The ACT Government is pressing ahead with a land release at Coombs Peninsula near the Molonglo River despite the passing of a Legislative Assembly motion on Wednesday calling for it to be retained as open space and removed from the Suburban Land Agency’s program by June 2020.
The motion, moved by Liberal MLA Guilia Jones and amended by Green Caroline Le Couteur, came after a community petition from 559 residents and a Legislative Assembly Committee Report recommending that the area be put aside for environmental and recreational purposes.
The SLA has the land listed for 30 house sites in coming years but Coombs community members and the ACT Conservation Council have been fighting to keep the open space.
A Government spokesperson said the Coombs Peninsula has been allocated for residential development since plans for the region were released in 2008.
Numerous environmental and planning assessments over the last decade had found that the peninsula had low environmental value and should not be included in the Molonglo River Reserve.
“It’s baffling that the Opposition has supported this motion after indicating that they want to aggressively release more land in the ACT with no economic or conservation plan,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said not releasing the land for development would mean a $30 million hit to the ACT coffers and add to the Canberra Liberals blackhole of uncosted and unexplained promises.
The Government was ensuring Molonglo residents had access to open spaces and nature reserves.
“We have recently added an extra 35 hectares to the Molonglo River Reserve to bring it to a total of 1280 hectares that will restore the river landscape for our native plants and animals and provide recreational areas for Molonglo,” the spokesperson said. “Locals will be able to enjoy bird watching, fishing, picnicking, bushwalking, horse-riding and cycling in the new area of the reserve.”
Mrs Jones said it would be a brave Government to defy the will of the Assembly and not direct the SLA to remove the land from its release program.
”I will be writing to the chair of the Suburban Land Agency to find out if they plan to respect the vote of the Assembly,” she said.
She said Planning Minister Mick Gentleman had admitted that the houses could be built elsewhere, so the taxpayer would not be out of pocket.
There had been mixed messages about whether the land had always been slated for housing, and people who bought into Coombs were under the impression that it would remain a park, she said.
Mrs Jones said a small amount of nature park could make a huge amount of difference to residents, especially in the summer heat.
She said the Molonglo River reserve was not very wide and its trees were immature.
“It’s a young suburb and its trees are very small and this reserve means a lot to the people of Coombs,” she said.
On Tuesday Mr Gentleman tabled the Government’s formal response to the Committee in the Assembly, in which it rejected most of the Committee’s recommendations, saying that environmental impact assessments have been conducted and that the area, part of the former pine forest, is too degraded to restore its environmental values.
But the Conservation Council said this ignored arguments that ensuring the area was used as urban open space would support protection of the environmental values in the river corridor, allow better management of fire risk, and provide an urban open space area for residents in the Molonglo Valley.
Executive Director Helen Oakey said the Council has long held the view that the Coombs Peninsula, a small spit of land that extends north into the Molonglo River corridor, should be put aside for environmental purposes due to the impact that urban development and the management of fire risk would have on the habitat of the endangered pink-tailed worm-lizard.
“As more people live in higher-density suburbs, access to high-quality urban open space becomes more important, and the Coombs Peninsula has values that should be able to be enjoyed the whole community, not just a select few,” she said.
“Now that the Assembly has made such a clear recommendation to remove the Coombs Peninsula from the land release program by June 2020, the Conservation Council is keen to see the ACT Government respond to the community’s concerns,” Ms Oakey said.