Gungahlin offsets plan under wraps

Gungahlin offsets plan under wraps

In the countdown to the elections Canberra's peak environment group says a previous promise the ACT government made twice to protect rich and rare woodlands near the NSW border remains unfulfilled.

The Conservation Council ACT Region also wants to see a secret document consultants are preparing for environmental offsets in undeveloped Gungahlin suburbs.

The ACT Economic Development Directorate says it can't reveal the offsets plan which is aimed at winning Commonwealth government approval for developing bushland, until it's been approved by the ACT government.

Conservation Council ACT executive director Clare Henderson said sidelining the public was outside the intent of environmental legislation.

''We'd prefer to be involved. [Otherwise] it's not a clear and transparent process,'' she said.


The council says development in North Gungahlin should stop until a whole-of-landscape strategic environment assessment is done, with public scrutiny.

The government promised in the 2004 and 2008 election to declare the undeveloped Gungahlin suburb of Kinlyside a nature reserve which would protect 199 hectares of rare and endangered habitat.

The yellow box-red gum woodlands are on the western end of a woodland corridor which runs around the northern boundary of the ACT and links with Mulligan's Flat Woodland Sanctuary.

Conservationists say after similar endangered bushland had been largely cleared in the surrounding NSW region, the value of these woodlands to Australia is extremely high.

They are home to threatened or uncommon species including the hooded robin, superb parrot and perennial plant Cullen tenax.

Ms Henderson said despite Kinlyside's long recognised biodiversity significance it was still being listed in environment assessment referrals as an area of potential urban development, which was unacceptable.

''The government had been talking about declaring Kinlyside a nature reserve, has made a commitment and now should do it,'' she said.

Surveys by ecologists and the Canberra Ornithologist Group have identified Kinlyside's key habitat for threatened birds and high diversity of plant species that tend to occur only in sites in good condition.

The council says this is largely due to leaseholder John Starr and his family's conservation farm management.

Economic Development Directorate chief David Dawes said Kinlyside was part of the government's broader environmental offset approach for all the remaining developable areas of Gungahlin.

The environmental offsets approach would identify land for conservation to offset land for housing and construction activity to support the ACT economy.

The directorate would not consult with anyone including the Conservation Council until the government approved the offset approach, then it would give a full briefing on the document.