The South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin has reported that the Basin Plan must be strengthened if there is to be any hope of saving the river system, and the communities along it, from a bleak future. The $13 million Basin Plan was adopted in 2012 to address over- allocation of water to irrigated farming at the expense of the environment, river towns, Traditional Owners, and the pastoral and tourism industries. Over the past century the extraction of water, especially for irrigation, has reduced river flows to a point at which the natural system can no longer recover from the extremes of a changing climate and reckless over-use.
This is evidenced by the current Darling River fish kills. The Commission has made 111 findings and 44 recommendations that accuse federal agencies of maladministration, and challenged key policies that were pursued in implementing the plan. The Commission found that the Basin Plan breached federal water laws by applying a “triple bottom line” trade-off of environmental and socioeconomic values, rather than prioritising environmental sustainability and then optimising socio-economic outcomes.
The Commission recommended that the levels of water extraction be reassessed to comply with the Commonwealth’s Water Act 2007 and its objects which include a return to environmentally sustainable levels of water extraction and compliance with international RAMSAR agreements.
The 70 billion litre reduction in environmental water from the northern basin adopted by Federal Parliament in 2018 should be immediately repealed. So should the limit on direct buyback of water from farmers to provide for the environment. The Basin Plan’s water recovery target is insufficient to restore health to the environment and prevent further damage and the target should be increased above 3,200 billion litres. The Society urges Federal and State Governments to prioritise environmental sustainability for the Murray-Darling Basin. We cannot afford to let the Basin Plan continue to fail.
The GSC has recently engaged stakeholders and the community of Ryde in an 'Assurance Review' involving Listening Sessions (no questions allowed of the Panel). The intention was to provide the Panel, including GSC's Chief Commissioner Lucy Turnbull, with local views on the broader impacts of recent development with a particular focus on the Macquarie Park Investigation Area (MPIA).
As the lead planning body, the GSC has responsibility to ensure Sydney remains productive but that growth is sustainable and our suburbs remain liveable. The GSC strategic planning identified that improving sustainability will involve incorporating natural landscape features into the urban environment - “the city in its landscape” concept. Stated priorities and actions of the GSC’s North District Plan include “protecting and enhancing biodiversity” and “increasing urban tree canopy”.
The Society made a short presentation covering critical issues relating to protection of the environment and our serious concerns that remnant bushland is being destroyed within North Ryde despite these stated priorities of the GSC. Our concerns are outlined below.
Notably, much development within the MPIA has occurred under the Major Projects Approvals process and is thus outside Council’s strategic planning controls. We have grave concerns that this process is seriously flawed and approved concept plans for individual Major Projects sites are resulting in significant destruction and fragmentation of native bushland habitat corridors within the Macquarie Park and North Ryde area.
Further some of these Major Projects are on public land and concept master planning appears more driven by revenue raising opportunities for the State with disregard of the broader public benefits that the protection of natural areas on public land provides for future residents.
Remnant bushland on the public housing estate at Ivanhoe Place is under particular threat from a concept DA submitted to the Department of Planning by the State government’s Land and Housing Corporation. The concept DA was exhibited over the Easter holiday period last year. Currently it is at the stage of assessment where the proponent responds to the submissions received during exhibition.
Ivanhoe Place contains bushland of very significant biodiversity value which is listed as critically endangered Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (STIF), protected under national and State threatened species laws. The concept DA proposes to destroy and fragment the protected shale forest and remove over 311 trees including hollow bearing trees.
Supporting documents in the application ignored threatened species using the site, drainage lines across the site, how habitat connectivity will be achieved, the impact of deep soil excavation on the viability of future replacement trees, and the need to install nesting boxes to replace removed hollows. There was no referral to the Commonwealth for ecological assessment of the impact of the concept DA despite STIF being listed as critically endangered under Commonwealth legislation.
Another important priority of the GSC is to integrate transport corridor and infrastructure planning within a strategic planning context and achieve improved sustainability for Sydney’s ongoing growth.
Incredibly, the concept DA proposes a slip road off Epping Rd through the core habitat area of the endangered forest, totally contrary to the Commission's three proposed actions to protect and enhance biodiversity one of which is to manage urban development and its adjoining bushland to reduce edge-effects. The removal of a large number of trees along Epping Road is also contrary to the GSC’s stated intent to sustain a boulevard of trees along congested major road corridors such as Epping Road.
The GSC will assess the results of the hearings and report back in May to the Premier of NSW - the Commission now resides within the Premier & Cabinet Office cluster rather than the Department of Planning - to recommend any improved outcomes that could be achieved for current and future residents of the rapidly expanding Ryde LGA.
Hopefully the GSC will recognise the significant inconsistencies between its strategic planning priorities and the environmental outcomes of the State government’s concept DA for Ivanhoe Place.
Mayor Laxale at Ryde Council has made strong representations to the Department of Planning for the need to review the proposed footprint of the concept plan and remove the slip road so as to protect the integrity of the STIF and ensure its longer term viability.