Tweed Shire Council will tonight vote on whether to adopt a staff recommendation to award a tender relating to a proposed Men’s Shed adjacent to a colony of the shire’s endangered koalas at Black Rocks.
An earlier version of this article stated that Council staff had recommended a construction firm to build the Shed at the disputed site. In fact the tender to be considered tonight is for the assessment of staff’s in-house development application for the Shed. A Tweed Shire council spokesperson said, ‘As Council staff prepared the application it was considered appropriate to outsource the assessment of the application for complete transparency.’
The move comes despite a last-minute plea from a local environment group and the threat of a Land and Environment Court challenge should it go ahead.
Threatened Species Conservation Society president Dave Norris told Echonetdaily the decision was premature given a study into the Black Rocks koala population has not been completed.
And Tweed mayor Gary Bagnall said he would attempt to delay a decision on the Men’s Shed when council meets tonight, saying it should not go ahead without a koala study on its potential impact.
‘Because of the status of the koalas in the Black Rocks locality, and the recent fire, and the pressures on those koalas at the moment, that anything that happens on that oval in terms of development, the gate, etc, needs to be informed by a proper investigation and study.’ Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily.
‘I will be putting something up to that effect tonight,’ he added.
Endangered ecological communities
Mr Norris that one of the activities of Men’s Shed participants would be ‘the construction of model aeroplanes’, which he said was entirely inappropriate given the Black Rocks sports fields, where it is set to be built, is ‘surrounded by endangered ecological communities.’
‘The area contains one of only two naturally occurring Osprey nests in the Tweed Shire. It’s breeding season at the moment and I recently witnessed one of them sitting on the nest when some model aeroplanes were being flown over the oval.’
‘It was forced to retreat to a lower branch as a result.’
Mr Norris said the aeroplanes already being flown on Black Rocks oval also impacted on the koala colony.
‘I’ve also got photographic evidence of damage to habitat. It seems that damage could well have been caused by model aeroplane flyers retrieving their planes. The area where the damage occurred is primary koala habitat,’ he said.
Koala study incomplete
Mr Norris is also critical of a council plan to remove gates erected at the sports ground to prevent dogs and from crossing into the koala habitat and replace them with a grid.
In February the chief executive of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to the general manager of the Tweed Shire Council requesting it to ‘reconsider the motion to replace the existing gates at the entrance to the (Black Rocks) sporting field and not make any changes until the koala study is completed’.
‘This will allow more detailed information to be available regarding koalas, their habitat usage and the threats operating in the surrounding area to ensure that any decision regarding the sports field access and use is based on accurate and up to date ecological data,’ the OEH CEO wrote.
Mr Norris said the same precautionary principle should apply to the construction of the Men’s Shed.
‘I believe that it is premature and inappropriate to progress and approve the Men’s Shed Development Application until this accurate and up to date ecological data is available,’ he said.
Court appeal likely
In October last year, in a letter to the Tweed Daily News, local resident Peter Steele appeared to suggest a Land and Environment Court challenge would follow any council decision to construct a Men’s Shed at Black Rocks.
‘Notice is given to council that its actions in this matter are being closely monitored and legal action will be commenced to ensure that an independent court will make the final decision on whether the proposed development goes ahead. We will take the matter out of your hands. Apart from action under the EP&A Act, we will also seek recourse under administrative law, if appropriate – a costly exercise that could take a couple of years to resolve,’ the letter read.