.
But campaigners say the conditions of approval don’t go far enough and that the Tweed coast’s dwindling koala population, last estimated to number around 140, is now doomed to extinction as a result of allowing dogs on the housing estate, which will eventually house around 10,000 people.
Ironically, the decision by the PAC came the day a Sydney newspaper reported on the killing of three koalas within a 24-hour period this month after they were savaged by dogs in different backyards in Port Macquarie.
But while Leda’s regional manager Reg van Rij spruiked the approval to other media, Team Koala president Jenny Hayes said she was shocked to hear the PAC refused the call to ban dogs on the subdivision which will eventually include a town centre, golf course, two schools, sports fields and parks.
‘It’s a really sad day for the Tweed Coast. The koala is an Australian icon and we’re not taking any measures to save them,’ Ms Hayes told Echonetdaily.
‘And to think there’s only 140 of them left here, so allowing dogs into Kings Forest will be the end of them. It’s a deplorable decision,’ she said.
Ms Hayes, who ran for election to Tweed Council on Cr Gary Bagnall’s ticket on a platform to protect the shire’s dwindling koala colonies from overdevelopment, said the cattle grids proposed to separate domestic dogs from nearby koala habitats would be useless.
‘It’s a joke, as people just don’t lock up their dogs at night, and that’s why you have the situation in Port Macquarie where the koalas there were shredded by roaming pet dogs,’ she said.
‘The only answer is not allowing dogs at Kings Forest, as a minimum standard like it was done at the Koala Beach estate near Pottsville, because dogs and koalas don’t mix, end of story.’
Ms Hayes said Team Koala, with around 550 members, had campaigned long and hard to protect the koalas which she says face extinction in the fast-growing Tweed coast area.
‘I work at wildlife sanctuary cleaning up the mess of domestic dog attacks on koalas and helping to stitch them up, the dogs will simply cross these cattle grids and run rampant on koalas in the nature reserve,’ she said.
PAC members Garry West and Jan Murrell in their decision said the community had raised concerns about the effectiveness of the cattle grids which were ‘primarily to act as a deterrent to koalas entering the residential areas’.
In response to those concerns, they said the commission ‘considers that round pipe cattle grids could be used as a further deterrent’.
During the public hearing in June, one of the speakers used a short video to show how the developer’s proposed cattle grids would fail, with a dog seen easily stepping over such as a cattle grid when called by its owner.
The PAC also rejected the developer’s bid to have an extended central east–west wildlife corridor through the subdivision instead of having both a northern and southern east–west corridors, as recommended by Council and state planning department.
The commissioners insisted on the northern and southern ones being retained, saying that if neither of them were provided ‘then there would likely be potential impacts to fauna movements and habitat connectivity and therefore these corridors are needed to allow the movement of fauna on a regional scale’.
Concerns over the threat to the endangered Wallum Froglet and Wallum Sedge Frog species on the site were also dealt with by the commissioners, who ruled out the proposed translocation of the frogs before the start of construction as a viable option to protect them because of doubts over its success.
The PAC also ruled out the developer’s bid not to subdivide the entire site before the start of bulk earthworks, saying it should be done to ensure environmental offset areas, including land to be dedicated to Council and added to the nature reserve, were subdivided and protected prior to the start of earthworks.
The commission also amended a condition related to the design to the entry road to the development at the intersection of Old Bogangar Road and the Tweed Coast Road, rejecting the developer’s preferred design proposals and ensuring Council was involved in its final design so it ‘does not lead to other road conflicts and a serious reduction in level of service’.
The PAC also added a further condition which requires the developer to pay a bond for environmental restoration works on the site to ensure those works are carried out.
In summary, the PAC said the modified concept plan and project application ‘will allow for the provision of housing and housing choice in the region along with rehabilitation and habitat conservation benefits. Additionally employment opportunities would be created through the construction phase’.
Cr Bagnall said his election to Council was on the back of a campaign to protect koalas and on the Tweed Coast which attracted ‘several thousand votes’.
He said ‘people of this shire obviously wanted to protect these koalas and this was one of the major issues Jenny (Hayes) and I ran on, and neither of us are members of the Greens’.
Ms Hayes also criticised mayor Barry Longland for his support in allowing dogs on the subdivision, saying he should ‘hang his head in shame’.
Cr Longland joined the pro-development faction on Council in voting against the Council planners’ recommendation to ban all dogs, opting instead for restricting certain dog breeds and their size.
During debate on a further move to include a dog ban earlier this year, Cr Longland said it would be impossible to enforce it on such a big estate, unlike at Koala Beach.
Cr Warren Polglase, who opposed a total dog ban, agreed but said the proposed restrictions on dog breed and sizes also would be impossible to enforce.
Mr van Rij said Leda, owned by billionaire developer Bob Ell, hoped to have the first block for housing at Kings Forest on sale by the end of next year.
He told local media the ‘long and sometimes bitter quarrels’ over the development ‘should now be over’.