Monday, 31 May 2010
Lindsay Electorate: Cumberland Plain Woodland
The former ADI site at St Marys is a 1,540-hectare parcel of land that spans the Penrith and Blacktown local government areas. The site is significant for its vast tracts of endangered Cumberland Plain woodland. It is also significant because over the next decade it will deliver more than 3½ thousand of the new homes required to meet the demand for housing in Western Sydney. The site has had a long and controversial history and has been the subject of much debate within the community.
The former ADI site is surrounded by residential and industrial development. It began as a scattered collection of privately held parcels of land, where parts of the site were variously used for a range of agricultural purposes including grazing. In the early 1940s the site was consolidated and resumed by the Commonwealth for use as a munitions factory. The site continued serving this purpose for almost 50 years until, in 1993, ADI Ltd indicated that it would seek to redevelop the site for housing. In 1994, the Commonwealth, who owned the site through ADI Ltd and subsequently ComLand, established a joint venture with the developers Lend Lease. The Commonwealth continued to own the site through ComLand until it was sold by the Howard government to Lend Lease in 2004 for $165 million.
The prevalence of Cumberland Plain woodland on the site saw a number of assessments of the significance of the bushland during the 1990s, culminating in the listing of 828 hectares, or more than 55 per cent of the site, on the Register of the National Estate by the then Australian Heritage Commission in October 1999. However, Sydney Regional Environment Plan No. 30, St Marys, only zoned 630 hectares of the site for preservation in a regional park, including 74 hectares of land not listed on the register, leaving some heritage listed areas unprotected.
In 1997, Penrith City Council resolved to support the conservation of the entire site. The intention was to access Natural Heritage Trust funding and Federation Fund contributions from the Commonwealth government to retain the entire site in public ownership. However, the Federation Fund application was rejected in 1999. In 2000, the then minister for the environment, Senator Robert Hill, confirmed that the Howard government was seeking a development outcome on the site. This led to the council changing its position to pursue the more realistic objective of preservation of the heritage listed lands rather than the entire site.
In 1999 I was elected to the Penrith City Council and, between September 2000 and September 2001, served my first term as mayor. As mayor I campaigned to secure the conservation of all the heritage listed areas of the site. I continued this campaign as the Labor candidate for the seat of Lindsay at the 2001 federal election. During the election campaign, the ADI Residents Action Group, who had formed in the 1990s when redevelopment of the site had first been mooted, stepped up their attempts to have the entire site preserved as a regional park. They also formed a Save the ADI Site Party to run a candidate at the election.
The combined pressure that was brought to bear in a concerted community campaign of which I was proud to be a part led to the Howard government backing down and preserving all of the heritage listed land. This was later ratified in amendments to SREP No. 30, creating a 900-hectare regional park. This backdown came after the then member for Lindsay, Jackie Kelly, had spent the previous five years refusing to accept responsibility, dismissing the site’s future as a state matter, despite the fact that the site was owned by the Commonwealth government right throughout this period. In 2002, the Howard government provided its approval for the development by certifying an environmental assessment under the Environmental Reform (Consequential Provisions) Act 1999.
During the 2004 federal election, Ms Kelly promised more than $1 million for a vermin-proof fence on the ADI site, but following her election neither the funding nor the fence materialised. Following my own election in 2007 and upon making some investigations into Ms Kelly’s commitment on the fence, no trace of this funding could be found in any government budget or program. The vermin-proof fence was yet another example of the cynical way in which Ms Kelly and the Howard government sought to manipulate this important local issue.
Between 2004 and 2009, the redevelopment of the former ADI site progressed. Today, the redevelopment of the eastern, central and western precincts has already begun, with the 900-hectare regional park at its centre. In 2004, Blacktown City Council approved the development of the eastern precinct of the site, which is now known as Ropes Crossing. It is already home to more than 740 people, with 510 housing lots sold. The Ropes Crossing Public School already has 60 students.
In February 2009, the final amendments to the SREP 30 were gazetted by the New South Wales state government, allowing the western and central precincts to be developed. Those precinct plans were approved by Penrith City Council in March 2009. The western precinct, which will be developed first, has been renamed Jordan Springs. I understand that the majority of the first available lots have already been sold off the plan, and the first residents will move into their new homes in mid-2011. There is almost 70 hectares of employment land throughout the development, which is expected to create 5,300 jobs.
The history of the ADI site is a case study in the struggle to find balance in a growing community. Striking a balance between managing the growth of our urban spaces and conserving our natural heritage is one of the biggest challenges that communities face right around the country. It is an even more pressing concern in growing outer-suburban communities like mine. Population growth brings with it the benefits of critical mass, greater demand for goods and services and the flow-on effects of more employment opportunities and greater wealth. However, population growth also brings with it a number of challenges that need to be appropriately managed. These include ensuring that people have somewhere to live and that the provision of housing is affordable and accessible; that supporting infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads, transport links and sporting fields are provided in a timely fashion; and that our natural heritage is preserved and managed so that our future generations are able to enjoy it and participate in its ongoing conservation. Addressing these challenges is my focus.
The time for saving the entire ADI site passed some years ago. With the site no longer in Commonwealth ownership and a legally valid approval for development issued eight years ago, the Commonwealth has no legal capacity to intervene in the development of the former ADI site. The Commonwealth is unable to ‘call in’ the development for a reassessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 as long as the activity on the site is consistent with the original approval. Even if the Cumberland Plain woodland was listed as a critical habitat, the Commonwealth has no penalty provisions available to it under the EPBC Act as the land is no longer in Commonwealth ownership.
But there is more to our local natural heritage than just the former ADI site, and I have continued to campaign for balanced environmental outcomes in Western Sydney that also develop the infrastructure and new homes that my community needs. I was proud to have delivered on my commitment at the last election for a $15 million Cumberland Conservation Corridor fund. That $15 million was used to return into public ownership and dedicate as a nature reserve the former Airservices Australia site at Cranebrook, which was sold by the Howard government in 2004 to a private developer without any community consultation. The site had been recognised as one of the sites of highest priority for conservation in Western Sydney. As part of the same election commitment, the Rudd government also ensured that the significant stands of Cumberland Plain woodland on Commonwealth owned land at Orchard Hills and Shane’s Park, which form a corridor with the regional park on the former ADI site, are protected under the EPBC Act.
This government has also delivered more than $4 million under the Housing Affordability Fund to bring forward the widening of the Northern Road from Andrews Road to just north of Sherringham Road. Delfin Lend Lease are obliged to deliver this important piece of infrastructure under their development agreement, but without the HAF grant the road widening would not have occurred for at least another five years. My commitment at the last election to deliver traffic lights at the black-spot intersection of Sherringham Road and the Northern Road will be rolled into these works, meaning that existing residents of Cranebrook and the new residents of Jordan Springs will have access to a higher capacity, safer arterial road five years earlier than they otherwise would have. I am advised that Delfin Lend Lease will begin the works in the second half of this year. By offsetting the costs of delivering the road upgrade, the HAF grant allows Delfin to pass on these savings to first home buyers, providing 250 lots in Jordan Springs that will be $20,000 cheaper and improving housing affordability.
I am proud to have been a part of the fight to save the most environmentally significant areas of the ADI site and to be continuing to help deliver greater bushland conservation, greater housing affordability and better infrastructure for my local community.