A rich habitat under threat by a hurried decision to build apartments

Greens MP, Cate Faehrmann at the protest

By Neena Badhwar

June 8. There is this group of people shouting slogans carrying placards that read ”˜Forest in Danger’; ”˜Don’t kill the forest’; ”˜More apartments will kill forest and jam up roads’; ”˜Who’s the winner ”“ Lose 2000 jobs at IBM site or create 300 jobs and lose endangered Blue Gum Forest’. The protest is against a proposal to build an apartment block in a thicket of blue gums adjacent to the well known Cumberland forest.

Proposed housing mix in West Pennant Hills IBM location at 55 Coonara Road, by Mirvac nestled in the quiet Blue Gum Forest includes 20 studio apartments, 100 one-bedroom, 220 two-bedrooms and 60 three-bedroom apartments, along with 180 three and four-bedroom homes and 20 two-bedroom homes.

Powerful Owl finds itself not so powerful and may lose its home to apartments proposed in West Pennant Hills for construction by Mirvac

The project may be able to house 600 human families but threatens to destroy the home to Powerful Owl, threatened Dural snail, White Faced Heron, Koalas, Tawny Frogmouths, Ringtail Possums, Rainbow Lorikeets, Rasp Fern, Fire Moss, Native Orchids, Green Tree Frog, Blue Tongue Lizard,   Boobook Owl, a pond with Water Lillies and Wild ducks. These animals form a rich ecosystem in the tall blue gum trees which are under threat in the name of economy at creating jobs.

On Friday May 28, the residents living opposite as well as other residents activists in the area got together the protesters say that if the IBM building is used as a business hub it can help support 2000 jobs instead. Among the crowd were Greens MP, Cate Faehrmann, also NSW Spokesperson on Environment, Hornsby Shire Councillors Cr. Vince del Gallego and Cr. Joseph Nicita. Cate Faehrmann said, “I came to see for myself and I agree fully that this place with Blue Gum forest that houses the Powerful Owl, a vulnerable threatened species, must be protected, no matter what.”

She adds, “Specially when the population projections have been reduced from 75,000 barely to 15,000 post Covid-19, where is the need for more apartments?”

Residents protesting say that Baulkham Hills Council had voted against the project when they had met the Mayor Michelle Byrns with a wheelbarrow full of petitions, almost 4000 of them.

NSW government has suddenly taken a drastic step by announcing a new $3 billion acceleration fund to help job-creating projects, a decision based with an aim to kickstart the economy as Premier Gladys Berejiklian says 500,000 jobs have been lost due to Covid-19.

Fast-tracking projects around Sydney such as the one on Coonara Road is now on the Urban Taskforce (UTF) list of “Shovel Ready” projects by the NSW government that boasts itself as the infrastructure led economy. Considering terrible bush fires that engulfed Australia this last summer with almost a billion animals dying, the decision seems a sheer negligence and an oversight on part of the leaders to climate change.

One is not able to comprehend if Covid-19 is the cause of job loss or now a reason to create jobs, is it not the reason as well that the virus was unleashed from animals to humans thus causing huge number of deaths all over the world, affecting the economy as well as job losses.

This Mirvac project has been approved without a thought as it aims to convert Sydney’s quiet suburb into a concrete jungle instead of keeping and maintaining a natural bush that protects the threatened rare Blue Gums or the animals it houses.

Besides the threat to the forest and the animals, the residents are up in arms about the way the decision to fast track the construction is being considered, says Farida Irani, “It is going to create traffic jam on this one road that connects to Castle Hill Road and Pennant Hills Road which is already heavily congested with traffic,”

“The construction of the units is not in accordance with the Local Environment Plan and the Cherrybrook station which is a kilometre and a half away, people would have to walk via Castle Hill Road to access it. Definitely instead of reducing traffic the roads all around will have more cars parked by commuters since the units have only been allowed one car park each.”

The government has forgotten that this forest is right next to a Forestry Commission managed dedicated Cumberland Forest since 1939.

We contacted NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean who was quite vocal about climate change being the cause of summer bushfires, he has not responded to the requests about his opinion on destroying this biodiversity which enriches a quite suburb of West Pennant Hills. Neither there is a response from Minister Rob Stokes who is the Minister for Planning nor from local MP David Elliott.

Exasperated residents ask how is a project justified with 300 short-term building jobs in mind than losing 2000 jobs that may be possible if the IBM site is used as a business precinct. They say some of the blue gum trees have already been felled on Coonara Avenue. It beggars belief that the government could be so cruel in destroying a forest it decided to maintain more than eighty years ago?

Reply from David Elliott’s office on June 11, 2020:

TIDU has been contacted by the Local MP David Elliott’s office who has sent an email saying that along with the Hill’s Shire Mayor Michelle Byrne he has requested for the Cumberland State Forest and adjacent land at 55 Coonara Avenue to be included as a National Park and has publicly expressed his opposition to the rezoning proposal initiated by the Forestry Corporation of NSW.

He further said, having made representations on behalf of concerned constituents in the Baulkham Hills electorate to all relevant Ministers, including the Minister for Planning, Minister for Energy and Environment, and Minister for Industry and Trade, “I have repeatedly stated that I will not support any large-scale development applications or rezoning until the infrastructure backlog in the Baulkham Hills electorate is cleared and then only I would be happy to work toward sustainable developments.”












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