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Federal Golf Club development: environmental aspects summary

Consideration of the proposal to develop an over 55s retirement village on the Federal Golf Course commenced in 2016.  Since that time, the proposal has changed greatly and been subject to exhaustive study and analysis by a very wide range of experts and has involved relevant Commonwealth and ACT Government environment and planning processes.  This consideration commenced with an ACT Government Community Panel process which then morphed into a much larger process of developing and adopting a Red Hill Integrated Plan.  Following this process the proposal was subject to environmental consideration by both the Commonwealth and ACT Governments.  The outcome of these considerations then led into ACT Government processes which resulted in variations being made to the Territory Plan.  The proposal is now subject to the ACT Government Development Application process.  All these steps have involved detailed consideration of the potential environmental impacts of the proposal on the important biodiversity found on the golf course and in the surrounding areas.   There has been a detailed focus on potential impacts on vegetation and importantly, threatened species and communities including the grassy woodland, the Gang-gang Cockatoo, and the Superb Parrot.  An important aspect of these processes has been close consultation with both the Federal Golf Club and the proponent Mbark to discuss and provide views on the mitigation of potential impacts to protect the biodiversity of the area.  I along with other Regenerators who have been involved in these exchanges with the FGC and Mbark have found them to be more than willing to take on board our suggestions and they have devoted a great deal of time, effort, and resources to avoid, mitigate and reduce potential environmental impacts of the proposed development.

I will now highlight some key aspects of the investigations and considerations that have been undertaken to date, with a particular focus on environmental matters.

  1. In 2022 a referral was made under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to determine if the proposal required Commonwealth assessment and approval.  The referral focussed on detailing and classifying native vegetation in the area, strategies to be employed to avoid impacts on high- value ecological areas, including grassy woodland, and habitat of importance to the superb parrot, the golden sun moth, and the Gang-gang cockatoo.  A great deal of detailed survey work was involved in the preparation of the referral, including detailed vegetation mapping, the location of hollow-bearing trees (HBTs) and surveys of the incidence of Superb Parrots and Gang-gang Cockatoos in the area.  The Commonwealth determined that the proposed development is not likely to have a significant impact on any matters of National Environmental Significance which includes those threatened species and ecological communities which I have mentioned.  
  1. In 2022 an Environmental Significance Opinion (ESO) was sought from the ACT Government.  A great level of ecological information was provided in the application which further investigated the potential impacts of the proposal on environmental matters covered by the ACT legislation. Importantly, this application provided more detail on avoidance of impacts, mitigation and environmental management commitments, the proposed inclusion of 10.4ha of the FGC lease area (containing grassy woodland) into the Red Hill Nature Reserve , hollow protection and relocation, and funding for research and monitoring activities, amongst others. The ACT Government assessment concluded that the proposed development is not likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact.
  1. The Development Applications recently submitted to ACTPLA include a detailed Environmental Report by Umwelt (2023).  The report deals with obligations in the ESO and outlines additional research completed, commitments made and reductions in potential environmental impacts resulting from further detailed design work. These include:
  • A reduction of about 10% in the total native vegetation likely to be impacted.
  • The survey of trees located over 600 HBTs on the golf course, with 120 HBTs identified in proximity to the development areas.  The number of HBTs to be impacted has been reduced from 20 to 17.  No Gang-gang nesting trees will be directly impacted.   This outcome was achieved through detailed design that prioritised mature and HBts in and around the development site. To achieve this reduction will result in a significantly more expensive build due to the use of retaining walls, earthworks to retain natural surface levels around key trees, specialised construction methods and inefficient siting of buildings.  Mbark consider that this financial cost is very worthwhile to achieve improved environmental outcomes.
  • 26 HBTs were subject to detailed inspection including the 17 HBTs proposed to be removed.  Stacey Taylor and Laura Rayner were involved in climbing these trees in order to measure their hollows to assess their potential for Gang-gang nesting. This enabled Mbark to design around trees of higher likely value to this species. Of the HBTs proposed to be removed, there are 3 hollows that meet all four hollow attributes with another 5 having nesting potential.  So, no more than 8 potential nesting trees will be removed from more than 600 HBTs on the golf course.  All the impacted hollows will be relocated on-site where salvageable.
  • Stringent works restriction periods have been proposed around the Gang-gang breeding season, both initially and on an ongoing basis.
  1. An Arborists Reports (2023) detail the impact each DA will have on specific trees. Over 2,500 trees were catalogued and assessed on site, with every single tree’s data shown in the annexed table to the arborists report.  A total of 358 trees are proposed to be removes, with 109 of these being of a regulated size.  The key point is that most of the trees to be removed are planted exotics and non-local eucalypts.  A detailed landscape plan has been prepared.  This plan involves the planting of locally endemic species, with a focus on re-establishing a more complex understorey and shrubby mid-layer.  This will enhance the existing high-quality arboreal habitat and canopy and provide more opportunities for smaller birds, reptiles, and mammals.

June 2024