Urban planning issues for grasslands in the ACT region

Presentation to the Myer grassland symposium, Canberra, 21 May 2015

Naarilla Hirsch (Friends of Grasslands)

Larry O’Loughlin (Conservation Council)

•       Note: this document only contains the FOG component of the presentation

Grasslands are prime urban development sites

•       Historically much of the ACT’s grasslands became what is now urban Canberra

•       Leaving small unconnected fragments

•       Continuing urban pressures: of the 48 NTG sites identified in Action Plan 28 in 2005

–      Three approved for partial or full development

–      Also other development proposals potentially impacting on sites

Other impacts on grassland sites

•       Proximity to urban developments

–      e.g. buildings shading sites, informal tracks, garden escapees, dumping of rubbish, removal of rocks

•       Bushfire management around the urban fringe

–      Bushfire management regimes often not compatible with conservation management

–      Asset protection zones need to be outside conservation areas

–      Recent change to narrower more intensely managed zones

Other impacts on grassland sites

•       Piecemeal development

–      Initially developments in Gungahlin were approved suburb by suburb

•       So environmental impacts were assessed in isolation

–      Strategic assessment of North Gungahlin gave a better outcome

•       Value of each site was assessed relative to all others in the area

•       Connectivity values were also assessed

–      The ACT-NSW border creates an artificial barrier

•       Resourcing management of remnant grassland

–      Grassland areas set aside when land is developed need resources for management

–      Offsets are now being seen as a way to fund site maintenance


•       Jury is still out

–      Principle is “no net loss”

–      But development will result in loss of an NTG area

•       So need improvement in the quality of remaining areas before offsets are actually successful

–      Some areas should always remain “no go”

•       But is this acceptable to urban planners?

•       Three main types of offsets

–      Placing an area into reserve

•       With some funds for ongoing management

–      Research

–      Restoration to improve the conservation values of a site

Offset examples in ACT grasslands

•       Canberra Airport

–      Offset package includes the Parlour Grassland and restoration work at the airport

–      Have tried a couple of different methods for this restoration

–      Recent work undertaken by GA showing some success

•       Golden Sun Moth research and protection

–      Research into translocation and GSM habitat

–      Problems with research as an offset include

•       Cost, time it takes, negative results, and implementation

•       A number of other offset packages approved

–      No recent information about outcomes on the ground

Other issues

•       Advanced offset concept

–      Identifying potential offset sites in advance

•       Better management rather than allowed to deteriorate

–      To be developed further

•       Changes to the legislative framework

–      e.g. the recent bilateral agreements on the EPBC Act

Planning and public access issues

•       Grasslands often small and vulnerable to disturbance by visitors

•       Strong culture of protecting grasslands from visitors/community rather than educating people about them

–      only one grassland (Umbagong) has a dedicated friends group

Different access strategies at different sites

•       York Park

–      Small and fenced with informative sign

•       Jerrabomberra East

–      Nature walk with informative sign

–      Low visitation rates expected

•       Molonglo river corridor

–      Adjacent to urban development

–      Planning before development included Plan of Management, Management Guidelines and site operational plans

•       Also compatible plantings and land uses next to conservation areas

•       But documents not finalised although development has started

•       Airport

–      Inaccessible by public

–      Grassland information included in schools tour program

–      Recently sponsored a grassland art exhibition


•       Some improvement in the way planning issues for grasslands are addressed in the ACT, e.g.

–      Construction mitigation sections in proposals

–      Via offsets we now see a monetary value is being placed on high quality grassland areas

•       But urban pressure on NTG sites will continue indefinitely and need to be counteracted

•       A danger that offsets will become a way of “buying off” the environmental concerns

–      But they do offer some advantages also, e.g. advanced offsets, money to manage grassland reserves