‘Fate of koalas’ in Labor’s hands as it mulls 3000-home development near key habitat

The NSW government is facing its first major test over the state’s endangered koala population after a key environment agency raised significant concerns about the impact of a 3300-home development on the last chlamydia-free group of the species in the city.

The second stage of Lendlease’s controversial planned housing development near Sydney’s largest healthy koala population at Gilead in the city’s south-west received vital environmental approvals from Campbelltown City Council in April.

The Gilead area is home to the last chlamydia-free group of koalas in greater Sydney.

Nick Moir

The development is hugely controversial due to the area being home to between 300 and 500 koalas believed to be the last chlamydia-free group left in greater Sydney. It would result in 53 hectares of land being cleared to make way for new housing.

Despite receiving more than 600 submissions opposing the application, the council voted 11 to one to approve a biodiversity certificate which will allow Lendlease to begin land clearing at the site if it is ticked off by Environment Minister Penny Sharpe.

The decision over whether to approve the development comes as the NSW government embarks on a review of Sydney’s housing targets. Planning Minister Paul Scully has indicated he wants to see a greater focus on development in inner Sydney.

That’s led to calls for the government to introduce an urban growth boundary which would see the city’s western fringe sheltered from development.

Chris Minns’ government could face a test over koala habitat.

Kate Geraghty

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said the Premier's push for more housing closer to the CBD and away from the urban fringe was “heartening”, and blocking the Lendlease development was a chance to “begin that necessary shift”.

“Developers will keep building on the outskirts of Sydney until there’s nowhere else to build,” she said.

“The government can and should establish legislative boundaries for Sydney’s growth to protect the remaining green space in western Sydney.”

Whether to approve the development will shape as a major test for the new Labor government after years of criticising the Coalition for its failure to protect koala habitat. It pledged to establish a new Georges River koala national park nearby between Glenfield and Appin before the election.

“The government can and should establish legislative boundaries for Sydney’s growth to protect the remaining green space in western Sydney.”

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann

In 2020, Sharpe was a member of a parliamentary committee whose investigation into the state’s koala population found the species would become extinct in NSW before 2050”. The same report also pointed specifically to the Lendlease development, saying the committee “strongly believes that the current planning conditions spell out lasting and irreparable damage to the local koala population”.

“After visiting the proposed development site and hearing from Lendlease, council and community members, the committee has come to the conclusion that the development proposal, in its current form, is problematic,” it found.

“The committee, therefore, recommends that the NSW government and Campbelltown City Council first ensure the protection of the koala colony and habitat on the Figtree Hill site before allowing any further development.”

Faehrmann, who chaired that committee, said Sharpe now “holds the fate of our state’s healthiest koala colony in her hands”.

“If she signs off on this project then she’s also signing off on the extinction of this extremely significant population,” she said.

“This is the only koala colony in NSW that’s chlamydia-free and increasing in numbers. They’ll only stay this way if their habitat is protected from development.”

The housing estate would be built on land seen as a critical passage for koalas passing between the Georges and Nepean rivers.

While Lendlease is the developer, Campbelltown Council, as a planning authority, is the applicant behind the biodiversity certification. While the approval of the certification would not be the final go-ahead for the development, it would mark a major step in its approval.

In December last year, an environmental assessment agency within the planning department criticised Lendlease’s proposal for being “inconsistent” with recommendations from the NSW chief scientists on protecting the Campbelltown koala population.

But Campbelltown Council’s director of planning, Jim Baldwin, said the application was “consistent with the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer’s advice and recommendations” over the area’s koalas.

“As part of the certification process, the Department of Planning and Environment’s Environment and Heritage Group will review the application and Council will work with them to address any concerns raised,” Baldwin said.

A spokesperson for the NSW planning department said it would assess the biodiversity certification and provide its finding to the minister.

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