Lendlease could ‘destroy’ its green credentials over Figtree Hill development in koala country, experts say – ABC

By January 14, 2021 February 17th, 2021 Archive

ABC Illawarra            By Tim Fernandez

Posted 14/01/21

Experts warn a controversial housing development in the middle of koala habitat could turn investors off.(Supplied: Pat Durman)

Experts have warned property developer Lendlease that its reputation as one of the most sustainable housing companies in the world could be damaged if it proceeds with a controversial development on the outskirts of Sydney.

Key points:

  • Experts say Lendlease risks losing investors if it fails to protect koalas on the site of a housing development near Sydney
  • Land clearing has begun at the site of the 1,700-home Figtree Hill development in Gilead
  • The current masterplan for the project does not align with the advice of the NSW Chief Scientist

The developer has begun clearing trees at Gilead, in the Macarthur region, after Campbelltown Council gave it the green light to begin work on the first stage of its 1,700-home Figtree Hill estate last month.

Residents and environmental experts have objected to the project, claiming it would further fragment the habitat of one of the healthiest koala colonies in New South Wales.

But there are fears the project could tarnish Lendlease’s green credentials and impact its bottom line.

“Lendlease has got a very good reputation for developing projects that have good sustainability outcomes,” said environmentalist and former Australian of the Year, Jon Dee.

“If Lendlease is not careful, this development in Gilead could destroy the very good sustainability reputation that the company has built up over many years.”

Last year, Environment Minister Matt Kean put Lendlease on notice, indicating he would not sign off on the second stage of the development unless it complied with advice provided in a report by the state’s chief scientist.

Lendlease has already begun clearing land at the site of its 1,700-home development.(Supplied: Pat Durman)

However, the first stage of the project was approved before Mr Kean took over the environment portfolio, and Mr Dee claims it currently falls short of those recommendations.

“They have to create koala corridors that are 425 metres wide, that is the recommendation of the NSW Chief Scientist,” Mr Dee said.

“If they do not do that it could significantly impact the way ethical investors look at Lendlease as a company.

“At the moment, Lendlease is a favourite of the ethical investment sector, but that could undoubtedly change if they fail to implement the recommendations of the chief scientist over all stages of this project.”

Developer risks reputational damage

Lendlease chairman Michael Ullmer committed to meeting and exceeding the koala protections drafted by the State Government at the company’s annual general meeting last year.

Lendlease’s standing as a sustainable property company could be damaged by its Figtree Hill development.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

In its current form, the master plan for stage one of the development does not include the critical requirement of 390 to 425-metre corridors to allow koalas to travel across the landscape.

“Our concern is there may be a disconnect between what the chairman said at the AGM and what is happening on the ground at this development,” Mr Dee said.

Simon O’Connor, chief executive of the Responsible Investment Association Australasia, said he believed companies could pay a high price for failing to follow through on their environmental commitments.

“Investors will be scrutinising this very clearly to ensure a company such as Lendlease is delivering on the policies it espouses around sustainability, biodiversity and conservation.”

Ethical investment expert Simon O’Connor believes the Figtree Hill development could affect Lendlease’s appeal to investors.(Supplied: Simon O’Connor)

Last year Lendlease received top marks from international sustainable property ranking the Global Real Estate Benchmark (GRESB).

Among the criteria is an assessment of the impact the development will have on the existing habitat on the site.

“The site selection process should be based on structured, predefined methodologies that include limits on the development of inappropriate sites or projects with a negative impact on the immediate surroundings, and on the environment in general.”

Mr O’Connor said it was a long process for a developer to build up its sustainability portfolio, but that work could be very quickly undone.

“Reputation can be damaged very quickly by a company mismanaging their environmental footprint,” he said.

“This is an asset that is one of the hardest to build for a company but one that is the fastest to destroy.”

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Lendlease told the ABC it was implementing a $35 million conservation program to protect the local koala population.

“Our comprehensive koala conservation plan has been prepared in response to the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineers Report and has been subject to an independent peer review commissioned by Campbelltown City Council in late 2020,” a spokesperson said.

“Our Figtree Hill development will set a benchmark in NSW for how a balance between conservation and sustainability and urban development can be reached.

“This development aims to protect and grow the Campbelltown koala population.”