By Claire Haywood
From Yamba in the far north to Tura Beach in the south, the battle against the onslaught of land developments is on. Led by Greens MLC Cate Faerhmann and spearheaded by concerned residents across the state these detrimental ‘zombie DA’s’ are threatening to change the face of many of our beautiful towns and villages along the New South Wales coast.
Coastal Residents United which is made up of no less than 16 community groups, plans to hold forums, rallies and protest actions to make their voices heard as they call for a moratorium on inappropriate coastal developments.
The first of what will be many forums up and down the coast, was held at the Callala Bay Community Centre on Sunday 20th November and hosted by the Callala Environmental Alliance. Speaking to an overflowing town hall of Callala and Culburra Beach residents were Jerrinja elder Auntie Delia Lowe, Cat Holloway from the Callala Environmental Alliance, Shoalhaven Mayor Amanda Findlay, Greens MLC Cate Faerhmann, and myself, representing the Culburra Residents and Ratepayers Action Group.
Auntie Delia spoke about the heavy emotional toll this onslaught of coastal developments is taking on her community, particularly in the Shoalhaven area, where the Halloran Trust own large tracts of land in Culburra Beach and Callala. She described the Jerrinja people as suffering from “generational trauma” as the same battles go on for decades.
Speaking about the controversial Halloran-owned land at East Crescent Culburra, where a subdivision has been in progress, Auntie Delia said, “From that same site, 18,000 artefacts or tools were extracted… Aboriginal culture, history, is older than the pyramids. It is 60 thousand years old. How can it be, in this day and age, that a state government keep on handing out these permits to allow these developers to desecrate our ancient places? And the Halloran Trust want to develop the West Culburra site, so we’re up against battles on two fronts, just in a small area.”
Greens Party MLC Cate Faerhmann delivered a much-needed perspective that will serve as a wake-up call to many. “The cumulative impact of these developments, if they are allowed to go ahead, will result in thousands of hectares of coastal bushland being cleared. Bushland which, particularly after the devastating Black Summer fires, is providing critical refuge for threatened species like koalas, greater gliders, glossy black cockatoos, swift parrots, powerful owls and more.
What's also gobsmacking is that many of these developments were approved decades ago, meaning they’ve avoided many of the requirements of current planning laws like ecological and cultural heritage assessments. Make no mistake, if they go ahead, these developments will do irreversible damage to our coastal villages and bushland environments that the people of NSW love so dearly.”
Cat Holloway spoke about the immediate threat to the endangered greater glider posed by the proposed Sealark housing development at Callala Bay. “Callala Bay is home to endangered greater gliders. Often called flying koalas, they are beautiful, fascinating and they are the world’s largest gliding marsupial. If you had wandered in eastern Australian forests 30 years ago you would have spotted loads of these creatures as they were then the most common nocturnal tree-dweller. Now greater gliders are extremely difficult to find. In fact 80 per cent of the population perished in the 20 years before the 2020 fires.”
The Callala Bay Environmental Alliance is currently creating a petition to have the last remaining greater glider habitat protected from further clearing. This rare and beautiful marsupial is now listed as endangered under Federal, and more recently, NSW legislation. But it is already at serious risk of extinction.
Both government and developers cannot ignore the scientific evidence that greater glider populations across the nation are declining at alarming rates and destruction of greater glider habitat including hollow-bearing trees, foraging habitat and habitat corridors must be stopped before it is too late.
Ms Holloway expressed outrage that the residents of Callala who responded in large numbers to the state’s call out for feedback, were not heard. Of the 1029 submissions submitted to the NSW Department of Planning, an overwhelming 97.4 per cent objected, 1.4 per cent supported and 1.3 percent were neutral. Of those objecting, 97 per cent opposed the proposal to rezone the land for residential use on environmental grounds.
Concerned residents at the forum raised questions about the logic of the Biodiversity Offset Scheme that is intended to compensate for the destruction of habitat at the Callala Bay and West Culburra proposed development sites. The scheme, which is too easy for developers to exploit, has recently been under fire after a government report revealed: “Issues with the scheme’s operation, coupled with a lack of transparency, have led to a perception of many stakeholders that the scheme is profiting a few while failing to deliver meaningful protection for biodiversity.”
Mayor Amanda Findley spoke about the frustrations she has experienced in the past five years, “being faced with a majority of people who wanted to see the Shoalhaven developed at any cost.” She explained that “local government is in fact a creature of the state government and when the state government says jump, local government says how high?” She urged residents to insist on being part of the process and to “take up the power” to drive the narrative in terms of turning this development at any cost mentality around.
In my presentation as president of the Culburra Residents and Ratepayers Action Group, I spoke about how, for residents in Culburra, the first battle in the war against this destructive developer mindset, has already been lost. In December 2021, Sealark won their Land and Environment Court Appeal to clear fell 47 hectares of native bushland as part of their West Culburra housing development. This bush is home to endangered species of wildlife such as yellow-bellied gliders and glossy black cockatoos.
The decision was driven by the then Minister for Planning who was keen to push through several South Coast ‘zombie development’ proposals. Whilst West Culburra was approved subject to conditions, including additional testing to prove that there will be a nil or beneficial effect on the water quality of the adjacent Crookhaven River, it is still an imperfect system.
Responsibility sits with concerned residents of Culburra who now must be vigilant to ensure the developer complies with these conditions imposed by the NSW Department of Planning.
The zoning of this land was originally rural, but in 2012 the Halloran Trust succeeded in getting it deemed a “deferred matter”. Now it is on the table for rezoning. The exact footprint of PP06 has yet to be made public. And the community may not be given details until plans are well-advanced.
I also stressed the importance of scrutinizing the structures and processes by which these disastrous decisions are made, and of prioritising environmental issues in the initial stages of the town planning process. As a society we need to rethink what we mean by progress.
While the speakers acknowledged the current housing crisis, all agreed that these proposed coastal housing developments are not the solution. Currently, developers are under no obligation to provide any affordable housing, and indeed the upmarket coastal locations of these developments are clearly designed to maximize the dollars that will go into the developer’s pocket.
Many people may not be aware that they stand to lose what they love most about NSW coastal towns and villages – the serenity, the native bushland that is home to many species of endangered plants and animals, and the pristine waterways and beaches that make these towns popular holiday destinations.
The Coastal Residents United group plans to put the issue of inappropriate coastal developments firmly on the agenda for the upcoming state election in March. As regional communities experience more and more floods and fires, there is no question that climate change is upon us, and urgent action needs to be taken.
The residents filling the Callala Bay Community Hall at this forum are a testament to the fact that coastal communities are ready to ‘take up the power’ and do what is needed to preserve the integrity and beauty of our coastal villages for future generations.
Feature image: Callala Forest Halloran/Sealark development site. Photo supplied