Response to ABC article: Ginninderry is Canberra’s newest frontier, and it’s seeing the bush capital confront the bush

The article Ginninderry is Canberra’s newest frontier, and it’s seeing the bush capital confront the bush, relating to the Ginninderry Environmental Management Trust, by reporter Jake Evans, appeared on the ABC News website on Thursday 14th of March 2019.

A number of the statements in the article are incorrect and misleading for readers.

Commentary on these is provided below:

  1. The first paragraph of the article says: “Bushland west of Canberra is prime real estate for both developers and its current residents: threatened wildlife like the little eagle, the corroboree frog, and at least 28 other listed species.” Over the last 10 years, Ginninderry has completed a wide range of environmental investigations to determine the potential environmental impacts of the project. These have been undertaken to ensure that all necessary protection measures are in place, or are able to be easily put in place in the future planning for the project, prior to the start of development.The studies provided input to a robust and comprehensive environmental assessment. This has included an assessment of Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) across the whole site. Approval under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) was obtained in August 2017. In addition to nationally listed species and communities the assessment also included all species and ecological communities listed in either the ACT or NSW. Details of the assessment can be found here[1]
  2. The second “key point” at the head of the article says that “Ginninderry Project bypassed usual environmental checks”. Other references later in the article also raise this point.It is incorrect to say that Ginninderry has not been required to conduct all of the necessary detailed environmental research that would normally be expected of a project of this nature. The exemption approval, to which this “key point” presumably refers, set aside the need to do certain work because Ginninderry had already completed the work as part of the comprehensive environmental strategic assessment in 2017. Rather than taking a piecemeal assessment approach on a stage-by-stage basis, a single very detailed assessment was undertaken.Against this background & comprehensive assessment, the Ginninderry project applied for exemption from the requirement that the DA for stage two and future stages of the project be accompanied by multiple EIS’s prepared specifically to cover the individual DAs. After receiving an assessment report from the Planning Authority, the Minister for Planning determined that an exemption from requiring an EIS be granted.
    A detailed fact sheet which summarises the background to this application, can be found here.
  3. The article refers to the site as “a strip of land running between the Ginninderra Creek and the Murrumbidgee River”.
    This statement implies that the Ginninderry site is a narrow, constrained site, when in fact it is some 1600 hectares.  The distance between the river and the creek obviously varies but is of the order of 3 kilometres in the ACT, narrowing at the point where the creek runs into the river at the western extremity of the site in NSW.
  4. The article refers to “The Ginninderry project’s first tenants…”.
    The future residents will not be tenants, they are homeowners, in many cases taking advantage of the quality affordable housing house and land packages offered by the project and not available elsewhere.
  5. The article says that: “the project has become a key tension point for the ACT Government”.
    This statement appears to be included to suggest a tension where none exists. No evidence is presented to suggest that the Government is subject to any “tension’ with regards to Ginninderry.
  6. The article says “Now a new body has been established to safeguard the waterways beside the new development.”
    This is misleading. Whilst the Ginninderry Conservation Trust will no doubt have regard for the waterways (the Murrumbidgee River and the Ginninderra Creek) its main concern will be the management of the 596 ha of conservation reserve land over which it will have control.
  7. The article says: “Environmental issues have been a thorn in Ginninderry’s side since it began planning more than a decade ago.”
    As with any land development project, environmental matters are a serious matter to be taken into account and managed appropriately. At Ginninderry the objective has been to achieve exemplary, world’s best practice environmental outcomes, based on solid, peer reviewed science; this is being achieved. The environmental values of the site are an asset, and one which will now, with the establishment of the conservation corridor and Trust, be able to be continuously improved over time. The concept of using a trust to manage land such as this is highly innovative and has been the subject of discussion with Government since 2006.The environmental values of the site are certainly not a “thorn” in Ginninderry’s side and the team will continue to manage and address all environmental issues over the life of the project.
  8. The article says that: “environmental and resident groups like the Ginninderra Falls Association said their concerns still stood.” This implies that there are a number of local environmental groups and residents opposed to the project, when as far as we are aware it is only the Ginninderra Falls Association.
    The Ginninderra Falls Association purports to speak for “the community” yet it has only a small number of members. Their views are not representative of the broader Belconnen community whose population is approximately 90,000.
  9. Coghlan, the President of the GFA is quoted as saying: “We’re not satisfied that we’ve been given all the information that we need to be satisfied,”.
    Whilst Ms. Coghlan may consider herself and her organisation to be in need of further information, the fact is that all available information has been provided to her with full transparency. This is the same information that was before the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and the ACT Planning Directorate when they assessed the project. Those agencies, staffed by highly qualified professionals, considered that the information provided a sufficient basis for decision making. The material will also be reviewed by the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage as part of the NSW rezoning process.
  10. The article says that “To allay community concerns, the Ginninderry Conservation Trust is being established.” This is incorrect.
    Following extensive scientific research conducted over the last ten years the Ginninderry Conservation Corridor (596 ha.) was identified and set aside for the preservation of a number of listed species and ecological communities. It will also serve to preserve and protect several sites with important Aboriginal cultural significance. Typically, this land would have been placed under the custodianship of relevant Government agencies – in the ACT the Environmental Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate and in NSW the Yass Valley Council. Whilst such arrangements would have been adequate the Ginninderry project has always sought to achieve better than “business as usual” Options for the future management of this land, which might enable superior environmental outcomes, were explored and have been under consideration since about 2006.Because of the cross-border nature of the site, the species and ecological communities located on it and the cultural values of the area (which of their very nature are “cross-border”) it was decided that a single entity would be best placed to manage the reserve. This would have the advantage of allowing the reserve to be managed holistically, avoiding cross-border jurisdiction issues, it would permit “hands on” and genuine involvement from the local community and Aboriginal stakeholder groups, and, importantly, would enable funding arrangements that were adequate for the job, perpetual and secure.The establishment of the Trust which will effectively own and manage the reserve, achieves all of these aims. The concept has been applauded as being most likely to achieve superior environmental outcomes when compared to any alternative arrangements. It is certainly not a response to any so-called “community concerns” ” and will set a national benchmark in achieving community-based biodiversity conservation adjacent to an urban area.
  11. The article says that the Trusts :” remit will not extend to the land marked for the suburbs, nor to reviewing Government decisions such as exempting Ginninderry from its environment impact statement.”
    This statement is unclear. The purpose of the Ginninderry Conservation Trust is to manage the conservation reserve, there is no logical reason for it to have “remit” over the suburbs which, after all, will be populated by homeowners with no reason or desire to be somehow under the control of a trust.Similarly, it would seem strange for an environmental management trust established for the purpose of managing a conservation reserve, to be given some sort of review or veto rights over Government decision making processes.
  12. Ms Coghlan is quoted as saying: “They have made their decisions that this is what they’re going to do, and the community can object as much as they like, but the economic imperative holds sway,”.
    This statement is not true. If this were the case then one third of the site and very substantial financial commitments would not have been devoted to environmental conservation. There are many instances where community feedback has modified the shape and nature of the development and conservation corridor programs, some examples include: (1) expanding the conservation corridor and reducing the developable area based on feedback from the Aboriginal community; (2) expanding the number of old mature eucalypt trees retained in the urban fabric from a business-as-usual 30% to 80%; and (3) modifying the planting lists for landscaping in the urban area, taking out plants that have a ‘weediness potential’ based on feedback from local conservationists.
  13. The article says: “Ginninderry has acknowledged there will be damage to wildlife, to the land, and to waterways.” This statement is false. The environmental assessment processes recognises the potential for impacts on the environment; as is its purpose. It then ensures that measures are put in place to negate any unacceptable impacts.
    For example, the assessment process found that an area of box-gum woodland (70 ha.) which was previously zoned for development and which would have readily accommodated housing was unsuitable for development because box-gum woodland is a listed ecological community. As a result of this assessment all woodland is now in the conservation reserve.
  14. The article says: “increased run-off and sedimentation into the Murrumbidgee River could affect its health, but the trust will not be able to impose conditions on the new suburbs to mitigate those risks”
    As at item 13 above, this statement reflects a misreading of the environmental assessment process. The potential for impacts on waterways is certainly recognised. Planning, design and management measures are then put in place to ensure that the impacts are negated. The water sensitive urban design measures that are being built into the Ginninderry project are world’s best practice and not only meet, but also exceed, the already stringent controls imposed by ACT water quality protection legislation.It is a misreading of the role of the Ginninderry Conservation Trust to propose that it should have a regulatory role over the urban development. The concerned citizen can be assured that the legislative protections relating to water quality control in new urban areas in the ACT (and NSW) are stringent and effective.
  15. Coghlan is quoted as saying: “whatever checks were in place were not the issue, and at the end of the day the land belonged to nature.”
    This statement establishes Ms. Coghlan’s position, and that of the GFA of which she is president, as being based on ideology rather than on science based, factual analysis. Regardless of any environmental studies and findings, the GFA has a blanket opposition to development, and in the face of this intransigent position, any rational debate must be futile.

[1] For the record there are no corroboree frogs at Ginninderry. Corroboree frogs inhabit the upper reaches of the Brindabella Ranges and parts of Kosciusko National Park.