Environmentalists slam decision to allow Figtree Hill housing development in koala habitat

© Provided by ABC NEWS Environmentalists say koalas are under threat from rapid urban development south-west of Sydney. (ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

The NSW Land and Environment Court has dismissed a legal bid to overturn the development approval for a 1,700-home housing estate that environmental groups say will decimate Sydney’s growing koala population.

The failed challenge by Save Sydney’s Koalas against developer Lendlease and Campbelltown Council was aimed at stopping the clearing of a land corridor deemed to be a major access point for koalas moving between the Georges and Nepean Rivers.

Lendlease said it was committed to “protecting and growing the Campelltown koala population” through its koala conservation plan.

But the local group involved in monitoring and rescuing koalas tried to argue in court the development application to remove trees and de-water dams and the koala plan were all invalid.

Recent data from the Australian Koala Foundation revealed the koala population of NSW had plummeted in the past three years by 41 per cent to fewer than 10,000 animals.

According to the report, the koalas that inhabit the Macarthur region south-west of Sydney were bucking the trend climbing to as many as 500 koalas.

‘War on koalas’

Last year, NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean committed to doubling the state’s koala population.

But Saul Deane from the Total Environment Centre says proceeding with housing at Figtree Hill will fracture koala habitat and have a devastating impact on efforts to reverse the decline of the New South Wales koala population.

“This is now the only recovering koala colony that we see in NSW,” Mr Deane said.

“If you were orchestrating a deliberate war on koalas this would be the mopping up process to make sure they do go extinct.

“It is the only recovering koala colony in NSW and now they have declared it all as housing and they are going to go ahead with bio certification, and they have sidelined a koala plan of management.

“This is probably the point where we know that koalas are doomed deliberately by the actions of NSW planning.

“It is that straightforward, frankly, and it is that disastrous with what we are looking at.”

Lendlease welcomed the court’s decision and declared it shared the passion for protecting koalas shown by the community group that took it it court, and maintains the development can proceed while at the same time enhancing koala protections.

“We share the passion of local community groups, including Save Sydney’s Koalas, to protect and grow Campbelltown’s local koala population,” a Lendlease spokesperson said.

“Figtree Hill will deliver 1,700 new homes for the Campbelltown community and boost the local economy while enhancing the protection of local koalas.”

The company’s plan is dependent on building wildlife corridors as part of an upgrade to Appin Road, which cuts directly across koala migration corridors resulting in regular fatal collisions.

Lendlease said it had been waiting for the NSW government to sign off its plan, an issue raised directly in the company’s response to the court decision.

“As part of the Figtree Hill development, we’re committed to upgrading Appin Road — a blackspot treacherous for both motorists and wildlife,” a spokesperson said.

“Lendlease has offered to construct koala-friendly underpasses as part of the planned upgrades to Appin Road. 

“Now that the court has made its determination, we call on the state government to grant approval for the koala underpasses.”

Mapping of koala deaths shows the section of the road where development is proposed is a koala kill hotspot, hence the need for dedicated car-free crossings under the road.

Lendlease said its housing development represented a $1.6 billion investment, creating 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs annually for the next 10 to 15 years and would alleviate housing stress in the Sydney housing market.

Environment Minister Matt Keane and Transport for NSW were contacted for comment.

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