A koala habitat has been placed on sale in an online auction by the Baird government in a move community groups say is aimed at limiting public opposition.
The prime koala habitat near Port Stephens is up for grabs as the NSW government sheds ‘surplus’ lands.
Seven lots totalling more than six hectares that abut the Port Stephens-Great Lake Marine Park Sanctuary Zone will be open for bids for four days from Monday.
A prime koala habitat near Port Stephens is up for grabs as the NSW government sheds ‘surplus’ lands.
The land sale poses an “unacceptable risk” of development to an area classified as being of high environmental and indigenous heritage value by the government, Port Stephens Council said.
The council and local groups say they became aware of the planned sale by the landholder, the Education Department, when a real estate sign went up last month.
Simone Aurino, secretary of the Hunter Koala Preservation Society, said the public faced a “wall of silence” about the sale and possible fate of the threatened species – as many as 27 – on the site.
The area also has cultural significance to the Maaiangal people, containing middens and possible burial sites.
“Why would you make it a secret auction?,” Ms Aurino said. “It doesn’t make sense unless there’s something to hide.”
Wayne Wallis, general manager of the Port Stephens Council, wrote to education minister Adrian Piccoli requesting the sale be halted to allow for discussions about including the land into the surrounding Mambo Wetland Reserve. (See photograph from Frank Knight real estate agent below):
“It’s a lovely piece of land but it’s environmental land,” Mr Wallis said. “It’s the reason people live in this area.”
The land was once earmarked for a naval hospital when, after World War One, the government was considering a naval base at Port Stephens, Walter Lamond, chair of a local landcare group said.
It ended up in the Education Department’s hands decades ago and has remained so even though schooling needs have met by other sites.
Mr Lamond, a retired surveyor, and his wife Margaret, have been part of groups that have long cared for the land, planting thousands of trees and removing weeds.
“It’s emerged as a prime koala habitat,” Ms Lamond said. “If it goes there will no breeding area [in the region].”
“Every spring time the koalas meet in the forest [now] for sale, they find partners and mate,” Guy Innes, a resident said. “They continue down to the beach, where i see them lick the sand.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Piccoli said the department is “mandated” to sell surplus land by competitive process on the open market.
The lots’ E2 level environmental zoning meant restrictions would limit development of the land, with a range of uses – such as hotels or multi-dwelling housing – barred. While individual houses could be built any project would also need to address impacts on koalas and their habitat, the spokeswoman said. (See list of restrictions below.)
Port Stephens Council would be the consent authority, she said: “[I]f council determined that there was likely to be significant impact upon threatened species, including the koala, council would require [the Office of Environment and Heritage’s] agreement to grant development approval.”
Local residents, though, worry that existing restrictions aren’t set in stone.
“We’ve seen other areas with the same [E2] zoning with consent given to change the zoning,” Mr Lamond said.
Council can’t bid
Kate Washington, the local ALP MP, said people are “appalled by the lack of care the NSW government is showing our community”.
“Landcare volunteers have looked after this land for decades, and without any notice, the state government has put up a ‘for sale’ sign,” she said.
The government’s forced council amalgamation plan has also made it easier for the land to end up in private hands, she said: “With council not being able to bid on the land due to the disastrous amalgamation process, it’s the last kick in the guts for our community.”
Fairfax Media also sought comment from Environment Minister Mark Speakman.