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Zombie DAs Destroying Our Coastal Ecosystems

March 2, 2023

By Richard Bates

Zombie developments infest the entire east coast of NSW, there’s at least 20 of them. The epicentre, however, is the Shoalhaven with no less than five environmentally destructive zombie coastal developments underway that we know of.

By now we all know about the 'zombie' development approvals from years back that raise their ugly heads when the owner/developers decide that this is the right time to mow down precious hectares of bush and build outside of the environmental and planning controls that exist today.

Who knows how many projects are still sleeping? At Manyana, Huskisson, Woollamia and Culburra the activation of zombie DAs is destroying our natural heritage and driving species to the brink of extinction.

Already koalas have been declared extinct in the Shoalhaven, wiped out by the destruction of their habitat. At Callala the community is fighting an ad hoc rezoning that would see important habitat cleared.

A greater glider in a tree, an endangered species due to habitat loss
A mature native tree in the forest is this greater glider's home and is essential habitat for survival of the species. Photo credit: Christina Zdenesk/

The community at Manyana and Callala took it upon themselves to conduct ecological surveys and found endangered gliders in healthy numbers on these very sites. These obviously need protection because gliders are now extinct in many other areas in the Shoalhaven where previously they were common. Their study contradicted in many ways the developer's ecological study provided to Council. 

But what is any level of government doing about it? Nothing.

If federal, state and/or local councils were serious about tackling the environmental degradation of our coastline, ameliorating climate change, preparing for sea level rise, or even promoting tourism, we would see government doing everything they can to find a solution to zombie DAs.

Instead they just trot out the tired old line 'there is nothing we can do, these are legitimate developments approved years ago'.


Government has bottomless pockets when it comes to highway bypasses and intersection flyovers, encouraging more and more tourists to come down to the South Coast at holiday time and weekends by improving the roads. When it comes to protecting the very thing that all those holidaymakers come down here for, our spectacular, precious and ever-diminishing natural environment, they are almost wholly missing-in-action, relying on citizen action groups to monitor clearing and building works and ask the difficult questions.

Blenheim Beach Vincentia Jervis Bay
This is what holidaymakers come down here for, our spectacular, precious and ever-diminishing natural environment. Blenheim Beach - Vincentia. Photo credit: Andy Hutchinson Photography

There could be a simple solution - buy these land parcels back. The money could come from all three tiers of government, including Council. After all in most cases they approved these damned things in the first place.

Perhaps the councillors involved should be named, shamed and held accountable - it wasn't as if there was no community opposition at the time. The State Government is also accountable. It should have acted upon their obligation to protect all state-listed endangered species and the precious remnant bushland that escaped the horrific Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20 when 80 per cent of the Shoalhaven was burnt.

Both Federal and State National Parks services are directly involved in all five developments in the Shoalhaven, being a direct neighbour therefore with a vested interest. But alone they are powerless. State planning laws are out of step with the required level of environmental protection. Although the Federal Government also have an obligation to protect our national heritage, especially federally-listed endangered species.

Obviously by way of a solution, legislation could be passed forcing DAs over five or ten years old to be reassessed under current environmental and planning laws. For this there could also be compensation.

Our governments possess many powers. If a government wants to build a road through your property it is compulsory, and you are forced to accept the compensation. Why can't this be done to protect the native forests of our coastline. No really - why not?

Glossy black cockatoos on a tree branch
Glossy black cockatoos, endangered inhabitants of our native forests. Photo credit: Chris Grounds

It is time to stop all development on ecologically sensitive land. There is too little precious habitat left on the coast to allow developers to set the agenda. What has a developer ever done to protect habitat and wildlife in the Shoalhaven?

What was ever done to protect koala habitat in the face of its wanton destruction? Nothing. We just watched forests and wildlife die out, as we did many other species, not even acting when 80 per cent of our bush was burnt. Where is the public outrage?

All levels of government are equally to blame here. Where is the lobbying from departments and between tiers of government? Why hasn’t the mismatch between planning laws and the environmental crisis been addressed?

Several threatened species such as gang gang cockatoos, powerful owls, greater and yellow-bellied gliders, glossy black cockatoos, and more, are now on the brink of extinction, whereas before clearing all were present at all these sites.

The site at Moona Moona Creek in Huskisson was cleared even before final approvals were forthcoming on an amended application. The Council did nothing to stop it until the community reported and proved that federal and state laws were about to be breached as a pair of gang gangs were actually nesting on the block.

Then and only then did Shoalhaven Council take action to allow them to breed. The moment the two offspring were fledged and able to fly, the developer was given the go ahead to clear the site for a construction not even approved yet.

State Labor is making encouraging noises pre the state election, but it is only The Greens that are taking the issue seriously. It is too late for the sites already cleared but the horrific destruction of habitat that has occurred should be enough to make all levels of government and their bureaucrats sit up and take notice of the outcry from the community. 

The community voice can be stronger than you think, so please lobby all local candidates and those likely to hold important portfolios after the upcoming state election. Demand that they make planning and environmental law reforms high on their agenda if they want your vote.

This has to stop.

Feature image: Two gang gang fledglings waiting in their tree hollow nest for a feed at the Murdoch street development site at Moona Moona Creek. Photo credit: Sue Tolley/Keep Jervis Bay Unspoilt.

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