DOUGLAS SHIRE SUSTAINABILITY GROUP
❝ Douglas Shire Sustainability Group (DSSG) has received several questions from our members regarding the clearing of land at Langley Rd Port Douglas.
In response, we have done a deep dive into the history of events leading to the destruction of several large Melaleuca and other trees and the associated dislocation and probable death of several creatures housed in those trees.
DSSG is aware that at least one family of sugar gliders was spotted and removed to safety. We are unsure what condition those animals are in and whether other animals have been injured in this process.
“The development was approved by Council, and deemed to meet the Planning Scheme performance parameters, despite a plan to remove all vegetation on the site. Council was advised that despite the finding that the planning scheme was NOT met, the need to raise the land level to protect from inundation overrides the need to protect the vegetation. The developer claims that in order to raise the land sufficiently, all vegetation must be removed.
There was no public visibility of this application as it was essentially a reconfiguration application and code assessable.
DSSG believes that public exposure of development application should occur in all cases where vegetation is planned to be removed, and especially on sites which adjoin littoral forest and GBR protected wetlands.
Why did Council not require public exposure of this application, given its stated intention to protect our environment?
DSSG asks how the Douglas Planning Scheme can allow for approval when the development is assessed as failing to meet performance standards for environmental protection.
What priority does the planning scheme give to protection of our environment?
Why do officers of Council not implement the Council’s stated policy of priority for protection of environmental values?
Council was advised by its officers that,
“Achieving personal and property safety from coastal processes, such as storm tide inundation and coastal erosion, are planning considerations under the State Planning Policy and under the Planning Scheme Reconfiguring of a Lot Code. These considerations override the retention of vegetation under the Planning Scheme Vegetation Management Code.”
Is this what we expect of our Planning Scheme?
Is this an invitation to develop along our coastline, removing littoral forest and significant trees?
How much of the site actually required fill and to what level? Interested parties have offered an opinion that the developer overstated the necessary fill, and that much of the vegetation could have been retained.
If the entire site has to be raised to avoid inundation, why does the planning scheme permit development of this nature at that site – surely that is unsafe and leaves Council open to damages claims?
What options were explored to raise the floor level of proposed construction – was it not possible to build on stumps and retain the large trees?
The State Planning department placed significant conditions on the development to protect vegetation and wildlife, as well as prevent sediment and stormwater run-off into the GBR wetland. This includes obtaining necessary authorisation under the Nature Conservation (Wildlife Management) Regulation and the Nature Conservation Act to remove protected species.
Were those permits and authorities required? What surveys of plant and animal life were conducted and why are they not publicly available?
If permits and authorities were required, were they complied with? Who is monitoring compliance?
DSSG is aware that demolition and clearing began without the necessary wild life spotter in attendance. We are advised a local protester was able to suspend the demolition for 24 hours, on the basis no spotter was on site, as required by the State Planning Department.
Why was Council not on site to monitor this and other conditions? Who is monitoring the sediment and stormwater run-off as the development proceeds?
Our review of the development approval processes for this site, dating from 2004 and including a contested approval in 2009, shows that there was greater protection afforded the vegetation and wildlife in 2009 than now. In 2009, the prospective developer was prohibited from removing most of the vegetation, and required to provide monetary surety to protect Melaleucas and Ant Plants in particular.
DSSG acknowledges that detailed consideration of every development application by individual Councillors is a very high expectation. Planning is a complex business that draws on many professional skills including engineering, legal, construction, environmental science to name a few. We understand that is why Councillors rely on employed experts to assist them to make decisions.
It is the job, however, of elected Councillors to set the policy and priorities by which officers are guided in their recommendations, and to ensure compliance.DSSG asks was this achieved in this case.
How do we prevent this happening again?
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