Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608
Phone: 02 62.. ....
GPO Box 373
Canberra ACT 2601
Block 14 Section 22 Barton - Redevelopment of 21 National Circuit - Stage 1 Works
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 has made submissions on the current proposal (19 November 2012, EPBC referral 2012/6606) and the referral concerning the access road for this development (5 July 2010, EPBC referral 2010/5548).
FOG 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.
Timing and timeframe of Works Approval consultation
FOG submits that the timing and timeframe of this consultation is inappropriate since the EPBC decision (made on 5 December 2012) was for a controlled action requiring assessment and approval under the EPBC Act before development can proceed. Given that one of the environmental issues relates to shading and building height, it does not seem appropriate for works approval to be requested or given until the EPBC process is complete.
Importance of the site
To repeat its views as stated in its response to referrals 2012/6606 and 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. Given that the building is designed to be seven stories high, FOG is disappointed to see that the building size has not been reduced to the south (or staggered 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.
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. In addition, FOG protests both the timing and the short timeframe of this public consultation.
John Fitz Gerald
15 December 2012