The ACT government has ignored evidence about the nesting place of the Little Eagle to allow the huge Ginninderry housing development an exemption from completing a full environmental impact statement, a community group has claimed.
ACT Planning Minister Mick Gentleman on Tuesday gave the huge Ginninderry housing development on the Murrumbidgee River an exemption from having to complete a full environmental impact statement.
But the exemption report shows no changes to key clauses for a 200-metre buffer zone around the Little Eagle's nesting place in Straithnairn, which Ginninderra Falls Association president Robyn Coghlan said ignored evidence the group gave the government during consultation.
The 60:40 joint venture between the government and Corkhill Brothers' subsidiary Riverview Projects (ACT) Pty Ltd will have 30,000 people living in 6500 houses built in the territory to the west of Belconnen, and a further 5000 on the NSW side.
But the 1600-hectare crossborder development will also include about 800 hectares of land dedicated to conservation along the Murrumbidgee River, Jaramlee and at West Macgregor, an effort to offset potential effects on the Little Eagle, pink-tailed worm lizard and a critically endangered, but low to moderate condition forest.
Ms Coghlan said the association had appealed the development last year to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, chiefly on the grounds of little or no evidence a 200-metre buffer zone around the Little Eagle's nesting place would help offset damage.
The association also gave a submission to government highlighting research not mentioned in the application that the Little Eagle did not forage within 200 metres of its nesting place, but further afield.
But she said that issue had not been mentioned in the exemption report published Tuesday, and asked whether she believed it was a case of a "pre-determined outcome", she said "yes".
"What they are proposing also allows for the construction of stages eight and 10 around the nesting site, if there's no evidence the Little Eagle has nested there for a number of years," she said.
"We're talking about a spot on the ridge near the river which will have valuable views of the river, and what we do know is the Little Eagle is likely to abandon the site due to noise from construction happening as close as 250 metres away.
"This is a blatant error I have picked up in here and in our view, the reports submitted do not adequately address the expected environmental impacts of the project on species and ecological communities."
Ms Coghlan said research, seen by The Canberra Times, supported her view the Little Eagle did not forage within 200 metres of its nesting place.
But Mr Gentleman told the ACT Legislative Assembly the exemption process had the same level of scrutiny as a full statement, and it was not an approval for development and could only be granted where the application addressed all potential environmental impacts.
"The application proposed suitable mitigation measures and conditions for future development will need to be followed," he said in a statement.
His spokesman also said a concept plan for the West Belconnen development needed research on the Little Eagle prior to consideration of any development within the clearance zone, and that "once a development application is submitted, [it] allows flexibility for the consideration of development that is unlikely to impact".
"A detailed application will be referred to the Conservator of Flora and Fauna who will consider the nature of the development on a case by case basis," he said.
Asked whether the matter was a case of a pre-determined outcome for a development the government invested in, Mr Gentleman's spokesman said "no".
The exemption report does include a series of "clearance zones" preventing residential development within 2.45km of the Lower Molonglo dam, 750 metres from Parkwood Eggs, 500 metres from the old Belconnen landfill, which contains asbestos from Mr Fluffy homes, and one kilometre from the green waste centre.
A further 800-metre zone around Parkwood Eggs would stop any ponds or wetlands or similar close to the property.
The exemption also comes with 13 conditions on the project to help mitigate its effects, including plans to manage construction, reserves, offset areas, bushfire risks and contamination, as well as plans to mitigate impacts on the golden sun moth and sites of environmental concern, among other issues.
Several other conditions also required similar plans to ensure management of Aboriginal sites of heritage significance, other heritage sites, water quality, and development application information.
Both the ACT Heritage Council and the Conservator for Flora and Fauna asked that more information be provided as part of the exemption application, though it is unclear if that information was provided.
Mr Gentleman approved the application on the advice of the planning directorate, which assessed the application.