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Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti rejects community claims Federal Golf Course development plan puts rare birds at risk

Canberra Times Thursday 5 August 2021

A community petition has called on the Legislative Assembly to oppose housing development on the Federal Golf Course.

The ACT Environment Minister has rejected community claims a plan to allow development on the Federal Golf Course will damage breeding areas for the gang-gang cockatoo and superb parrot.

Rebecca Vassarotti said the plan, first flagged in 2019, provided the best way forward to protect key environmental values for the area, by limiting scale and location.

“It also enhances protection for biodiversity by recommending the expansion of the Red Hill Nature Reserve to currently unprotected woodland areas of high ecological value in the northern section at Deakin Section 66 and at the Federal Golf Club,” Ms Vassarotti said.

A flyer distributed by the Garran Residents Association, which pointed to a petition calling on the Legislative Assembly to reject a recommendation to allow a retirement village on the Federal Golf Course, asked residents to express support for protecting “critically endangered woodland and vulnerable bird species”.

But the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate completed a rapid site assessment, which noted known nesting trees were at the protected northern end of the site.

The final plan was amended to include 50-metre-wide buffers, which the ACT government says will retain and enhance ecological values and minimise the impact of development on surrounding residential areas.

 Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti, who acknowledged community concern but said the plan was a strong environmental outcome. 

“I know that there is concern in some parts of the community. This is reflected in the petition that was tabled in the Legislative Assembly. It is important to understand that the integrated plan is not a blank cheque,” Ms Vassarotti, a Greens minister, said.

“If the golf course does choose to pursue a retirement village in the southern area, it will have to submit a proposal for formal assessment including any potential impacts on threatened species.”

More than eight proposals have been put forward for the site since 1995.

Hughes Residents Association convenor John Griffin had earlier issued a statement rejecting development plans for the golf course.

“The Garran Hughes Woodland and southern end of the golf course is one of the handful of nesting sites for the soon to be listed threatened species, the gang-gang cockatoo,” Mr Griffin said.

“As the faunal emblem of the ACT, we would like to ensure this bird is protected.”

But ACT government ecologists are confident the birds breed at the northern end of the course, which will be better protected under the new plan.

Giulia Jones, a Liberal member for Murrumbidgee, tabled the 1721-signature petition in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.

Mrs Jones said she was not strongly aligned in favour or against the plan to allow the Federal Golf Course to build a retirement village on its land.

“I do not propose the government must always do what is popular, however I do believe that the people are the power behind our system, and if government is going to disagree with the community, they should do so openly and explain their reasons,” Mrs Jones said.

Groups who have long fought against any development by the golf club, such as the Red Hill Regenerators and ACT Conservation Council, have now supported the final Red Hill Integrated Plan because it removes the chance of any development on the Red Hill Nature Reserve itself or the northern end of the course.

Red Hill Regenerators president Ross Kingsland last month told The Canberra Times the final plan “resolved many of the issues we’ve been grappling with for decades and does give a balance between the environmental issues and maintaining the golf course”.

But other groups have criticised Planning Minister Mick Gentleman for saying the integrated plan has been endorsed by the community.

A previous assembly resolution requires developments to have a “reasonable likelihood of majority community support” before being permitted.