A coalition of conservation groups, scientists, land managers and volunteers has called on Defence Housing Australia to rethink plans to build 570 dwellings on the former Belconnen Naval Transmitting Station in Lawson.
The more than 100 groups and individuals who have written to DHA are concerned that the proposal will damage critically endangered Natural Temperate Grasslands and Box-Gum Woodlands, and related flora and fauna species.
It comes after nearby residents also expressed alarm at the proposed development.
Under the DHA proposal, the 144 hectare site, known as Lawson North, will be developed in two stages, and is currently in the planning and design stage.
About half will be retained for Defence members and their families, with surplus land lots being released for public sale.
DHA says Stage 1 proposes a mix of 170 low and medium-density homes on about 22 hectares of land, while Stage 2 involves the other 400 low and medium-density homes on a further 30 hectares.
It says a significant portion of the site will be preserved for conservation, after extensive investigations into flora and fauna, heritage and contamination issues to ensure the site is ready for development.
”The proposed development will provide open space, parkland and community facilities for residents and the wider public to enjoy,” DHA says.
”The design of the proposed estate balances the history and environmental values of the site with residential and community uses.”
But Executive Director of the Conservation Council ACT Region Helen Oakey says North Lawson contains over 100 hectares of Natural Temperate Grasslands, a critically endangered ecological community, and is one of only 13 areas of this size in the ACT, and is the largest such site in Belconnen.
It also provides habitat for bird species protected under the Commonwealth Environment Biodiversity and Conservation (EPBC) Act such as the Superb Parrot, and other bird species protected under ACT legislation like the Scarlet Robin, she says.
“We know that putting housing near environmentally sensitive areas can cause impacts through people walking on or near grasslands, weeds and garden-escapees spreading, rubbish dumping and domestic animals moving through the area,” she says.
“Defence Housing Australia will be required to seek environmental approval under national environmental laws, the EPBC Act, which is currently under review, and has been widely criticised for being ineffective at protecting environmental values.
“In the context of Australia’s biodiversity crisis and giving consideration to the contribution Lawson North makes to our critically endangered grassy ecological communities, the destruction proposed by this development is unacceptable.”
President of Friends of Grasslands Geoff Robertson says that while the first proposed stage of the development will be built on the site of the old Belconnen Naval Transmission Station (BNTS), it will be surrounded by environmentally significant grasslands, and there will likely be detrimental impacts during construction and from the ongoing activities of residents.
“It’s deeply concerning that the proposed Stage 2 of the development will directly destroy the majority of the critically endangered grassland and woodland in the east of the Lawson Grasslands,” he says.
“Stage 2 will leave only a narrow strip of grasslands in the east that will be very vulnerable to impacts from the adjacent residential areas, especially as there are few areas of urban open space identified in the development footprint to encourage residents not to use the grassland for recreational use.”
He says the entire Lawson Grasslands and associated Box-Gum Woodland should be recognised for its ecological, natural and cultural heritage values, and conserved.
“Environmentalists, scientists, and the volunteer community who have signed on to this letter, are clear that this proposal is unacceptable, and we urge Defence Housing Australia to reconsider the development to ensure ongoing protection, conservation and enhancement of what are nationally important ecological communities under Commonwealth law,” he says.
DHA says the proposed development for Stage 1 is consistent with the current Development Control Plan (DCP), which will need to be modified for Stage 2 to expand the area for residential development.
A spokesperson says DHA continues to work closely with the National Capital Authority (NCA), ACT Government and the local community and community groups.
The concept plan application for Stage 1 is expected to be lodged with NCA soon.
Defence housing needs in the region have increased and DHA is seeking to meet this demand at Lawson North.