By Bonnie Cassen
Biodiversity in Australia is under threat like never before. The three billion wildlife and millions of hectares of forest destroyed in the Black Summer fires of 2019/2020 leave all remaining habitat across the country precious and requiring protection.
Development in West Culburra is back on the agenda with amended plans for the previously refused mixed-use subdivision back before the Land and Environment Court.
The community is fairly evenly split on the current proposal with Brian Morley, president of the Culburra Beach and Districts Chamber of Commerce, leading the ‘for’ support and Frances Bray, president of the Lake Wollumboola Protection Association, speaking ‘against’. Many people and groups in Culburra Beach have been very supportive of the Wollumboola lake group’s arguments including Birdlife Shoalhaven, Shoalhaven Landcare and Shoalhaven Birders.
Last month Shoalhaven Council passed a motion of support for the West Culburra development. Most of the support arguments centred around the need for development, the massive improvement of the plans over the earlier proposal, and the questionable “85 per cent support” from the community.
Councillor Pakes concluded his speech with “I hope, I pray every day, that this development will be approved. Let’s get on with it, build it, because the proof will be in the pudding”.
Mayor Amanda Findley, however, took the time to air many legitimate concerns about the impact on Aboriginal culture and heritage, ancient middens and other sites along the Crookhaven River, as well as the effect on the water quality of the river, flora and fauna.
Her cultural concerns are well-founded with excavation and testing on the site revealing over 100 artefacts from every square metre tested. Mayor Findley also expressed concerns about the proposed water recycling system, acknowledging the potential risk to the local oyster industry.
Land owner Halloran has heavily influenced coastal development on the South Coast, decades ago having acquired vast tracts of land from Sanctuary Point all the way north to Black Head at Gerroa. The Halloran style is blanket urban development and this Culburra application is no different.
The current plans are a significant improvement on the previous plans rejected by the Independent Planning Commission. The NSW Department of Planning remains firm on the requirement that “there is to be no development expansion in the Lake Wollumboola catchment” and “limited urban development in the Crookhaven catchment immediately adjacent to the existing town”.
While the new plans and reduced scale have less impact on the environment, it would still be 244 housing lots creating 293 dwellings plonked atop of the Crookhaven catchment. The surrounding coastal forest habitat has been rehabilitating since the 1940s and is supporting substantial wildlife.
This tract of forest escaped the Forest Road fire – it came within nine kilometres of Culburra Beach town – and the surviving habitat has become a refuge for many threatened species, the Powerful Owl and Glossy Black Cockatoo both since returning to the area.
Even the reduced scale development isn’t wise when there are still other environmental, cultural and water factors to take into account. The proposed development fronts onto the Crookhaven River which is recognised as a significant wetland protection area.
Illogical contradictions exist. Although the proposal has been moved back 100 metres from the SEPP 14 wetland, a bicycle path and footpath run from the development all the way into the centre of town so close to the wetland that it is still compromised. There is also regionally significant Aboriginal cultural heritage along the track. A large contingent in the community supports the Jerrinja people, knowing the risk the track alone places on this heritage.
Then there are the water quality measures. A ‘natural’ system is proposed to recycle water to remove nutrients and put the water back into the groundwater recharge. While these systems may work on manufactured waterway developments, the Crookhaven catchment is a pristine natural waterway. Increased flood events and east coast low activity in the area make this a dangerous measure to be considering.
Other oddities are a large-scale industrial area for such a small population with Nowra only 20 km away; and possibly worse how ridiculously close residents will be to the sewerage treatment plant.
Most in the town support integrated seniors’ living and affordable housing done properly, however with no concept images or design models provided no one can know what to base their decisions on. The residential area appears to be medium density, includes no small parks and green spaces and, with the pathway to town a two-kilometre trek, could end up one of those unpleasant extremely hot concrete sub-divisions with nothing going for them.
The idea of a hotel in Culburra Beach is exciting however it is not understood whether a long-standing covenant preventing a hotel in the town would still be in force. Such covenants are another legacy of the Halloran Family Trust.
The Billy’s Island area is an undisturbed wetland area, the last remaining part of the southern estuary that is undisturbed. The river habitat supports important fish nurseries and is a priority site for oyster growing. NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries) rate this an area with its highest classification of water purity and oppose any development that puts this aquaculture resource and the Greenwell Point local economy at risk.
Is the West Culburra good for the town or on the unpleasant side of Sydney urban development? What is and isn’t appropriate for coastal villages like Culburra? Future-proofing environmental and cultural heritage is more important than ever before but if profits always rule, too much will be lost too soon.
The application and supporting documentation for the West Culburra Mixed Use Subdivision are available at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website with the submission deadline being close of business on Friday 26th February 2021. Submissions both for and against the amended proposal can also be viewed including the Lake Wollumboola Protection Association submission. Further information is also available on the group’s webpage.
Feature image: Lake Wollumboola/Crookhaven River/Culburra Beach. Photo credit: wollumboola.org.au