A bid to revive a controversial plan to build eight tennis courts at an isolated sportsfield south of Pottsville surrounded by koala habitat and a wildlife corridor is set to be considered by Tweed Shire councillors today.
Councillors last month rejected the development application for the tennis courts and associated night lighting at the Black Rocks sports field in Overall Drive, a decision applauded by locals who had lobbied against it mainly because of feared impacts on a nearby koala colony.
But the pro-development faction councillors who backed the plan have lodged a rescission motion to try to reverse that decision, as well as lodging a bid to reinstate the tennis courts without the night lighting.
And it appears mayor Barry Longland may support them, after telling Echonetdaily he would consider backing the new plan to restrict the proposed tennis courts to daytime hours only.
Cr Longland angrily rejected claims he was doing a ‘backflip’ on the issue, saying the thousands of locals who had signed a form letter objecting to the tennis courts had sent a clear message they did not want night-time activities at the fields ‘so we refused the DA on that basis’.
‘But this is a now a new plan without the night sport component in that it removes the lighting and restricts activities to daylight hours, which I will now consider afresh,’ he said.
But Cr Gary Bagnall said the mayor was ‘missing the whole point’, in that the tennis-court development would still heavily impact on the koala colony and wildlife in the area.
‘Whether used at night or in the daytime, it’s still the same; it will create the potential for a greater traffic load and, with it, more people and potential for unleashed dogs to go roaming around there,’ Cr Bagnall said.
He said that up to 7,000 people had signed a petition/form letter calling for no further expansion of the field and Council had responded to that.
The issue is once again set to anger koala-protection campaigners such as Team Koala, which had been buoyed recently in a longtime fight to minimise the impact of the massive Kings Forest development on the Tweed coast’s dwindling koala population, now estimated to number around 140.
Tweed Shire Council last month resolved to urge the federal government to review all ecological planning for the township project and toughen protections including banning dogs.
The submission for the current assessment under federal environment law was welcomed by Team Koala.
Cr Longland had at the time argued strongly for the extra koala protections and dog bans, saying the precautionary principle should apply in recognising the plight of the koala and Council had a ‘responsibility in that regard’.
Change of mind
Campaigners had welcomed the mayor’s change of mind on the koala dog ban, as Cr Longland had previously supported allowing restricted dogs in the estate, which had raised their ire.
Yesterday, Cr Longland suggested the expansion of the fields with daytime tennis courts may be ‘compatible’ with the surrounding koala habitat as locals had reported continued koala activity there during the five years the field had been operating.
He said members from the local tennis club had met with him this week and ‘accepted night activities were off the agenda’.
‘We as a council are clear on that, but they want to see additional courts there,’ he said.
He also said the tennis club members had told him of regular sightings of koalas along the Cudgera Creek bank near the existing tennis courts behind the local shopping centre when members played night tennis there.
Cr Longland said the courts could be needed in the future as the Pottsville population continued to grow with further approved subdivisions set to come on line, so it was ‘up to Council to provide passive recreation options for the people who live in those areas’.
He said some people wanted to ‘lock the gate’ on the Black Rocks sportsfield and road leading to it by closing the facility down altogether in order to minimise impacts on the surrounding koala colony by traffic and dogs, ‘but it’s not as easy as it sounds’.
‘People use those fields for recreation; they play cricket, throw frisbees. Sure, adequate signage is needed to alert people that koalas are here and traffic-calming devices to prevent hooning, but it’s not just a case of locking the gate,’ Cr Longland said.
‘It’s complex and there’s a lot involved but I haven’t formed an opinion one way or another how this will go, but I have to consider there is a wider community amenity involved here,’ he said.
Cr Bagnall slammed the mayor for what he claims is ‘backflip’, saying the mayor was ‘wavering’ on the issue after recently strongly urging for protection of koalas from dogs at Kings Forest.
‘The development still has the potential for increased traffic and unleashed dogs coming into that isolated area,’ Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily.
‘It’s in the middle of core koala habitat, an endangered ecological community, the local koala population cell and the wildlife corridor.
‘And people in the tennis club would have to drive further to the southern side of Pottsville to get there; some members also are happy with what they have now,’ he said.
Cr Bagnall says experts consider the Pottsville wetlands/Black Rocks koala sub-population critical to the survival of the koala on the Tweed coast and the integrity of the habitat should be protected.
He said its isolated location 300 metres into bushland was reason for a history of its being plagued by vandalism, at great expense to Council, and the proposed tennis facility would be a prime target for vandals.
It would also be impossible to restrict dogs from the site with people continuing to walk their dogs (both leashed and unleashed) into it.
He says sporting facilities are in the public’s best interest but not at the expense of driving the Tweed coast koala population into extinction.
Crs Longland and Bagnall, deputy mayor Michael Armstrong and Cr Katie Milne last month voted to reject the tennis courts with the associated 40,000-watt lighting for night matches.
Crs Warren Polglase, Carolyn Byrne and Phil Youngblutt, who opposed them, have signed the rescission notice to overturn that, with a new bid by Cr Byrne to reinstate the tennis courts without the lighting.
The federal government recently elevated the protection status of koalas in NSW, Queensland and the ACT to ‘vulnerable’ under federal law.