Community concern over a proposed subdivision at Muller Street Redland Bay is becoming another Redlands2030 Hotspot.
A recent decision about relaxation of koala protection rules for this development raises questions about Redland City Council’s protection of environmental values and the way that Council makes some of its decisions.
The proposed residential development ROL005924 is for 64 lots on a 7.82 hectare site, with an average lot area of 507 sqm. The biggest block is 982sqm, the smallest is 420sqm with most blocks being 450-500 sqm.
The development site owned by Harridan Pty Ltd adjoins their existing development (to the east).
The earlier development points to special value
This land straddles Weinam Creek, a permanent waterway in this part of its catchment.
On the Council’s Bushland Habitat overlay, the site includes an Enhancement Corridor (light green) along the creek overlay and Bushland corridor (dark green) the the west.
On the northwest corner regrowth is well established comprising paperbarks, eucalypts and she-oaks (generally less than 10 years old) while in the southeast the vegetation is more sparse and probably no more than 15 years old.
The site adjoins Cleveland-Redland Bay Road to the south, the Muller Street road reserve to the north and residentially zoned land to the east and west. The well established Low Density Residential subdivision (Ridge Street) was seemingly approved in a period of “planning enlightenment”, as these large prestige blocks include covenants for environmental purposes.
The covenants protect trees and prohibit development within the covenant area and as one objector points out “our property has a nature corridor along the back that we are not allowed to fence, all of us have dog fences to allow the wildlife to move freely between properties”. The covenants are within the Bushland Corridor.
Given the protection afforded by these covenants a further strengthening of the corridor might be expected with and from the available mapping the bushland corridor extends into the subject site. There seems reason to expect augmentation of the established corridor (possibly 3-5 metres wide along the western boundary of the applicant’s land) should be retained to provide tree protection but also provide a reasonable transition between large residential blocks and proposed small lot development. This protection zone is missing in the subdivision design
First step: amend the classification under the Koala SPP
The first question asked of Council (and the recommendation considered at the Council meeting) was an application to amend the site’s classification under Division 9 of the South East Queensland Koala Conservation State Planning Regulatory Provisions (Koala SPRP).
The applicant provided an ecological report recommending that the site’s south eastern corner classification is more akin to Medium Value Rehabilitation as opposed to the High Value Bushland classification for that part of the site.
Unfortunately, the existing covenants (shown with a broken line in the subdivision layout top right and in dark green below right) are not mentioned in the officers report…probably these are not relevant under the section and division of the koala SPP but of course natural systems don’t abide by the cadastral boundaries.
It is reported that the north-western and central parts of the site contain denser and more recent regrowth that has occurred in the last 10 to 12 years. The ecology report argues that this area likewise is not Rehabilitation Habitat. There is a mix of koala habitat and non-habitat species in the regrowth, which provides food, shelter, and allowance for koala movement.
The officers report explains that “in time, if left alone, this may become closed forest and open woodland and eventually be classifiable as Bushland Habitat”.
This is an interesting observation given the growing use of “offsets” as a means by which native vegetation can be removed. The report went on to explain the regrowth process would take many decades and the likelihood of it happening in this exact location is too difficult to predict, as it is dependent on a number of unknown factors – environmental, town planning, demographic and economic. So, it is determined the vegetation will only be of value (under the SPP) “in time”
“Rubber stamping” of workshopped decisions?
At the General meeting held 21 October 2015 (Agenda item 11.2.3) the recommendation was that the koala habitat type for part of the land designated High Value Bushland is changed to Medium Value Rehabilitation for the purpose of applying divisions 4 to 7 of these State Planning Regulatory Provisions.
While five Councillors opposed the recommendation the vote was tied with the deliberative vote of Councillor Beard. His justification being “we workshopped this yesterday”…”the land is zoned for residential purposes”. He then used the casting vote as Chair of the meeting to support the motion, which was carried. You can view the Council Meeting discussion of item 12.2.3 on a videorecording.
This appears to be yet another instance where councillors have made up their minds about a planning issue in a behind closed doors workshop, before it gets publicly rubber stamped at a formal Council Meeting.
Interestingly, the other rationale given by the Deputy Mayor for his decision was that the land was zoned residential. The zoning was not mentioned in the report although the officers report stated “the Planning Scheme is not relevant to the assessment of the current request“.
When another Councillor had raised the development application the ever ready Cr Gleeson moved a point of order about the relevance. Cr Beard dismissed the point of order ….. perhaps with his own expressed reasoning in mind.
Neither the workshop nor the zoning were canvassed in the officers report as a reason to be considered in making a decision, presumably because these aspects had no relevance to the decision the Council had to make.
Locals warn about the Development Application
Local resident Greg Underwood has made the following comments about this proposed development:
The adjoining lands (now being developed) are on higher land, with less environmental value due to lower slopes and less significant creek drainage. Lot 17-92 has steep slopes (15%) and given the average lot size (about 500 sqm) there will be a total loss of vegetation in the developed area and a significant amount of earthworks including retaining walls.
I hope that the existing covenants on lots in Ridge Street (shown with a broken line in the subdivision layout) are considered by the officers writing the planning report and the whole of the bushland habitat corridor is protected in the likely event of a development approval.
By any proper town planning assessment this development would not proceed as proposed, however it seems unlikely council officers will apply the planning criteria as provided for in the existing planning scheme (slope,vegetation,creek corridor,corridor preservation). An increasing number of people believe this is because of a reluctance to raise the displeasure of Councillors should the developer chose to appeal the Council’s decision.
It is often the case that development conditions are negotiated with the developer prior to any appeal. The approach being taken seems likely to be supportive of the development and development industry. It is not the proper approach to achieve the best community outcome for this development or for development in the Redlands area in general.
Will regrowth be the “death knell” for offsets?
Council’s report shows the north-western and central parts of the site contain denser recent regrowth that has occurred in the last 10 to 12 years. It is reported as a mix of koala habitat and non-habitat species in the regrowth, which provides food, shelter, and allowance for koala movement.
The assessment concludes that in time, if left alone, this may become closed forest and open woodland and eventually be classifiable as Bushland Habitat.
This is an critical comment given the increasing interest in using vegetation “offsets” to enable developments to proceed and for vegetation to be removed. New plantings of trees are put forward as compensatory habitat but clearly the delay between planning and a useful patch of vegetation is generational.
For example, the proponents of the massive Shoreline development claim in their advertising that they will plant “350 000 trees to …to create 2.7 km of new wildlife corridors“. The generational time lag is not mentioned, but clearly a functioning ecosystem is at best 20-25 years after the plantings.