Toondah Harbour development east of Brisbane puts koala habitat at risk, community groups say as Priority Development Area provision questioned – ABC

By April 9, 2021 News

By Stephanie Zillman

Posted 9 April 2021 at 5:46am, updated at 11:59am

Community groups say tracking maps illustrated the movement of coastal koalas through the development area. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman).

Toondah Harbour in the Redlands, east of Brisbane, is a controversial priority development area (PDA) with the local community having campaigned against the impact on protected wetlands since 2013.

Key points:

  • There are now 34 PDAs across Queensland, adding up to some 82,572 hectares
  • At Toondah Harbour, residents said while the protected wetlands had received much attention, on-shore koala habitat was also at risk
  • Minister for State Development and Planning Steven Miles said PDAs were “vital” to the state’s economic recovery

A plan to upgrade the ferry terminal at Toondah Harbour in Cleveland was given PDA status by the former Newman government in 2013, and then endorsed and expanded under Labor in 2015.

Since then, the Labor government has introduced dozens of PDAs across the state.

There are now 34 PDAs across Queensland, adding up to some 82,572 hectares – or 900 square kilometres – that do not fall under traditional planning legislation.

A PDA can override local planning schemes (zoning), state environment regulation, standard development processes, and remove the appeal rights of the community.

At Toondah Harbour, residents said while the protected wetlands had received much attention, on-shore koala habitat was also at risk.

On the day the ABC visited the site, a juvenile koala could be seen clinging to a gumtree on the development boundary.

Debbie Pointing, who heads up the local koala advocacy group, said under the existing development proposal for Toondah Harbour, bulldozing trees to widen roads and clear land seemed inevitable.

Forty hectares of the PDA is Ramsar-protected wetlands. (Supplied: Chris Walker)

The plan is for up to 3,600 apartments to be built over the water, alongside redeveloped parkland, the ferry terminal, and a 200-berth marina.

Walker Corporation was selected as the preferred developer in 2014, and in late 2015 the community was given its first look at the full extent of the proposal.

Forty hectares of the PDA is Ramsar-protected wetlands and the development is being assessed as a “controlled action” under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

That is where the project rests at the moment.

Under the Act, Walker Corporation is required to submit an environmental impact statement (EIS) that explains how risks and impacts will be managed, which is expected to be made public imminently.

Community groups have raised concerns about the impact on migratory shorebirds, but Ms Pointing said her group had submitted tracking maps to Walker Corporation to illustrate how prolific koalas also were within the PDA.

The maps illustrated significant movement of coastal koalas through the development area.

“To be honest, we were even surprised when we first embarked on the tracking project, we expected to find maybe just a handful,” Ms Pointing said.

Koala advocate Debbie Pointing says the Toondah Harbour development in Redlands, east of Brisbane will impact the local koala habitat. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

“We had eight individuals in the tracking project plus there were many others that we would see when we were tracking in the field, that were moving in and out of the area.”

Walker Corporation declined to comment, but has previously told the ABC the EIS would demonstrate that all significant impacts on the natural environment would be avoided, minimised or offset and the project design would be informed by that work.

Ms Pointing disagreed the impact on koalas could be minimised.

“To be blunt, it’s a death sentence,” Ms Pointing said.

“Because the koalas that live in this environment at the moment cross the roads, and we know that from our tracking project.

“They cross the only two roads into the development area, and with such a significant increase in traffic from up to 10,000 people who will call this small area home if it’s approved, there’s not a chance that they can move across this landscape as they have been doing.”

These protected wetlands could have up to 3,600 apartments built over the water. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

Spotlight on PDAs

State Development and Planning Minister Steven Miles said once the EIS was assessed by the Commonwealth alongside public submissions, it would be the federal minister who would decide whether to approve the project and under what conditions.

“If the project is approved by the Commonwealth, there will be further state assessments and actions required before development could commence,” Mr Miles said.

On PDAs more broadly, Mr Miles said they were “vital” to the state’s economic recovery.

“There are 34 PDAs in Queensland, ranging from new cities in south-east Queensland like Yarrabilba, to major projects like Queens Wharf,” he said.

“These are large-scale, job-creating projects that will increase capacity and improve liveability for Queenslanders.”

Secretary of community group Redlands 2030, Chris Walker, questioned that agenda, suggesting if jobs and economic development were central to the plan, the ferry terminal would have been upgraded long ago, without the need for units built over the water.

“If economic development and fast-tracking projects was what was important, the government could have redeveloped the ferry terminal and that would have been long completed by now,” Mr Walker said.

“In our view, this is the state government’s project just as much as it is the developer’s project and the council’s project.

“Because this project is empowered by state government laws and decisions, it can be easily terminated by the state government using laws like its powers under the Economic Development Act,” Mr Walker said.

“We’ve been putting that to the state government for some years now and they’ve chosen not to do that.”

Mr Miles said Economic Development Queensland was currently assessing over 160 development applications across several PDAs, which would enable $1.1 billion in private sector investment, supporting up to 3,410 jobs in the state.

The Opposition believed there was a place for PDAs as an instrument of government, but not in the way they were currently being designated.

Opposition planning spokeswoman Fiona Simpson suggested the government was not fast-tracking things like affordable housing.

“A lot of the growing pains we’re seeing in south-east Queensland are made worse when there’s not timely decisions, transparency of decisions — and also timeliness of infrastructure,” Ms Simpson said.

“We’ve had a proliferation of all these PDA’s and they’ve in fact become not a decision-making tool, but a parking lot for difficult decisions.”

Brisbane City Council certified town planner Aaron Sweet says PDAs can remove the rights of the community when it comes to developments. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

Brisbane City Council certified town planner Aaron Sweet agreed there was a place for PDAs in a modern governance framework.

He said there were significant constraints within the current planning system, which could slow delivery of development and essential infrastructure.

However, Mr Sweet said that undoubtedly PDAs removed the rights of community input.

“It is something that the community can be exposed to, and not really have a great deal of control over,” Mr Sweet said.

“There is an inherent issue in our planning system in Queensland where the local authority or the state government can bring in effectively zoning changes.

“Unfortunately, the rank and file really don’t have any great recourse in relation to challenging that.”