By Cat Holloway, Callala Matters
The fight to save Callala's precious forest, gliders and birds intensified this week with two dramatic developments.
Callala Matters discovered that Shoalhaven City Council staff buried a crucial in-house environmental analysis opposing a contentious subdivision in Callala Bay. Our Government Information Public Access (GIPA) application for Council’s internal communication revealed that expert ecologists found "serious deficiencies" in the developer’s biodiversity surveys and recommended the development not proceed.
To support the proposal to clear 38ha of Callala Bay forest for 380 houses, the Halloran Trust commissioned a Biodiversity Certification Assessment Report (BCAR) to address the environmental effects of a development that will, according to that BCAR, cause “a complete loss of all biodiversity values” on the land slated for subdivision. The BCAR then makes the extraordinary claim that offset measures will “improve or maintain biodiversity values” and that there would be “no net loss” of biodiversity.
Halloran’s nearly incomprehensible technical description of their offset strategies include extensive fencing and somehow “moving” old-growth hollow-bearing trees “that cannot be saved”. The biodiversity assessment nonsensically claims that 38ha of healthy coastal forest - including tree habitat for endangered greater gliders, gang gang cockatoos, Bauer’s Midge orchid and several other vulnerable animals species - will be clear-felled with “no net loss of biodiversity”.
Even the developer’s representative, Matt Philpott, said during an online community briefing that the BCAR was too complex for anyone but a specialist to understand and that we “may feel a little bit bamboozled by some of the detail.”
So, Shoalhaven City Council planners asked their specialist environmental services team to evaluate the Halloran BCAR. The resulting review by accredited Biodiversity Offset Scheme assessors identified "serious deficiencies” due to incomplete surveys using obsolete methodology:
- No plot data collected within the “old growth forest” containing large hollow-bearing trees in the northern part of the development footprint.
- BCAR is based on survey data and findings that are more than five years old and prior to the 2019-2020 bushfires that directly impacted most of the Shoalhaven LGA.
- Since much of the field surveys are unrepresentative of the vegetation and threatened biota occurring within the development footprint (and the change in the conservation status) … the field survey and a re-write of the BCAR and subdivision redesign should be undertaken.
The comprehensive review concluded that “the current design/footprint of this development should not be supported.”
Documents obtained prove that Council strategic planning staff received this damning review before the public submissions deadline but did not share it with elected councillors or the NSW State Government.
The state subsequently approved the rezoning of the land for subdivision despite almost unanimous community opposition (1002 submissions opposed; 14 in favour), grave fire and flood concerns and certain death to several endangered and threatened species.
Further controversy comes from disturbing revelations that the state government sought confidentiality agreements from council staff as part of its Planning Approval Pathways scheme to fast-track certain contentious development projects.
At last Monday's meeting, council voted unanimously and vehemently in favour of Mayor Amanda Findley's motion to halt progress of the rezoning pathway program which "intends to bypass community input into serious planning applications that deserve the ultimate scrutiny by community and council."
Councillor John Wells summarised the bipartisan opinion in the room:
"In my 36 year history of working with and on this council I’ve never seen such a backdoor method by a state government to dragoon the resources of the city for its own purposes... This is an outrage. I have never known anything like it in my life... it is undemocratic, it is autocratic, it is secretive, it is scheming. We have to be as far as the east is from the west in relation to what the state government is trying to do. I am happy to support this motion to hit ‘em on the head."
Ever since Henry Halloran purchased hundreds of hectares of land near Jervis Bay over a hundred years ago, he, and now his trust, have tried to develop the area. Twenty years ago the Jervis Bay Settlement Strategy 2003 (JBSS) nominated 35 hectares adjacent to Callala Bay as a “possible new urban release”. However, that was contingent on detailed investigations into site constraints and design issues including:
- threatened species (eg. yellow bellied glider);
localised habitat corridors;
- significance of vegetation within the subject land;
- buffers to wetland area and local watercourses;
- water quality/stormwater controls;
- set back to road;
- flooding; and
- bushfire measures.
Shoalhaven Council’s review of the Halloran BCAR highlights the developer’s failure to address those JBSS constraints. This flawed planning process exposes a dangerous lack of transparency in government as well as complete disregard for local residents, infrastructure challenges, climate change and the unique natural treasures that characterise coastal villages like Callala. Ethics and common sense aside, Halloran's proposed subdivision still needs to satisfy several planning and environment requirements before it gains approval. Especially following recent catastrophic bushfire events, Callala's community plays a crucial role in upholding modern principles of sustainability, protecting biodiversity from extinction and holding powerful officials accountable for decisions that define our future.
Feature image: Greater glider's are the worlds largest gliding marsupial, status: Endangered. The photo features a greater glider in its home grounds in Callala Forest. Photo credit: Callala Matters