Hundreds of Byron locals are rallying together in a bid to save a large pocket of ecologically significant bushland in Brunswick Heads from development.
The 30-hectare site at 15 Torakina Road, next to the Bayside housing estate, is home to scores of native trees and flowers, which provide food and shelter to koalas, black cockatoos, gliders and the ‘vulnerable’ Wallum Froglet.
However, the site has been approved for a major housing development, called ‘Wallum’, featuring 124 residential lots, three medium density lots and a series of roads and supporting infrastructure.
With public consultation for the development taking place during the worst of the covid pandemic, many locals feel that they were denied the right to have their say.
They are now demanding that the decision to approve the development, made by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP) in May this year, be reversed.
‘Wallum wildflowers and the intricately-linked wallum froglet habitat are rare, and cannot be re-made or replanted successfully by humans, and deserve unreserved protection in our Shire,’ said James Barrie, one of the leaders of the community campaign.
‘These treasures simply can’t be forfeited to a luxury housing development by Clarence Property Group, to be tastelessly called “Wallum”, after the name of the ecology it will destroy.
‘These plans pose real risk to the local survival of the wallum froglet, and put serious pressure upon its “vulnerable” to extinction conservation status. It cannot survive through seasonal climatic fluctuations corralled into a human-modified habitat.’
In it’s Development Application, Clarence Property says that over 18 hectares, or 60 per cent of the site, will be retained and enhanced as conservation zones.
The developer says that ‘extensive planting’ will be done in compensation for the loss of native flora on the site, including black she oaks and scribbly gums.
It says that this will effectively negate any impact on native species, including the Wallum Froglet.
The NRPP agreed, stating that ‘the biodiversity impacts of the proposed development have been satisfactorily assessed … and conservation measures to offset the residual impact of the proposed development on biodiversity values … have been secured into the future.’
Byron Council also supported the application, though it did not make the final decision.
But the hundreds locals opposed to the development disagree, arguing that the homes for vulnerable species cannot simply be replaced with freshly planted trees in another area.
‘The ecological offsets detailed in the “landscape plan” come up seriously short and are grossly inaccurate in claims of preserving the ecology on the ground,’ said Mr Barrie, who has a degree in Environmental Science.
‘This kind of offset green-washing is just not good enough in 2023. What it has on site currently is perfect and precious and deserving of genuine protection.
‘Once wallum ecology and old growth Scribbly Gums are gone or encroached upon too closely by development, there’s simply no remaking it.’
The fight to save the site from development is unlikely to be easy, with the Northern Regional Planning Panel less susceptible to community campaigns than local councils.
Furthermore, the Planning Minister granted concept approval for the subdivision back in July 2013, effectively giving a conditional green light to development on the site.
Clarence Property Group asserts in its development application that it undertook all required community consultation, including conducting an community meeting in mid 2021 which was attended by 40 locals, a letter box drop of more than 200 residents, and a survey of around 20 people.
However, many in the community feel that undertaking this consultation process during the worst periods of the covid pandemic, including lock downs, meant that the wider community was locked out of the process.
Hundreds have taken to social media to demand that the approval of the development be overturned, including 1,240 people who have joined the Save the Bruns Scribbly Gums Facebook group.
In a post on the Save the Bruns Scribbly G8ms Facebook page, Mayor Michael Lyon said there ‘appeared to be no legal avenues to fight this’.
‘Therefore, I have asked for a meeting with the owner to discuss what other options may exist to enable some or all of the trees to be retained,’ Cr Lyon said.
‘That meeting will occur in the next few days. One option may be to allow trees which form part of blocks that have been sold off the plan to remain and at least give the new owners of the smaller lots the option of retaining the tree/s.
‘A couple of the older, grander Scribblys are at the very start of the development footprint where the current road ends, and sit within the 3 medium density lots, that as I understand it are yet to have been sold. I will discuss with the owner what potential may exist for these lots to be reconfigured and/or to retain the trees.’