ACT Planning Minister Mick Gentleman has rejected opposition claims he had a conflict of interest in approving an exemption from an environmental impact statement for the Ginninderry housing development, given the government's stake in the subdivision.
Mr Gentleman on Tuesday approved the exemption for all remaining stages of the joint venture on this side of the territory border, raising stakeholder concerns that evidence handed to the planning authority was ignored.
The huge cross-border housing development will, if approved by both ACT and NSW authorities, see up to 30,000 people living in the area, with 6500 houses in the territory and 5000 in NSW in a development called Parkwood.
The 60-40 joint venture between the territory government and Corkhill Brothers' subsidiary Riverview Projects (ACT) Pty Ltd has sparked community concerns about the future protection of the Murrumbidgee River, despite up to 800 hectares of the 1600-hectare development being earmarked for conservation reserves and exclusion zones from residential development.
The Ginninderra Falls Association claimed the approval had ignored expert advice the association put in a submission on the exemption application, showing a 200-metre protection zone for the little eagle's nesting place was insufficient.
In question time on Wednesday, opposition environment spokeswoman Elizabeth Lee asked Mr Gentleman if he had taken any actions to ensure he had no conflict of interest in relation to the exemption, given the territory's 60 per cent stake in the development.
Mr Gentleman did not directly respond to the question, instead repeating his previous statements the exemption was not an approval for the development, and saying that he had no conflict of interest.
A series of supplementary questions from the opposition ensued, with Mr Gentleman saying the development had not been given a waiver from the environmental assessment process, but rather his decision was "in recognition of the work that has already been done".
It remains unclear whether the Ginninderra Falls Association's evidence about the little eagle's nesting place, which occupies potentially lucrative land on a ridge at Straithnairn overlooking the Murrumbidgee River, was actually taken into account during the exemption assessment.
But clauses in the exemption approval remain unchanged from those in the original application for an exemption, and both the ACT Conservator of Flora and Fauna and the ACT Heritage Council had asked for more information to be provided than was the case in the approval.
The exemption was the seventh a territory planning minister has approved since 2013 in which the government was either a stakeholder or supportive of the development proposed by the private sector.
Opposition MLA Vicki Dunne asked Mr Gentleman what legal advice he had sought, or received, into any potential conflict he may have had in relation to the matter. The minister replied saying ministers regularly received legal advice for their decision-making and "that is the advice received".
When Ms Lee asked if either Chief Minister Andrew Barr or Housing Minister Yvette Berry had approached him in relation to the exemption, Mr Gentleman said he could not recall any correspondence, but would check the record and update the assembly.
In a brief statement after question time, Mr Gentleman said that an impact track development application would be required for the remaining stages of the Ginninderry development, which had to be accompanied either by a complete environmental impact statement or an exemption approved by the minister.
Mr Gentleman also said any exemption could be conditional - which was the case for the Ginninderry exemption - and any subsequent development applications would have to meet the conditions of that exemption.
Clarification: This article previously stated Nicole Lawder asked Mr Gentleman a question. The question was asked by Ms Lee.