Response to Robyn Coghlan, President of Ginninderra Falls Association

In October of 2021, Robyn Coghlan, President of the Ginninderra Falls Association issued an information note discussing the proposed “western edge” ACT development area. In the document, a number of incorrect or misleading references are made to Ginninderry. The article is reproduced below, with Ginninderry responses in red italicized text.

Murrumbidgee – Ginninderra Gorges National Park:
Information Note 68

The Ginninderra Falls Association (GFA) has considerable concerns about the current investigation into the Western Edge of the ACT. This area extends from Denman Prospect and Kama Nature Reserve west along the lower Molonglo River to the junction with the Murrumbidgee. It then runs southwards between the suburbs of the Molonglo Valley and Weston Creek on the east and the Murrumbidgee River on the west. The area continues down to Tuggeranong at Kambah Pool Road. The narrow existing nature reserves along the river appear to be excluded from the investigation.

The aim of this investigation is to identify areas warranting environmental protection so as to determine which areas are appropriate for urban development. To date, urban development has been kept at least one kilometre from the river.

GFA appreciates the pressing need to provide housing for the rapidly-growing population of Canberra but are concerned that the same processes that have determined the Ginninderry development are not accepted as adequate. Ginninderry has been and continues to be subject to the provisions of the (Commonwealth) Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1987, the (ACT) Nature Conservation Act 2014, and the (NSW) Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. All of these require rigorous examination of environmental and cultural values as part of planning assessment processes, all of which include opportunities for public scrutiny. Decision making is on the advice of professional scientists, ecologists, biologists, heritage experts and the like within Government agencies, taking into account public input.  The Ginninderry development is already intruding close to the Murrumbidgee with only very steep slopes determining the edge of suburbia with minimal environmental setbacks. Setbacks to the Murrumbidgee River, which define the width of the Ginninderry Conservation Corridor, have been defined based on detailed scientific field surveys and consultation with relevant stakeholders including the Ginninderry Aboriginal Advisory Group, the Conservation Council for ACT and the SE Region. The width of the reserve varies from about 100m to about 1.5 kilometres. The southern end near Strathnairn drains into the southernmost stream of the development, so we will soon start to see the effect of urban development on this stream and the Murrumbidgee. As climate change progresses, the proximity of Ginninderry to the river and the Brindabellas will, most likely, prove to lack foresight. The Ginninderry Water Sensitive Urban Design Strategy will ensure it meets or exceeds regional Water Quality Targets. As part of the strategy, scientific research and the installation of habitat improvement works on the southern stream (known for the time being as “stream E” refer to commenced several years before the commencement of site works to ensure that protections were in place before any possible impacts occurred. Since the commencement of construction works in 2018 regular monitoring of water quality in stream E has shown that the development is not having a deleterious impact. Ginninderry has also Implemented construction sediment and erosion control strategy which exceeds the requirements of the EPA to demonstrate to the industry how to better manage construction site runoff and protect downstream waterways. This type of hands-on management and monitoring of runoff water quality will continue for the life of the project. As the Ginninderra falls Association is aware Ginninderry staff are always available to discuss the stormwater management technology (and indeed any other aspect of the project) with anyone who is interested at any time. It is essential that protection be ensured for both habitat for our native animals, birds and vegetation and for the quality and amount of water available, not only for local residents but also for downstream inhabitants, especially farmers producing our food. The increase in world population since 1950 from 2 billion to 8 billion is placing pressure on natural resources and resulting in changes to world climate. Australia is particularly susceptible due to our limited water supply compared with other countries.

Canberra’s older districts drain into a central basin, from which water flow is managed by a centralised Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) system. Urban development in Molonglo and Ginninderry-West Belconnen have more distributed drainage systems, with a number of smaller WSUD installations that will be more difficult to monitor and maintain. It is unclear why this should be more difficult. Water quality and drainage requirements should be a major concern from the beginning and not treated as a minor concern secondary to population growth. The development of the Ginninderry Water Sensitive Urban Design Strategy commenced in 2013 and was a major consideration in the process that led to the preparation of the Ginninderry Master Plan and the rezoning of the land for Conservation and urban development purposes. Refer to: It was not a “minor concern”.

The initial inquiries into the broader area on the Western Edge should emphasise the need to set substantive setbacks and buffer zones to ensure any development caters for future conditions relating to adequate habitats, not just for currently-designated endangered species but to ensure the long-term safety of all species. Loss of habitat plus climate change will severely impact on all species eventually and it is wiser to protect them before they start to decline. To achieve this, it is essential that conservation boundaries are designed to be smooth and short, with few intrusions of suburbia into the zone, rather than fragmented by following the topography, as in Ginninderry, especially the Parkwood section.

Additionally, it is essential that recreation areas in bushland be adequate for the population using it. With a population of 30,000 in Ginninderry and more planned for the CSIRO Field Station north of Fraser, Spence and Evatt, it has to be asked whether the Ginninderry Conservation Corridor will be large enough to cater for the likely crowds. Visitor numbers to the Ginninderry Conservation Corridor are expected to be high as it will open up access to the Murrumbidgee River, and it the future to Ginninderra Falls, for Ginninderry and Belconnen residents. Visitor management is an important element of the Corridor management plan and will be a task for the Ginninderry Conservation Corridor Trust which has been established and funded to manage the Corridor. Overcrowding is already a problem for the Centenary Trail in the Murrumbidgee Corridor Reserve, which indicates that the reserve area is inadequate for current usage let alone for increased usage associated with urban development.

Another natural concern is the propensity for extreme fires to develop in the Brindabella Ranges and then drive, with great intensity and speed, into Canberra suburbs. Ginninderry is a development particularly susceptible to such fires due to its location near gorges on the Murrumbidgee. Ginninderry is not “particularly susceptible” to fire hazard. It is subject to fire hazard as is all of the ACT, especially suburbs on the western side. Only minimal precautions have been required in the planning of these suburbs. All precautions required by the ACT Emergency Services Agency and the NSW Rural Fire Service have been built into planning at Ginninderry. The project would not have proceeded without the endorsement of these agencies. This is a major consideration in assessing the suitability of areas adjacent to the river and the Brindabellas for urban development. Assessment should prepare for worsening fire conditions to avoid future disruptions by setting adequate safety conditions for residential development and forbidding its development in more hazardous areas. Safety of residents and their possessions should take priority over developer profit.

The inevitable need for more hazard reduction burns to protect houses should be considered when designing suburbs, to ensure that such burns will not result in the extinction of habitat and associated species in designated reserves. The Ginninderry Conservation Corridor is very likely to be compromised in the future. This is not the case, all fire protection measures for Ginninderry, such as asset protection zones, are located in the urban area, outside the conservation corridor. A greater setback/buffer zone would ensure houses can be protected without damaging the environment. Not only is it essential to protect the environment in which we live but it is also imperative that local residents are protected. This essential balance requires considerable forethought and intelligence.

Robyn Coghlan
(President, Ginninderra Falls Assoc)