More than four hectares of remnant bushland could be cleared on Sydney's northern beaches for the expansion of a local primary school, which was once designated as a centre of excellence in environmental education.
What will new Manly Vale 'super school' mean for local bushland?
Community members fear what will happen if a proposed 'super school' development for Manly Vale public school goes ahead and encroaches on more than four hectares of remnant bushland.
The proposed and long-awaited development for the Manly Vale Public School seeks to increase the number of students by up to 1000.
However local community members fear the sheer size of the "super school" development will decimate species habitats and tree canopy, in order to meet bushfire asset protection zone requirements.
"We are very supportive of a new well-funded, well-resourced school, but it's the fact the department wants to build a super school. Just a few years ago Manly Vale didn't have enough students and suddenly this plan is tripling the size," said Malcolm Fisher, Manly Vale local resident.
He said a number of residents were concerned the massive expansion of the Sunshine Street school would destroy "the incredible beauty and biodiversity of McComb hill" and also encroach into two adjoining parks and the Manly Warringah War Memorial Park, "a living war memorial."
"This would destroy the habitats of threatened species found on site, including the eastern pygmy possum, powerful owl, eastern bent-wing bat, the grey headed flying fox, as well as numerous other native mammals, including the swamp wallaby."
The same threatened species were identified in a species impact statement commissioned by the government, which confirmed the four were "likely to be affected by the proposal," and that the proposal "would contribute to ongoing incremental loss and degradation of habitat for the species."
However in a statement to Fairfax Media, a department spokesperson said council had confirmed the land was not a conservation area and had no item of environmental heritage.
"Field studies did not identify endangered ecological communities or threatened flora and concluded the proposal was unlikely to have significant impact on local fauna providing ameliorative measures are implemented," he said, quoting the impact statement.
"These measures will ensure native trees and shrubs are retained to provide fauna corridors."
In August last year Warringah Council rejected the development application due to areas of non-compliance and insufficient information; regarding building height, traffic and parking, stormwater drainage and species impact.
"Given the extent of clearing and the impact upon threatened species resulting from the build and imposition of the asset protection zone, it is difficult to see how the development demonstrates consistency with the Principles of Crown land management," the Warringah Council letter said.
A spokesperson for Warringah council said the applicant was "attempting to address the concerns raised in council's letter... prior to its referral to the NSW Joint Regional Planning Panel for determination".
In 1989 Manly Vale public school was designated a centre of excellence in environmental education in 1989, during the tenure of former school principal David Tribe.
The designation was part of then-Education Minister Terry Metherell's Centres of Excellence program, which recognised schools around the state for specific areas.
"The emphasis on environmental education has gone off the boil these days, teachers aren't trained to use natural areas," said Mr Tribe.
As principal, Mr Tribe instated an outdoor classroom, known as the nature area, where children could take subjects like maths, geography and english while utilising the natural elements.
The proposed site for the new development would see the nature area cleared to make way for new school buildings.
"I know the school desperately needs new buildings… but what they're trying to do is contravene the environmental sustainability policy of the department, where you have a balance between the natural and built area."