ACT News

Government accused of failing to ensure developers compensate for habitat loss

Conservationists decry piecemeal approach to land management.

Canberra's bush surroundings and the animals they shelter are being whittled away by new roads and houses. And the ACT's peak environmental group, the Conservation Council, says the ACT government is in breach of Commonwealth policy that requires developers to compensate for clearing bushland that shelters rare birds, lizards and plants.

Jenny Bounds, of the Canberra Ornithologists' Group, said a piecemeal approach to landscape management was causing a loss of connectivity for birds, especially woodlands species that need corridors of trees to move from one protected area to another for mating and breeding.

Development work at West Macgregor.
Development work at West Macgregor. Photo: Graham Tidy

Encroaching development was like ''death by a thousand cuts'', Ms Bounds said.

The council is considering asking the Commonwealth to audit up to 15 sites around Canberra to check whether developers, including the Land Development Agency and the Economic Development Directorate, are complying with offsets plans.

In one example, the council says planning at Molonglo is continuing without reference to ecological guidelines for matters of national environmental significance. 

The council says developments at West Macgregor, Ngunnawal, Exhibition Park, Lawson South, Molonglo and Gungahlin should be offset with measurable compensation for the loss of habitat.


Conservation Council executive director Clare Henderson said that for years a policy had been proposed to accompany a new nature conservation bill. To date, no biodiversity offsets policy has been forthcoming.

''This is the key reason we are asking for the governance arrangements we propose, such as a biodiversity offsets register and annual reporting, so we can get a real picture of what we are losing and what gains are being made, or promised to be made,'' she said.

The ACT Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate (ESDD) says it is not up to the territory to monitor developers – including government agencies – on compliance. That job rests with the Commonwealth government.

This arrangement is being phased out under changes proposed by the Abbott government, which will give states and territories oversight of future offsets policy.

ESDD project manager (impact assessment team) Jonathan Teasdale said the ''one-stop shop'' would give the ACT responsibility for regulating assessment and approval of significant matters of national environmental significance.

Mr Teasdale said jurisdictions were already assessing matters of national environmental significance but they didn't have an approval function. In future, they will also have that role.

ESDD deputy director-general Ben Ponton said until now, there was no legislative framework for the ACT to be involved in offsets policy.

''Now the ACT is looking at its offsets policy because it is one of the fundamental features of the one-stop shop. So without that, it would be very difficult for the ACT to be responsible for approval of impacts on matters of national environmental significance,'' he said.

The Conservation Council opposes the new arrangement and says the ACT government is already falling down on its obligations.

In a statement, the ESDD said: ''The ACT prides itself on achieving strong and enduring environmental outcomes. We are not aware of any breaches of Commonwealth conditions of approval in the ACT in relation to offsets.''

In 2008, the Commonwealth stepped in and prevented the territory from developing 560 hectares of yellow box red gum grassy woodlands at Molonglo. The National Capital Authority refused to amend the National Capital Plan to allow the bushland to be rezoned for homes.