Elm Grove leaseholder digs in for another historic battle with government over housing plans

Ian Bushnell 2 August 2020 74
Paul Carmody

Rural leaseholder Paul Carmody points to the wooded hills where homes are proposed in the next stage of Jacka. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The battle of Jacka is about to be played out in Canberra’s north as the rural leaseholder of the heritage-listed Elm Grove digs in against the Suburban Land Agency’s plans for the next stages of the Gungahlin suburb.

Paul Carmody has been growing wool and hay at Elm Grove since acquiring the property from the Gillespie family in 1985. He was instrumental in its heritage listing in 2008, despite being told by government officials that it had no heritage value. Then Chief Minister Jon Stanhope disagreed with the officials’ assessment and it saved the property from housing development.

Now Mr Carmody, armed with three consultants’ reports and the Conservation Management Plan he was required as the lessee to commission, plans to object to the SLA’s development application for its estate plan on the grounds that its proposal will impact on the European and Aboriginal heritage values of the Elm Grove heritage precinct.

He also says the application does not take into account the true biodiversity value of leased land beyond the precinct, including threatened box gum woodland and Golden Sun Moth habitat.

Mr Carmody says the SLA has ignored his overtures and played down the heritage and biodiversity values of the property in its DA documents, which he believes he will end up contesting in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Site of the proposed precinct

The Jacka master plan shows how close the suburb will come to the Elm Grove heritage precinct, including Stage 2 which is at present box gum woodland and a lambing paddock. Image: ACT Government.

The SLA has also been accused of ignoring a conflict of interest because the same company which wrote the Conservation Management Plan for Mr Carmody and was accepted by the government, is now a consultant on the Jacka estate plan.

The plans for Jacka show medium-density housing abutting the south-west corner of the heritage precinct and then, in the next stage, to its west in box gum woodland that is at present Mr Carmody’s lambing paddock.

But Mr Carmody will argue, based on the Conservation Management Plan and the heritage listing, that the heritage value includes generous buffer zones and the view to and from Elm Grove, and that the Jacka homes to be built on the nearby high ground will be in clear sight.

”It’s going to make a big impact on those hills in Gungahlin,” he said.

Mr Carmody said the Conservation Management Plan plus consultants’ reports from Eric Martin on heritage, Capital Ecology on biodiversity and Past Traces on Aboriginal heritage would clearly show that the ACT Government had not taken into account all the information that they should have.

Mr Carmody said Elm Grove was like the Lanyon of the north and the last working property in the Gungahlin area, with residential development reducing Horse Park, Gold Creek and Wells Station to costly museum pieces that don’t pay their way and are now headaches for the government.

“If this goes ahead it takes out a big chunk of the agricultural land and eats into the property to the point that that heritage listing will have to be changed to ‘Elm Grove was the last working property in the Gungahlin area’,” he said.

Aerial view of the property

An aerial view of the property. Photo: Elm Grove.

Mr Carmody said the plans were urban sprawl on a micro-scale.

”They’re just trying to squeeze every square inch out of something which I don’t think is appropriate, from a heritage and biodiversity point of view, but in the grand plan of things they’re just tiddling at the edge of Gungahlin to get the last little bit out of it,” he said.

Mr Carmody accused the SLA of tunnel vision and simply focused on producing blocks, saying the different sections of government need to be working together.

”The development is not consistent with the Conservation Management Plan and the heritage listing and one part of the ACT Government needs to consult with other parts of the government to see what is in the best interests of everybody,” he said.

The economic gain would be minuscule compared with the loss to the community of the environment and heritage value Elm Grove encompasses, he said.

”Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Mr Carmody said.

The Gungahlin Community Council also has serious concerns about the development’s impact on the rural and bushland character of the area, and particularly Elm Grove.

President Peter Elford says the heritage listing for Elm Grove, founded in 1882, makes much of the “region” and “character” and “views”.

”I don’t believe the Jacka 2 development takes these issues on board and we have another case of the ACT Government [SLA] responding to its own advice, guidance and legislation,” he said.

The time to comment on the DA has been extended until 6 August.


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74 Responses to Elm Grove leaseholder digs in for another historic battle with government over housing plans
HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 9:09 pm 01 Aug 20

It does look idyllic, particularly in the aerial view – but the same could no doubt once have been said about the now-suburban land on which most of us live.

Tempting as it might be to see this as a partisan issue, there’s probably not all that much in it. The ACT Liberals have a stated policy of increasing options for people who want a non-strata residence, but the ACT Labor/Green preference for densification has tended to push people who want other options across the border into NSW.

If there is a practical difference on this issue between the major parties, it may simply be that a Labor/Green government would be more likely to spend public funds to support employment as a means of maintaining population growth, or at least trying to fend off a stable or declining population for the Territory. That would mean more sprawl, unless the spending could be magically targeted at people who have a high propensity to live in densified areas.

Heavs Heavs 8:46 am 31 Jul 20

Is this the very same Mr Carmody who battled for a decade to chop up and sub-divide his farmland on the outskirts of Gundaroo to turn it into mini-Elmslea type housing precinct?

Seems a tad, I don’t know, hypocritical.

    Startmeup Startmeup 10:32 am 31 Jul 20

    Quite possibly, but Gundaroo doesn’t have any heritage character.

    chewy14 chewy14 1:38 pm 31 Jul 20

    Startmeup,
    that’s a joke right?

    Anyone that thinks this issue is about heritage or the environment is kidding themselves.

    Always back self interest, at least you know he’s trying.

    Startmeup Startmeup 12:03 pm 01 Aug 20

    No argument from me chewy.

    Startmeup Startmeup 12:25 pm 01 Aug 20

    Yes a joke, sorry it wasn’t clear enough. The issue for Gundaroo affected a community, this one appears to affect one person or a property that hardly anyone would have known about were it not for this article.

    chewy14 chewy14 8:30 am 02 Aug 20

    Haha,
    Sorry missed the sarcasm.

Noelene Lafferty Noelene Lafferty 6:56 pm 30 Jul 20

I agree with the comment “different sections of the Govt need to be working together.” I live south of Canberra, on a small area south of Tharwa. We had been promised about 2km of sealing to our dirt road (Smiths Road). Contracts were finally let and the contractors moved in several weeks ago and started clearing trees for the re-alignment. What happened? No-one had consulted Parks and Wildlife, it’s their area, construction has been stopped while they figure it out, and we are left with about 2km of very poor dirt road which was NOT included in the last regrading, because it was about to be sealed. As someone local said recent, the ACT Govt is the only ones able to split red tape lengthwise.

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