Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608
Phone: 02 62.. ....
Referral Business Entry Point, EIA Policy Section (EPBC Act)
Approvals and Wildlife Division
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Hotel and Carpark Development, Section 22 Barton, ACT
Reference number: 2012/6606
Friends of Grasslands (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 members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public.
FOG has an ongoing interest in York Park, and its submission on the referral concerning the access road for this development (reference number 2010/5548) gave a number of reasons why this site should be conserved with no impact on the Golden Sun Moth (GSM) (Synemon plana) or its habitat. FOG is disappointed to see that the current referral proposes a development that, while different from the previous options, will still have an impact on the GSM.
Importance of the site
To repeat its views as stated in its response to referral 2010/5548, FOG is very concerned about this development due to the presence of the endangered GSM in York Park. The GSM is listed as critically endangered nationally and endangered in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT. WWF has nominated the GSM as one of the ten Aussie battlers, species that are at great risk of extinction and require urgent help to survive. Because the GSM is a critically endangered species, any site at which it is present should not be developed or impacted upon until the species has recovered.
To preserve endangered species and ecosystems for future generations, there must be some areas that are “no go”. If, in such an area, a development is deemed to be absolutely essential, losses should be minimized. It is hard to see how a luxury hotel, retail complex and associated multi-storey car park could be considered absolutely essential, particularly given the proximity of hotels and retail outlets in Civic, Manuka and Kingston.
With regard to York Park, FOG regards this site as iconic, and it is one of the sites identified in Action Plan 28 as being of high value. There has been ongoing scientific monitoring of the GSM at York Park over a long period. The site, despite being small, has remained viable and continues to support a GSM population. With good management and no impacts from development activities, FOG believes that the site could be improved and maintained in a very good condition, with the consequence of maintaining and perhaps increasing the GSM population.
Impact of shading
FOG notes that the corner of Block 14 closest to the York Park Conservation Site would be kept free of building development. However, all of the options presented shade 36% or more of the conservation area in winter, with option A shading almost half the site at this time. This is a significant proportion of the site, and could impact on the microclimate in winter, with flow-on effects to the relative competitiveness of weeds versus native species in spring. At the time of the spring equinox, when spring growth (particularly of exotic annuals) is occurring, close to 10% of the site would still experience some shading.
FOG does not consider the expressed view that the grassland in the shaded area is of relatively low native quality and therefore of relatively low value as GSM habitat to be relevant, as the aim in managing the site as a conservation area should be to restore this area to high quality grassland and GSM habitat (in which case the shading impact will be more important). In fact, shading this area is likely to inhibit its restoration.
Another view expressed is that “any effects of shading in changing the grassland composition are likely to be much less significant than annual variation in rainfall”. It needs to be remembered that effects are cumulative, not substituting for each other. In other words, the impact of shading on top of variations in rainfall or temperature (which are likely to increase in the face of climate change) may be sufficient to tip the balance towards exotic species rather than native species.
FOG notes that the ecological report concludes “While the assumed impacts of shading on the GSM have a logical basis, they are nevertheless largely speculative, based on observed habitat characteristics of the GSM, and have not been confirmed by scientific experiments”. Given that the species under consideration is listed as critically endangered, the lack of scientific evidence supporting the view that shading will have minimal impact on the GSM at York Park should be sufficient to preclude any development that will shade the site at all.
The issue of shading of the site has come up some years ago, and for the above reasons FOG’s view remains the same: any development that shades the site in any way should not be allowed to proceed.
FOG notes that three options are presented in the referral, and that option C minimises the impact of shading on York Park conservation area. However, given that the building is designed to be seven stories high, FOG is disappointed to see no mention of a fourth option – to reduce the building size to the south (or stagger it backwards) so it is not directly shading York Park grassland at all. The design of the building directly to the north of York Park was modified, with the section adjacent to York Park staggered backwards, to prevent any shading onto York Park.
FOG is concerned about the impact of cumulative developments on York Park. Not only will there be impacts from the access road and the current development proposal, but the report makes mention of stage 2. This apparently will be directly west of York Park, which will shade the site even more. The cumulative impacts of all of these developments need to be considered together.
Noting that construction of the development would continue over an 18 month period, including when the GSM is flying, FOG considers it essential that fencing be put in place to avoid any construction impacts on the conservation area at all. The current fencing discourages incidental access across the site without excluding visitors with a specific interest in its natural attributes. This would need to be reviewed and possibly modified in the light of hotel patrons potentially accessing the site from a different direction than occurs at present.
Plantings in the new development need to be compatible with the conservation values of the site, in particular avoiding environmental weeds or potential weed species, or any species that will shade the site.
The referral argues that the development is not a controlled action, so has not offered any offsets for possible impacts on the GSM. If the development is allowed to proceed as it stands, offsets should be required, such as managing the conservation area for weeds in the longer term, and restoring the northern (shaded area) to expand and enhance GSM habitat.
In conclusion, FOG’s view is that any development that shades the York Park conservation area in any way should not be allowed to proceed. Any development in the area proposed should be either set back far enough or staggered so that the conservation area is not shaded at any time of the year.
John Fitz Gerald
19 November 2012