ANSWERS SOUGHT | Bushland and wildlife conservation up in the air

CONCERNED" Community figures turned up to the Total Environment Centre forum last Thursday.

The Total Environment Centre hosted a forum last Thursday at Leumeah to encourage community discussion about the NSW Department of Planning’s Western Sydney Strategic Sustainability Plan, which includes bushland at Liverpool and Fairfield.

The forum, Last Chance for Western Sydney Bushland, was an opportunity for the community to directly ask questions and seek answers from the Department of Planning’s director of biodiversity and sustainability, Justine De Storres.

It’s understood the plan will continue to develop over the next eight months.

The centre’s senior campaigner, Corrine Fisher, said about 170 people attended the forum.

“It’s an important plan for conservation outcomes in western Sydney. There’s little information in the public realm about this plan and there’s a high degree of interest from the community – and for good reason. People want to sustain western Sydney’s natural heritage and state. We felt the public needed to be aware of what’s happening as soon as possible,” Ms Fisher said.

“It’s interesting why there’s been no announcement from the Minister for Planning, AnthonyRoberts, about this plan, yet it’s significant and covers seven local Government areas. So we’d like to hear from the department about their vision.”

Residents and community figures appear displeased.

Residents and community figures appear displeased.

Ms Fisher said she expected the department to outline their plans and process. However, it didn’t happen.

“It was disappointing for residents, it just boosted people’s uncertainty. The NSW Minister for Planning and Environment is going to have to work hard now to win over the people of western Sydney. He didn’t attend the meeting and he still hasn’t made a comment.”

The centre’s executive director, Jeff Angel, said he has two major concerns which arose from the forum.

“One of my concerns is they just released more land for rezoning. The rezonings should not be done ahead of conservation plans as it will disadvantage conservation decisions. The minister seems comfortable announcing housing targets but has been completely silent on his vision for the future of Western Sydney’s natural heritage,” he said.

Mr Angel said the Department of Planning and Environment made no secret of the fact that the level of growth projected for Western Sydney in coming years could involve significant loss of existing bushland, but claimed that its plan to identify and protect strict like-for-like offsets and new conservation reserves in Western Sydney was the best way to ensure the survival of local wildlife.

“Elements of the plan appear attractive but the use of offsets caused significant concern. There is deep community cynicism about the concept of offsets – whether these will be sufficient to guarantee the long-term survival of species such as the koala and whether the current Government can really guarantee they will still be around in 20 or 30 years’ time.

“The approach they’re using under the new legislation allows weak offsets. The department did say they were aiming for like-for-like offsets and that’s a pretty important outcome but our first choice is to avoid clearing bushland.

“What we’re learning about trees is they have economic value in reducing air pollution, cooling areas which are starting to suffer from the urban heat and it benefits people’s health. Yes, it’s about the impact on wildlife, too, but it’s also about having a healthy urban environment for people.”

Biodiversity offsets work through protecting biodiversity in one area in exchange for impacts on biodiversity values in another area.

Councillor Charishma Kaliyanda was one of two Liverpool councillors present at the forum. She said people had voiced a lot of anger about the plan with Liverpool at the front line of new developments.

“It was an informative evening and good to have a number of different perspectives that added more meat to the bones of the legislation coming up. But because there aren’t a lot of details or practical implications of how the biodiversity offset credits work it’s still up in the air,” Cr Kaliyanda said.

In less than 40 years animals like koalas could vanish from the wild in New South Wales. It’s not only possible it’s likely.

Leanne Taylor, chief executive, WIRES

“My concerns are how it will work because it’s so new and how it’ll protect our native spaces and bushland so it’s available for our children and grandchildren.”

The community raised concerns at the forum about the koala habitat in Western Sydney.

WIRES chief executive LeanneTaylor said more generally clearing of land can have an impact on wildlife and the koala population.

“It’s almost impossible to think that in less than 40 years animals like koalas could vanish from the wild in New South Wales. It’s not only possible it’s likely. The government has passed legislation that will lead to broad-scale land-clearing in NSW which will threaten all native animals that inhabit these forests,” she said.

The Champion subsequently asked the Department of Planning and Environment:

  • Locals are concerned that rezoning and development of areas will have a serious impact on koalas and wildlife. Apparently, koalas in south-west Sydney are the only chlamydia-free koalas in NSW. Does your plan take wildlife into account and how?
  • Apparently there will be a Biodiversity Offset Scheme implemented in August next year. Has this strategy worked in other areas?
  • The Total Environment Centre has concerns about rezonings ahead of the conservation plan and believe it will disadvantage conservation decisions. Will more rezonings be released ahead of the plan?

This was the written response from a department spokesperson:

“We are developing the Western Sydney Strategic Sustainability Plan to make sure we balance environmental protection with the future growth of our city. Public feedback will be an important part of the plan’s development and we will be engaging the community more broadly next year.

“We have been speaking with key stakeholders early in the planning phase, including environment groups. We understand the Western Sydney community is interested in their local environment and they can rest assured that we will consider their feedback as we develop this plan.”