Sydney Koalas

The Sydney Knitting Nannas and Friends have been concerned for some time with the Lendlease housing development at Mt Gilead known as Figtree Hill. We believe that this development could have a disastrous effect on the Campbelltown koala colony, the only thriving, chlamydia-free koala population in NSW.

The development sits right at the point where the Nepean and Georges Rivers are no more than about 4km apart. To thrive and breed, koalas need to be able to cross freely from one bush corridor to the other. We have been in discussion with Lendlease about their plans for the development, and in October 2021 undertook a site visit.

Site visit by Nannas to Figtree Hill
During our site visit, Lendlease representatives characterised any clearing that they would do in the future as taking down a few paddock trees that were in poor health. We noted their frequent claims that “at no time through the 10-15 year construction program will there be less core habitat available to the local koala population than they have today”(1). We were deeply shocked when, in December, Lendlease commenced clearing the Figtree Hill site, and felled at least 100 mature, healthy habitat trees including one which was estimated to be over 500 years old.

Tree felled on Lendlease Figtree Hill development, 6 December 2021

The “scorched earth” approach to housing development espoused by Lendlease, where every tree within the building area is razed, is an environmental disaster not only for the many different types of wildlife living in and around the trees but for humans as well. New suburbs created on this model can be 5-10 degrees hotter than the original land. In these days of increasing temperatures it is surely time for this practice to be called out as unacceptable. Not only are trees regulators of temperature, they are home to countless life forms which make up the web of life on which we all depend.

At our site visit to Figtree Hill, a very disturbing scenario was raised in our discussions with Brendan O’Brien, Lendlease Head of Strategic Planning (Australian Property). Mr O’Brien gave us this map. The subject of our concern is the plot of land at the pointy end of the Figtree Hill development near Beulah Reserve.

In the left hand illustration this plot is coloured green and is zoned as ‘Public Recreation’. In the two right hand illustrations the land is coloured pink and zoned ‘Low density Residential’.

When questioned about the re-zoning of land for wildlife corridor ‘A’ required by Campbelltown Council Local Planning Panel, Mr O’Brien replied that since the land (shown here at the top of the right hand illustration as ‘22A’) had cost Lendlease “tens of millions of dollars” to relinquish, it was reasonable for them to recoup their losses by placing housing on his southern public recreation reserve instead.

The Knitting Nannas find it completely unacceptable that the perfectly legitimate need for a wildlife corridor should be the subject of a deal to sacrifice land and trees which, if saved, can easily double as koala habitat and a recreational area as well.

Situated immediately to the north of Beulah Reserve, this plot of land is covered by large, beautiful, healthy trees which local koala protection groups observe being used as habitat by koalas from time to time. If this area is re-zoned for housing as Lendlease is planning, it will be subject to the “scorched earth” treatment so shockingly demonstrated on the rest of the Figtree Hill housing area.

The Knitting Nannas believe that Lendlease’s application for rezoning and trying to legitimise this deal is currently before the DPIE.

The Chief Scientist’s 31 Recommendations
The NSW Government announced to great fanfare late in 2021 that they would accept the 31 Recommendations of the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer (2). These Recommendations need to be properly ratified in legislation before it is too late for the koala colony which they were intended to preserve.

In the meantime, it is obvious from our reading of the Recommendations that Lendlease, with its current permissions, is contravening five of them – #2, #3, #10, #12 and #17.

Corridors and underpasses
The matter of viable koala corridors under Appin Rd and across the Figtree Hill development is a matter which should have been resolved and well underway by now. It is a scandal that the NSW Government has not approved Lendlease’s offer to build underpasses at Noorumba Reserve and Beulah Reserve. Permitting development to commence prior to their construction puts koalas at much increased risk of being killed on Appin Rd, an occurrence which is already far too frequent.

Biocertification for Stage 2
Lendlease will soon be applying for Biocertification for Stage 2 of the Mt Gilead project. It is obvious to us that permissions were given for habitat destruction for Stage 1, Figtree Hill, which have already impacted the Campbelltown koalas in a very negative way. It is imperative that the process for Stage 2 should not allow for the destruction of habitat in the same way. In the current crisis for koala numbers there is absolutely no place for the concept of offsetting (i.e. trading off) any koala habitat. Every bit counts, especially in this geographically very significant area.

We urge the NSW government to make the following interventions which we believe will be critical to ensuring the survival of this precious koala colony:

  • ensuring that Lendlease’s current re-zoning attempts do not sacrifice a beautiful area of healthy trees
  • ensuring the implementation of the OCSE 31 Recommendations including Appin Rd underpasses
  • ensuring that the Mt Gilead Stage 2 Biocertification process does not offset koala habitat

Nanna Bronwyn and the Sydney Knitting Nanna Koala Team

(1) Lendlease Media Release 21 October 2021 – Lendlease Australia responds: Figtree Hill

(2) Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan – Response to advice from the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer 2021

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