Environmental campaigners have called on the Federal Government to block a Defence housing project in Lawson after the 443-home proposal was referred for assessment under federal environment law.
The Conservation Council ACT Region and Friends of Grasslands have been battling the Defence Housing Australia proposal since it became public, arguing that it threatens critically endangered Natural Temperate Grasslands in the Belconnen region.
They say the housing development will mean the loss of about 15.8 hectares of critically endangered ecological communities and likely degradation of much more.
The proposal on the former Belconnen Naval Transmission Station site is for mainly a low-rise development of mid-sized blocks, for detached houses and terraces, and multi-unit sites.
The mix proposed is 16 attached homes, 277 detached and 150 multi-units, but only 150 medium-density dwellings retained by DHA for Defence personnel.
The remaining homes on individual blocks will be sold to ACT residents to offset the development costs.
The site’s masterplan limits building heights to two storeys high, and it is expected the development will house up to 1152 people.
The referral area covers 45 – 47ha of national land and the rest ACT, with 22.5 hectares currently allowed for residential development under the Lawson Development Control Plan.
But DHA is seeking to double the amount of land for residential development through an amended DCP.
DHA plans to conserve the majority of the threatened Natural Temperate Grassland, about 100ha, as an offset.
But environmental groups say the development will cut the threatened ecosystem in two, and greatly increase the danger to the surviving remnants from weed invasion and recreational use, and fragment populations of the vulnerable striped legless lizard.
Executive Director of the Conservation Council ACT Region Helen Oakey said the project would be death by a thousand cuts to the area’s biodiversity.
Ms Oakey said the Samuel Review into the EPBC Act and the 2021 State of the Environment report showed that federal environment laws were failing to protect the environment.
“The Federal Government is the proponent in this project – the same Federal Government that was concerned and outraged at the findings of the State of the Environment report,” she said.
“Here is a great opportunity for Ministers Matt Thistlethwaite and Katy Gallagher, with their shared oversight of DHA, to cancel the project and conserve the environmental values at this site.”
Grassy Ecosystems Ecologist with Friends of Grasslands, Rainer Rehwinkel said the ACT was a national stronghold for the Commonwealth-listed critically endangered Natural Temperate Grassland, which was once widespread across the south-east of Australia but now less than 1 per cent of it was formally protected.
“Grasslands support many threatened species, for example, the Golden Sun Moth, Striped Legless Lizard, and Perunga Grasshopper. Destroying their habitat at Lawson will only make their survival more precarious,” he said.
“Although it may not look like it to the untrained eye, critically endangered Natural Temperate Grasslands, like those at Lawson North, are incredibly diverse. Over 500 native plant species call the habitat home and an even greater number of animal species, most of which are insects.”
Mr Rehwinkel said it was disappointing to see DHA persist with this project knowing that these nationally significant environmental values exist at the site.
“While the proponents claim that protecting the rest of the site is an adequate offset, the reality is we should not lose any more of this critically endangered ecosystem,” he said.
“There comes a point when you can’t offset environmental destruction anymore.”
DHA says it will take a number of measures to mitigate the damage the development will cause.
It will retain and protect core areas of Golden Sun Moth habitat with highest population density, minimise impact to Striped Legless Lizard habitat and threatened Box Gum Woodland community and retain potential Superb Parrot nest trees within Box Gum Woodland.
DHA revised the site late last year after public consultation raised a number of concerns.
“The re-design of the proposed development has reduced and reshaped the overall footprint in response to additional ecological and heritage studies, and a significant portion of the 145-hectare site will be preserved for conservation,” a DHA spokesperson said at the time.
As well as housing, the project will include demolition works, the creation of ponds and landscaping, site services and the construction of roads and a cycling and pedestrian network.
The project, including a request to amend the DCP to expand the residential areas, is subject to National Capital Authority approval.
Once approved, DHA will negotiate with the ACT Government to de-gazette the National Land and hand over to it for ongoing management.
Comments on the referral close on 7 September. To make a submission visit the DHA website.