Have your say on the North District Plan and the Greater Sydney Strategy by 31 March 2017.
Increase in Number of Dwellings
The table below summarises the implied new dwelling requirements from the population growth rates adopted in the Greater Sydney Strategy.
|Council||Existing 2011||2011–16||2016–21||2021–26||2026–31||2031–36||Change 2011–36||% change 25 years|
|Hornsby||n/a as boundaries have changed|
Here is an example of how the increase in dwelling numbers could come from replacement of existing houses with higher density dwellings. If the average replacement ratio is three new dwellings for one original dwelling in Lane Cove, around 4000 existing homes (around 30% of the suburb) would be replaced by 12,000 new terraces/townhouses over 25 years.
The sheer scale of new housing and infrastructure that will be needed to accommodate the increase in population over the period 2016–36 means that the character of northern Sydney will change. That will not be the end of it. The growth is not expected to stop once 2036 is reached!
The financing for this development could create pressure for sale of public land. Alternatively it could be financed by concessions in the height and location of high-rise. Dwellings near open space (including bushland) are more valuable and provide greater capacity for ‘value capture’. We see this approach in the proposals for development in South Dural where the developer is applying for approval of six storey buildings adjoining a riparian zone.
Protection of Native Vegetation
STEP’s main area of interest is the likely impacts of extensive further development on our existing bushland and native vegetation and what the District Plans have to say about the future development and management of these areas. We are also concerned about the environment of Sydney in general with issues like:
- Will natural bushland on public and private land be maintained and improved?
- Will the green canopy cover from street trees and suburban gardens be maintained?
- Will there be sufficient wildlife corridors and preservation of habitat, eg tree hollows?
- Will the planning regulations allow developers to remove excessive amounts of vegetation?
- Will there be preparation for climate change in management of riparian zones and foreshores?
The North District Plan is a frustrating document. It makes encouraging statements but then provides little detail on how the intentions will be actioned.
It emphasises the rich natural environment of the North District located in national parks and reserves, public and private land (p131).
It states that more effective outcomes can be delivered through planning at a strategic level that:
… can consider opportunities to connect areas of biodiversity, the relationship between different areas and threats to natural features.
Does this mean considering cumulative impacts and wildlife corridors?
The future status of natural areas is unclear. Natural areas that are currently cared for under council plans of management need to continue to have protection as a special category of public land use. The Department of Planning has been reviewing the State Environment Planning Policy 19 that defines protection of urban bushland for well over a year. We should have this information by now so we know how it fits in with the District Plans. We understand that Tree Preservation Orders are included in this review.
The whole process is a quantum change from the past where a regulatory planning system, such as SEPPs protected our natural areas. We now have a strategic planning system which facilitates further development intensity and the strength of the regulatory protection is unclear.
The future conflicts are exemplified by the stated objectives of strategic conservation planning (p132), for example:
- Maintain and where possible improve the conservation status of threatened species and ecological communities.
- Achieve better outcomes for biodiversity conservation.
- Facilitate urban growth and development and reduce the cost and timeframes for development approvals.
- Provide an equitable model recognising and recovering the cost of biodiversity impacts from urban growth (the questionable offsets system).
Some examples of specific issues that need to be addressed in the North District include:
- Protection of Gordon Flying Fox Reserve – flying foxes are a keystone species that are essential for the cross-pollination of native trees and their ability to adapt to climate change.
- Ensuring critically endangered ecological communities including Blue Gum High Forest and other rare vegetation are protected by the classification as Nature Reserves. These reserves are isolated pockets that are encroached by housing development. Bushland buffers need to be maintained around these endangered forest areas as well measures to ensure that the trees are not damaged by urban stormwater.
- Recognition of the special environmental attributes of the northern areas with unique vegetation arising from high rainfall and Wianamatta Shale Soils.
- The need for an upgrading of the BASIX requirements to allow for more extreme rainfall events that are accelerating damage and erosion to riparian zones. This is particularly noticeable due to the high energy water flows associated with the steep catchments in the North District.
The development of the Green Grid through the Metropolitan Greenspace Program is lauded by the District Plan as an important part of promoting a healthy environment. Broadly the Sydney Green Grid program is all about improving recreational spaces and their accessibility, including access to national parks. STEP is very concerned if it includes developments like bike trails through uncleared bushland, or exploitation for tourism such as leasing public land within national parks for hotels and camping areas.
The North District Plan refers to a detailed report that outlines the conceptual approach behind the Green Grid that is on the website. On enquiry we discovered that it has still not been released. Lack of key information including the changes to SEPP 19 is unacceptable and undermines the purpose of public consultation of the North District Plans.
The Greenspace program is funded by regular grants. $3 million was provided in 2015–16 and $4 million in 2016–17. $50,000 is going towards improving bush tracks in Hornsby. There is no long-term commitment to fund the program.
The North District Plan identifies some priority projects (p137). The proposal for Lane Cove River area is a concern. The description is:
Enhancing open spaces along the Lane Cove River foreshores to create unique recreational experiences linking the Lane Cove National Park to Macquarie Park. Macquarie University, Chatswood and Epping.
Will this involve clearing national park land? Currently this area of the river provides highly diverse habitat areas for native animals. On a recent STEP walk 50 native bird species were recorded. Mountain bike trails have so far been excluded from the LCNP. The area needs protection from high recreational use.
We have an opportunity now to tell the Greater Sydney Commission what is needed to ensure that Sydney’s unique environment is not destroyed by population growth.
We've previously summarised our concerns about the application to rezone rural land to residential land. It is a relief that Hornsby Council has decided to discontinue evaluation of the proposal. But this is only until an infrastructure and funding plan is in place for this and other developments in this rural area.
Over 5,000 submissions were made opposing the development, many for reasons other than congestion along New Line Road and lack of other infrastructure. There will be more opposition to come when the developer has another go. With any luck the proposal will be deemed inconsistent with the North District Plan that aims to retain rural land.
It’s a rare week when natural resource management policy penetrates the national news cycle not once, but twice.
Nonetheless, last Thursday the federal government struck a deal with the Greens to increase funding to Landcare programs by $100 million in exchange for their support on other matters. No one quite seems to know yet how this money will be spent – presumably in ways that support the thousands of volunteer community Landcare groups dotted around Australia.
Then on Sunday, the Australian Financial Review reported that the government will abolish the Green Army program as part of its mid-year budget update later this month.
Introduced in 2014 as a signature policy under the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, the Green Army aimed to mobilise 15,000 young and unemployed people to work on conservation projects and receive complementary training. Axing the program would deliver budget savings of around $350 million.
Abbott took to Facebook on Monday to criticise the move. His main concern seems to be the implication that the Greens’ policy priorities are more important than the Coalition’s. That’s a bad look, he argues, for a 'centre-right government'.
Yet the move would arguably be very much in keeping with centre-right values. By reinvigorating Landcare’s model of personal responsibility and self-regulation, the government could reduce pressure to regulate land use or to pay landholders financial incentives to improve their environmental management.
But consistency with any particular political philosophy is not the issue here. The hyper-polarised political landscape of recent years, particularly on environmental policies, encourages parties to differentiate on any grounds they can. Thus, the cross-party support long enjoyed by Landcare can perversely work against it. Incoming governments believe they need new programs to claim as their own, diverting attention and resources from those already in place.
The $484 million cut to Landcare in the 2014 budget needs to be remembered in this context. Both Coalition and Labor governments have made changes over the years that either reduced the financial support available to community Landcare groups, or imposed more top-down modes of decision-making.
The 2015 Senate inquiry into the National Landcare Program revealed considerable community concern about the impacts of budget cuts on Landcare’s activities and on private commitment to natural resource management. Every dollar of public money invested in Landcare is believed to leverage between $2.60 and $12.00 of community and landholder investment.
When the Green Army was launched, many people questioned whether it would deliver this kind of value for money. With a three-year review of the Green Army due for release early next year (subject to ministerial approval), we might have expected to see some answers.
So why is the Green Army is being cut before the review? Perhaps the government is sparing itself the embarrassment of defending a program that is failing to meet its objectives. Perhaps, despite the critics, the findings would have been positive and the government is avoiding having to explain why the Green Army is being killed off anyway. Perhaps it’s just looking for easy budget savings.
Whatever the motivation, the biggest concern is the absence of a strategic and coherent approach to natural resource management policy in Australia. Major program changes are being made with limited consultation and transparency, and precious little evidence of planning.
At the same time, some policies and programs appear to be working at cross purposes. For example, tree clearing is increasing in much of Australia at the same time that some landholders are being paid through the Emissions Reduction Fund to conserve native vegetation.
Questions need to be asked about the genuine impacts of existing policy, about the way in which regulations intersect with voluntary programs, and about coordination between Commonwealth and state governments, among other issues.
The recent Senate inquiry into Landcare called for long-term investment and stability in natural resource management programs. Achieving this will require a return to genuine cross-party support coupled with broader community and industry support. The key to achieving this, I suspect, is less wheeling and dealing among political parties and more consultation and planning with all interested stakeholders.
It might be time to consider a white paper process to inform the next phase of natural resource management policy. At least that would give us some confidence policy is not being decided on the run.
South Dural Residents and Ratepayers Group, a developer initiated lobby group, has made numerous applications since 1990 to Hornsby Council for the rezoning of 240 ha of rural lands in south Dural for urban purposes. The latest attempt is currently under consideration. Click here for details of the history of the lobbying
In the latest attempt, consultants’ reports have been commissioned as part of the first step of the application, that is, to change the zoning from rural to various levels of residential density and recreational zoning. Submissions closed on 2 December.
The spine of the proposed development is an area of bushland along Georges Creek and another unnamed tributary of Berowra Creek. Indeed the developer is touting the natural views and the tall forest as a feature that will allow six storey apartments to fit into an ‘eco-friendly’ community. All in all the proposal is for 2,900 dwellings that could house 9,000 people.
The bushland is of high conservation value with areas of Blue Gum High Forest (10.5 ha), Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (22 ha), Blackbutt Gully Forest (30 ha) and Shale Sandstone Transition Forest (1.4 ha). The first two listed are classified as critically endangered ecological communities under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
As the opposing residents’ group, the Galston Area Residents Association, points out there are many reasons to oppose the application, for example:
- it is inconsistent with the metropolitan plan to preserve remaining rural land
- current roads cannot cope with current traffic let alone that generated by the extra residents
- public transport is inadequate and the north west rail line is a long way away so buses will have to operate on clogged roads
- there is insufficient provision for schools, shops, recreation areas and other basic infrastructure
STEP opposes the rezoning application for three main reasons:
1. Inadequate vegetation data and mapping
The bushland area comprises about 64 ha, a quarter of the site. As large parts of the land are privately owned it has not been possible to carry out on the ground vegetation mapping. This applies in particular to the area of Blue Gum High Forest of about 10 ha. This is in the context of the total area of Blue Gum High Forest remaining in Sydney of less than 200 ha. Other areas of significant vegetation have not been sampled adequately or consistently.
It is totally unsatisfactory to be asking the public to comment on such inadequate information, especially when dealing with endangered ecological communities.
2. The proposed zoning map does not reflect the described development or the stated purpose to conserve native vegetation
The higher density six storey buildings are planned to be built closest to the bushland but they are zoned R3 (medium density). It should be zoned R4, high density residential.
There are also inconsistencies in the minimum lot sizes of 125 m2 and 225 m2 stated in different parts of the proposal documents. The prospect of lot sizes of 125 m2 is alarming! No room for trees.
Most of the riparian areas are described as having high conservation significance so should be zoned as E2. However the proposed zoning is RE1. It appears the intention is to allow a gravity feed sewer to be installed along the creek lines, hardly compatible with conservation. Construction of a sewer would need road access that would damage the natural creek line and, on past experience, create a wide band of weed invasion.
3. Large areas of the zoning proposal are deferred
The deferred areas are the main bushland strips that interface between the residential areas and the core riparian areas. They cover a significant part of the bushland. The reason given is the uncertainty of the biodiversity legislation that had not been passed when the proposal was submitted.
These deferred areas will be hard to manage because of the proximity to the housing development so government agencies will probably not want them.
An absolute tragedy would occur if they were traded for biobanking sites elsewhere as it would be impossible to find equivalent vegetation communities to be restored to offset the losses. They should become areas that are off-limits to biobanking.
The effect of this proposal on the existing vegetation will be very damaging unless very detailed precinct plans to protect it are drawn up and very active and expensive management takes place in perpetuity.
It is unsatisfactory to expect the public to comment on this proposal with incomplete and inadequate information.
Ideally STEP would like this parcel of land to remain rural, but in the event of it being rezoned for residential development STEP would like the potential impact on biodiversity reduced. Possible mechanisms for this include:
- The RE1 zoning changed to E2 to allow better management of the biodiversity values
- The deferred areas to be zoned E2
- The areas zoned E2 to be managed by the local council with the provision of funding for long-term management from the developer
- The area currently proposed for R3 (medium density) should be greatly reduced with a zoning of R2 (low density) in areas with scattered trees
- Very limited R4 (high density) set well back from the bushland
- The minimum lot size for dwelling houses and semi-detached houses increased well above 225 m2, preferably up to 500 m2
- Find an alternative to gravity-fed sewers down the creeks
- Development set further back from the areas of biodiversity constraints so that the bushland edges are not as severely impacted
- Provision of buffering by revegetation should be considered along bushland edges
The Ku-ring-gai Bushcare Association is an unincorporated organisation that is supported by Ku-ring-gai Council which supports the Bushcare volunteer program and holds regular educational events. The committee comprises elected volunteers and Council employees.
Wander through the bushland of Wahroonga Estate and you will see the delicate heads of native orchids peeping out from between Sarsparilla (Smilax glyciphylla) and Old Man’s Beard (Clematis aristata). The first indications that orchid flowers are about to emerge are the tiny leaves – heart-shaped, ovular, arrow-headed – solitary leaves of a variety of shapes that carpet the ground.