Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608
Dr Paul Rutherford
ACT Planning and Land Authority
GPO Box 1908
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Dear Dr Rutherford
Planning and Development (Environmental Impact Statements) Amendment Bill 2010
FOG is a community group dedicated to the conservation of natural temperate grassy ecosystems in south-eastern Australia. FOG advocates, educates and advises on matters to do with the conservation of grassy ecosystems, and carries out surveys and other on-ground work. FOG is based in Canberra and its more than 200 members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public.
FOG is not sure of the implications of the proposed amendment. While it states that “Removal of an item from the impact track does not mean the item will not be assessed …. The key difference is that there is no need to complete an environmental impact statement before lodging a development application…”, FOG is concerned that there is less chance of a particular project being rejected when the assessment is done later in the process (and the developer has already committed substantial resources to the project).
One of the reasons given for the proposed amendment is that “the list of projects deemed to be impact track assessable is too wide and is at risk of catching projects that do not warrant assessment in this high end assessment track”. FOG’s view is that it is better to assess a few projects that don’t need it, than to miss a few projects that do need it. Our native grasslands and grassy woodlands (and associated flora and fauna) are endangered, with a continual stream of development projects that impact on these areas. For this reason, environmental impact assessments of any project impacting on these ecosystems should be mandatory. Restricting assessments to those “which are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact” ignores the cumulative impact of a series of development proposals over some time on a particular area of grassland or grassy woodland.
The use of the term “significant” as defined in the draft document is also open to different interpretations. FOG’s view is that this should always be done by an expert in the area, such as the Conservator of Flora and Fauna, and that the assessment needs to be independent of political and economic pressures. On reading the documents, it is not entirely clear that this would always be the case. Another concern is whether there would always be sufficient time to ensure that a proper assessment of whether an area is “significant” or not (particularly as sometimes such an assessment may need to be undertaken at a particular season of the year, or outside a period of drought).
FOG considers it important that the public (including groups such as itself) be consulted and able to give feedback on their views on development projects which have an environmental impact early in the development process. Thus, FOG is concerned that the proposed changes may mean that it will not be able to comment on some proposals until later in the process, e.g. when they are considered by the Commonwealth under the EPBC Act. Relying on the EPBC process for public consultation could, in FOG’s view, lead to inefficiencies in the process in that particular environmental concerns of the public may not be addressed until considerable planning for the development has already occurred.
If this proposal does proceed, FOG thinks that there needs to be a review of the process to make sure that it is working well. In particular, we consider that those development proposals that previously would have gone to a public consultation process but no longer do so are looked at to ensure that there are, in fact, no detrimental environmental impacts.
for Geoff Robertson
18 September 2010