Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 440
Macquarie ACT 2614
Environment Assessment Branch
Department of the Environment
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Divestment of Blocks 3 and 15, Section 22, Barton, ACT: proposed approval decision
Reference number: EPBC 2017/8028
As you know, Friends of Grasslands (FOG) has had a long standing interest in York Park, and would like to thank you for notification of the opportunity to comment on this proposed approval document.
Need for an approval document
FOG has made numerous submissions as well as made representation to the Commonwealth Government and Commonwealth Ministers indicating strong opposition to the loss of this iconic area containing critically endangered Natural Temperate Grassland (NTG) and Golden Sun Moth (GSM) populations. The reasons for this opposition are on the basis that:
1. The proposal is sacrificing long term natural assets for very short term financial gain. This narrow economic view puts a building ahead of biodiversity values not just for ourselves, but also future generations, an ongoing trend that leaves the community with no significant benefit and one that will see our country poorer in its natural heritage in the long run.
2. As an area of critically endangered species and ecological community the loss of this area containing these Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES), both in terms of loss of habitat and of the species destruction, results in further reduction of their ability to become less endangered. We note that no condition has been included to offset the destruction of the vulnerable Striped Legless Lizard Delma impar which has been found on the site.
3. There has been already been reduction in habitat within the grassland and GSM habitat as a result of development to the south (extension of Sydney Avenue) and to the north (development of the hotel), as well as deterioration of ecological condition due to the lack of implementation of appropriate management. These two impacts must not be used to justify the destruction of the entire area. Recent inspection of the site indicates that despite the loss of condition, both the GSM and the NTG remain on site and there is no evidence to indicate that further loss of condition is inevitable.
4. The location of York Park Grassland within the National Triangle is iconic, representing the last but one remnant of the extensive area of natural grassland within Central Canberra that have not been destroyed. Thus it has clear heritage values, which will be lost as a result of destruction of the site.
5. Offsetting will not result in net gain, as the offset site already exists and already supports this ecological community and the species. There is no surety that the proposed offsets will actually be effective.
For these reasons FOG does not support approval being given to destroy York Park Grassland and to subsequently develop it.
Note, however, that we are not opposing development outside York Park, and we iterate that protection of the York Park Grassland does not preclude development of the remainder of the area identified for development, provided it does not shade out York Park Grassland such that habitat values are reduced.
Conditions of approval
FOG has considerable concerns also with the conditions of approval, and seeks confirmation that, in the event York Park Grassland is developed and the MNES destroyed, the impacts will be not only offset in perpetuity (Clause 4) but that the ecological condition of the NTG and GSM habitat are improved. As they stand, the Conditions will not ensure that this will be achieved. We believe the following matters need to be addressed in the Conditions:
a) Identification of a specific outcome that long-term conservation (protection and ecological management) of the MNES within the offset area is required, at least to maintain current ecological condition, but ideally to enhance habitat condition and population density of GSM and other components of the NTG habitat. In the original referral, Umwelt’s Offset analysis report (2016) reference is made to “predicted improvement in quality on the offset site” but no clear summary on changes to habitat quality scores for the offsets to lead to no net loss is provided – such metrics need to be specified to assist in identification of outcomes;
b) Details of budgets to be applied in the long term that indicate the real costs required to ensure the impact (of destruction of the habitat at York Park) will be offset in perpetuity – and ecological condition at least maintained - and an indication of how and by whom those funds will be provided;
c) Indication of how best practice management, based on on-going implementation of enhanced knowledge about the requirements of the MNES, will be applied;
d) Assurance that effective management will be achieved through the implementation of actions by suitably qualified and experienced on-ground managers and staff; and
e) Conditions that ensure that appropriate and timely implementation of changes in management or follow-up of non-compliance will occur if impacts of incidents or current management indicated by decrease in condition measured as a result of monitoring.
We draw your attention to two examples where offsets are being managed in such a way that they meet these criteria, and the innovative ways that are being used to do so. One is the management by ACT Government of the Molonglo River Reserve, in which extensive on-ground management is being enhanced by research, planning and design and implementation of restoration of habitat. The other is the management of the conservation area at Ginninderry, where on-going stable funding will be used to manage the area in perpetuity, under the direction of a Management Board. While both these areas are far larger than the one in question, the principle that the processes ensuring sound conservation management were addressed prior to establishment of the offset areas. We urge Department of Finance to fully address these five areas prior to approval being given and to ensure advice is sought from personnel who are currently successfully managing offsets.
More specific comments are provided below:
Specific comments on the approval document
Overall: the conditions are thorough as they relate to information collation that guides management, i.e. reports and plans. However, there are no conditions that relate specifically to how on-ground implementation will occur, by whom and who will provide support for this. As such, the conditions do not ensure that the retention of the offset will achieve on-ground protection of the MNES. The conditions importantly do not provide any indication of how the implementation of the conditions will be adequately financed. While acknowledging that these matters are generally included in offset management plans, the plans are never available for our scrutiny until well past the start of the project impacting on the relevant MNES, if at all. We would like to see that the standard Conditions of Approval used by Department of Environment provide more details of management conditions, therefore surety of ongoing quality management and associated funding of offset sites on a long term basis.
It is noted that Department of Finance has no internal experience or skill in managing ecological matters and are unlikely to see management of this area as a priority or primary responsibility. This view is supported by the Department’s recent negligent management of York Park. An agreement with the ACT Government, who have suitably skilled, interested and available personnel, to manage financial and on-ground matters would be far superior, particularly as there is a unit within ACT Government that manage offset sites for the ACT Government.
Page 1, Details: Action: we recommend that the opportunity be taken to collect all GSM eggs and larvae to translocate to other locations or to support research to enhance knowledge to enhance recovery of the species. Additionally, the native vegetation should be salvaged for either enhancement of the offset site or use in other sites or to form the basis of a seed nursery to increase plant production for use in other sites. This practice has occurred successfully recently, for example in removal and utilization of plants from the path of John Gorton Drive in Molonglo.
Part A – Conditions specific to the action: the land proposed to offset the development of York Park occurs within a rural block, registered under the Territory Plan as Land Use Zone NUZ3: Hills, Ridges and Buffer Areas. As such, it is leased land and no indication has been provided as to how the offset area will be ‘secured’, presumably protected, and by whom it will be managed.
Clauses 2, 3 and 4: we support the requirement the offset sites be secured and the offset strategy be in place prior to commencement of the action. In our view for developments such as these offsets must be in place before destruction of the MNES occurs. Ideally this would include actions in the offset strategy already being started and some biodiversity improvements gained, but the requirements in this proposed approval document is a first step in that direction.
FOG raised a number of issues about the proposed offsets in our previous submissions (dated 10 September 2017 and 17 August 2018). It is not clear from the current document if these issues have been addressed.
Clause 6: the archival record of GSM research should contain recommendations for management of the species and habitat for utilization of best practice management, be peer reviewed and the record be published and placed in the public arena as well as being submitted to the National Archives of Australia. A record is hardly useful if it is not in the public domain.
Clauses 6 and 29a: both refer to compliance with matters under New South Wales governance. Both the proposed developed site and offset sites are within the Australian Capital territory, and as such need to meet ACT standards; if these do not exist or are not considered to be adequate in ACT and the NSW standards are to be applied in lieu of this, then this needs to be stated.
Clause 7: It is identified that $100,000 is to be made available by the approval holder. This resource is presented within this clause, but it is ambiguous as to whether it refers only to resourcing pure research or whether it will fund activities that might also be part of conserving the offset in perpetuity (Clause 4). If the first sentence in the last paragraph were changed to “The approval holder must contribute $100,000 to fund activities outlined in the research plan” this would be clearer.
Clauses 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16: who is to implement the management plan? Will it be managed by the current lessee under agreement, will it be excised and turned into a reserve, managed by ACT Government or by the approval holder? What resources, skills and understanding does the approval holder (Department of Finance) or its delegates have, to ensure the desired outcomes (offset in perpetuity of 2.3 ha of NTG and 6.2 ha of GSM habitat) are being met, and that appropriate action will be undertaken to mitigate against non-compliance. These matters are key, and need to be addressed in the conditions advice not just within the offsets plan, at which point there is no public scrutiny possible.
What is the website on which the approval holder is to publish plans and compliance reports? With past approvals some of these plans and reports are easy to locate (e.g. the ACT offsets register), while others have been impossible to find on the web despite requirements that they be published.
FOG is extremely concerned about this matter, and is totally opposed to approval being given to destroy York Park Grassland and to subsequently develop it, although it has no objections to development of the area to the west of York Park Grassland, provided there is no significant shading of the site. We believe the habitat of the York Park Grassland can be maintained and improved, at the same time be utilized as an open space for the enjoyment and education of community.
FOG believes, in the event that York Park Grassland is destroyed, the conditions are inadequate to ensure that the MNES are protected in perpetuity within the offset sites. We believe that approval of this proposal will result in net loss of both NTG and GSM across the landscape.
We urge you give full consideration of these matters.
FOG delegates are available to discuss them further with your department.
4 January 2019