Department, developers respond to land clearing revelations

THE Department of Environment and two developers have responded after it was revealed the clearing of 75ha of koala habitat approved for residential development in Ipswich breached policy on environmental offsets.

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The Australian Conservation Foundation obtained documents through a Freedom of Information request which showed habitat was approved for clearing even while the Environment Department conceded the developers' planned offsets didn't meet policy standards.

Developers are given permission to destroy wildlife habitat on the condition equivalent bushland is protected elsewhere, which is known as an offset.

The documents obtained by ACF revealed the department approved the land clearing in January 2018 by Springfield Land Corporation and Defence Housing Australia to 'maintain consistency in decision making' with other projects already going ahead. The department said offset proposals from both developers 'lacked consistency' with its policy but approved them anyway and stated any future proposals would need to fall in line.

A Department of Environment spokesperson said the suitability of environmental offsets was assessed on a "case-by-case basis" and considered within the context of a proposed project.

"In relation to the assessment of the offset plans for the two approved developments, the department considered the environmental value for the koala and the broad outcomes that would be achieved," they said.

"For example, koala habitat and evidence of the presence of koalas was known from across the broader properties.

"While there were some technical inconsistencies between the offset plans and the EPBC Act environmental offsets policy, the delegate who approved the plans determined that the proposed offsets would achieve an acceptable conservation outcome in relation to the impacts of the projects on koalas.

"Offsets had been previously approved within other areas of the offset properties. This reflects the need for decision making under the EPBC Act to be equitable and to take account of circumstances on a case by case basis."

DHA general manager Brett Jorgensen said DHA complied with the requirement set out by the Department of Environment in order to gain approval for the 27ha Deebing Heights development.

"This was in accordance with the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act environmental offsets," he said.

"To date DHA has developed approximately 8ha, which was partly treed and partly cleared.

"In compliance with the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act environmental offsets policy, DHA provided 53.6 hectares of environmental offset near Peak Crossing approximately 20km south of Ipswich."

The development is being completed in four stages and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Mr Jorgensen said the DHA takes its responsibilities in relation to environmental sustainability "very seriously".

"We work closely with government authorities and industry experts, at every opportunity, to ensure that our developments satisfy and comply with state and federal requirements," he said.

A Springfield City Group spokesperson said it continues to operate "within the approvals" issued by local, state and federal governments.

"The Greater Springfield project has contributed some 30% of its project area for conservation and open/green space - which is well in excess of the usual requirement," they said.



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