Koala Conservation Concerns Ignite as Fast-Tracked Infrastructure Spurs Massive Development on Sydney Fringe

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Amidst mounting koala conservation concerns, a lightning-fast infrastructure push sets the stage for an unprecedented housing development on the outskirts of Sydney, raising crucial questions about the delicate balance between urban expansion and preserving Australia’s beloved wildlife.

The New South Wales government has given the green light to a vast housing development on the outskirts of Sydney, even though the state’s environment minister expressed reservations last month regarding the existing koala habitat protections in the region.

The development, proposed by Walker Corp, plans to construct 13,000 houses in Appin, located 80 kilometres south of Sydney. This project is one of the largest on the city’s fringes and falls within a sensitive koala territory.

Approval Granted, but Rezoning Deferred for Negotiations and Infrastructure Planning

The government has approved the project, but the actual rezoning has been postponed until December 15th to allow the government to negotiate a state planning agreement with Walker Corp and for the developer to finalise an infrastructure plan for the massive area.

As the development moves ahead without relying on state-provided infrastructure and falls outside the government’s planned development areas, the developer will need to address a significant portion of the local infrastructure needs through a voluntary planning agreement, typically funded by levies on new lots.

The proposed housing in Appin is also subject to the Cumberland Plain conservation plan (CPCP), which received approval from the previous state government but still requires a decision from the federal government under national environmental laws.

Concerns Raised Over Conservation Elements and the CPCP

The CPCP is designed to guide the construction of 73,000 houses from Penrith to Wilton until 2056 while identifying planned conservation areas.

According to the rezoning decision, Appin aligns with the requirements of the CPCP and the advice provided by the chief scientist to preserve koala habitat.

However, during her time in opposition, there have been serious concerns regarding some of the proposed conservation elements, including those expressed by the current environment minister, Penny Sharpe. Questions have also been raised about the adequacy of the CPCP itself.

Sharpe expressed her concern in parliament last month, stating that the CPCP needs to balance the need for new housing and infrastructure and protect critically endangered ecosystems and animals like koalas. 

She particularly emphasised her worry over the lengthy timelines, up to 20 years, to secure all necessary conservation reserves under the plan. She responded affirmatively when asked if the government would make changes to protect the environment better.

Sharpe stated on Monday, “The CPCP is a complex plan that we need to get right. I am working through the issues to ensure that we protect koalas and the rest of the stated conservation outcomes of the plan.”

Government’s Stance on the Appin Project and Future Developments

The planning minister, Paul Scully, defended the rezoning of land at Appin, asserting that it would provide much-needed additional housing while reserving over a third of the site for environmental and koala protection.

On the other hand, Judy Hannan, an independent member of Camden, expressed concern that the development in Appin would divert attention from another significant land release in Wilton. Currently, home to approximately 6,000 residents, Wilton is planned to accommodate 40,000 individuals. 

However, it needs a town centre and public transport links, leaving residents reliant on cars to access shopping and medical services in Campbelltown, which is 20 kilometres away.

Hannan said, “Appin will take away from Wilton, which has a serious infrastructure deficit. The same thing that has happened at Wilton will happen at Appin. The government is delivering dormant suburbs.”

Regarding future developments, two other significant housing estates, Gilead Stage 2, proposed by Lend Lease and Appin North and developed by Ingham Property, are also moving ahead quickly.

Infrastructure Reforms and Their Impact

The planning minister, Scully, expressed confidence that the combination of planning requirements and the reformed $1 billion Housing and Productivity Infrastructure Contributions scheme, set to take effect from October 1st, would ensure timely delivery of necessary infrastructure to support the new homes.

“These reforms lock in infrastructure contributions of up to $700 million each year into the future, helping to create great places around new housing,” Scully said. 

The new system applies a fair and consistent charge across greater Sydney, lower Hunter, Central Coast, and the Illawarra-Shoalhaven regions to help fund the necessary infrastructure for growing communities.

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