Tweed Shire Council is set to urge the federal government to ban dogs from the massive Kings Forest development after a change of heart by mayor Barry Longland, who says the shire’s dwindling koalas have to be protected.
The federal government will soon assess the state-approved plans for the Kings Forest subdivision under its Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The development for around 4,500 homes including a school and town centre near the Cudgen Nature Reserve was approved by the state-appointed Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) earlier this year, with no ban on pet dogs.
Campaigners trying to save the last remaining koalas on the Tweed coast, numbering around 140 animals, have for years pushed for a total dog ban on the site.
But, despite staff planners recommending such a ban, the political numbers went against them, with councillors narrowly voting to allow dogs but with the breed and size restricted in their assessment to the PAC.
But that vote looks set to be reversed this afternoon.
Mayor Longland had previously supported dogs on the estate and came under fire for doing so from koala campaigners, but he has now lodged a notice of motion to overturn the approval.
Developer Leda’s regional manager Reg Van Rij has previously threatened to pull the pin on the multimillion-dollar project if dogs were banned.
Cr Longland says a recent toughening of the protection status for koalas has changed the issue over the development.
He told Echonetdaily that since last year’s council submission on Kings Forest to the planning department, the federal government in late 2012 listed the koala as ‘vulnerable’, in line with its listing by the NSW government.
‘As well, our council has endorsed a submission (May 2012) to the NSW Scientific Committee of the OEH (Office of Environment and Heritage) to raise the listing to “endangered” for the koala population in the Tweed/Brunswick,’ he said.
‘Together with the 2013 fires that further affected koala habitat on the Tweed coast, it is appropriate to reconsider our stance with respect to the precarious position of the fragile koala population.
‘Notwithstanding the practical difficulties of enforcement in a development the size of Kings Forest, I believe that it is now incumbent on the council to reintroduce the possibility of a total dog ban in their submission to the federal government’s assessment of the project under the EPBC Act.’
His stance is backed by Greens Cr Katie Milne, who has also lodged a similar notice of motion to debate at tomorrow’s (Thursday) monthly meeting.
Cr Milne says a no-dogs policy was now more vital than ever ‘with the continuing decline of Tweed coast koalas below viable population’.
‘I’m very glad Cr Longland has reconsidered his position and I sincerely hope all councillors support this unanimously so we can send a strong message to the federal government about the Kings Forest development,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘This federal review is now the last chance to get better protection for the Kings Forest koalas.
‘The federal government has been very supportive in providing significant funding for Tweed’s koala recovery actions recently.
‘So it’s hoped they are very aware of the imperative of taking an extremely precautionary approach with this development to ensure our coastal koalas remain for future generations.’
Submissions to the federal review of the development close 6 December.
Team Koala has urged supporters to attend the council meeting at 5pm tomorrow in a show of solidarity with the councillors urging for the ban.
President Jenny Hayes told Echonetdaily the decision by councillors was ‘crucial and the last chance we have to save our koalas’.
‘Do you prefer a giant Gold Coast-style densely populated mini-city to be built just behind Kingscliff, or something that might give our local koalas a chance? Ms Hayes said.
‘Koalas don’t use much water and they rarely set fires; really they are pretty good neighbours, so please, please, support the Tweed and our beautiful koala population.’
The PAC approval of the first stage of the controversial development earlier this year was slammed by conservationists for ignoring their call to ban dogs.
It gave conditional approval for 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 were 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.
But campaigners say the conditions of approval didn’t go far enough and that the Tweed coast’s dwindling koala population was now doomed to extinction as a result of allowing dogs on the housing estate, which will eventually house around 10,000 people.
Ms Hayes 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, as was done at the Koala Beach estate near Pottsville, because dogs and koalas don’t mix, end of story.’
Cr Longland previously said it would be impossible to enforce a dog ban 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.
Leda hopes to have the first block for housing at Kings Forest on sale by the end of next year.