Richard Larson. Photo: Elliot Woods
Twelve years after the Watson community successfully fought against the development of a patch of native woodland in the suburb, the battle has begun again.
In 2002, the ACT government agreed to protect a substantial area of native grassy woodland in north Watson after backing down on plans to build housing on the land.
The land was withdrawn from the future urban development program and later named Justice Robert Hope Park.
Now the government plans to release the block of land adjoining the park for a 110-dwelling sustainable development early this year.
The Land Development Agency notified Watson residents in mid-December of the impending land sale after approval for the project under federal environmental protection legislation.
The block had been listed on the indicative land release program for 2013-14.
The agency assured residents the development would not adversely affect the ecological community of the park.
Plans include a 110-unit residential complex, the extension of Negus Crescent and the construction of stormwater pipeline works in the 18-hectare park.
The Watson Woodlands Working Group, which was established after the creation of the park to care for it, is angry over the federal government decision to allow the work to proceed.
Convener Richard Larson said the development would have a major impact on the park and on the biodiversity in the area.
''The Commonwealth decision, in our opinion, is a very poor one - we're not happy,'' he said.
''We will keep fighting to get as many trees retained as possible.''
The 3000-square-metre site contains the same yellow box/Blakely's red gum grassy woodland as within the park and is considered an important biodiversity site by environmental experts and community and land care groups.
The proposal would mean the removal of 43 mature trees.
Mr Larson said another serious issue was that the proposed stormwater pipeline would pump water into the park's retention basin, destroying biodiversity including frog life and invertebrate species.
The Watson Community Association submitted a 10-page document during the environmental assessment notification process that called for the rejection of the proposal.
The association also urged the federal government not to allow the designated park to act as the offset area for the development or incorporate the 100-metre bushfire protection buffer.
In response to comments received during the public notification process, the Land Development Agency said studies had not indicated the woodland west of Antill Street had particular value as box gum woodland.
''It is not feasible for the ACT government to protect all degraded fragments of box gum woodland, nor is it likely that such an approach would result in a positive conservation outcome,'' it said.
''While the ACT government has a responsibility to protect and minimise the impact of urban development on box gum woodland … there is no requirement to protect small-scale variations of the ecological community.''
Mr Larson said the Commonwealth decision was just the first step in the process and the group - along with other supporters including the North Canberra Community Council - would turn attention to the ACT government.
''It's a big job trying to get the best result we can now this decision has been made,'' he said.
The Friends of Mount Majura, who also called for a rejection of the proposal, have advocated for a strategic assessment of the north Watson area with an emphasis on critically endangered grassy woodland conservation.