Zoning requirements also mean developer of 13,000 houses can meet infrastructure needs via a voluntary planning agreement
The New South Wales government has given the green light to a massive housing development on Sydney’s fringe despite the state’s environment minister expressing reservations last month about current koala habitat protections in the region.
The development of 13,000 houses in Appin, 80kms south of Sydney, proposed by Walker Corp, is one of the largest on Sydney’s outer edges, and is located in sensitive koala territory.
The government has given approval to the project but the actual rezoning has been deferred until 15 December to give the government time to negotiate a state planning agreement with Walker Corp and allow the developer to finalise an infrastructure plan for the huge area.
Because the development is being fast-tracked away from state-provided infrastructure and is outside the government’s planned development areas, the developer will need to meet much of the local infrastructure needs via a voluntary planning agreement, which is usually funded by levies on new lots.
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The proposed housing at Appin is also within the Cumberland Plain conservation plan (CPCP), which was approved by the previous state government but still requires a decision from the federal government under national environmental laws.
The policy is intended to guide the construction of 73,000 houses from Penrith to Wilton until 2056 while identifying planned conservation areas upfront.
The rezoning decision says Appin is consistent with the requirements of the CPCP and the advice of the chief scientist on preserving koala habitat.
But serious concerns have been raised about some of the proposed conservation elements – including by the now environment minister Penny Sharpe when Labor was in opposition – and about the adequacy of the CPCP itself.
In response to questions from the Greens MLC Sue Higginson in parliament last month, Sharpe said she was concerned the CPCP “doesn’t strike the right balance” between the need for new housing and infrastructure and the need to protect critically endangered ecosystems and animals such as koalas.
Sharpe said she was particularly concerned that the timelines for securing all the necessary conservation reserves under the plan were as long as 20 years. She said “the short answer is yes” when asked if the government would change the plan if it considered it necessary to better protect the environment.
Sharpe told Guardian Australia on Monday: “The CPCP is a complex plan that we need to get right. I am working through the issues to ensure that we protect koalas and the rest of the stated conservation outcomes of the plan.”
The NSW government downplayed the deferred start to the rezoning.
“The rezoning of land at Appin will provide for the much-needed additional 13,000 homes while reserving more than a third of the site for environmental and koala protection,” planning minister Paul Scully said.
Independent member for Camden, Judy Hannan, said that while Appin was not in her electorate, she was concerned that it would distract from the other major land release on the fringe at Wilton.
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Wilton currently has about 6,000 residents, but is planned to have 40,000. It currently has no town centre and there are no public transport links, which means that residents are dependent on using cars to get to Campbelltown – which is 20 kms away – for shopping and medical services.
“Appin will take away from Wilton, which has a serious deficit of infrastructure,” Hannan said. “The same thing that has happened at Wilton will happen at Appin. The government is delivering dormant suburbs,” she said.
Scully disputed this assessment.
“The combination of planning requirements and the reformed $1bn Housing and Productivity Infrastructure Contributions scheme which we passed in parliament last week and will come into effect from 1 October, will mean that the infrastructure the area needs to support those homes will be delivered in a timely manner,” he said.
“These reforms lock in infrastructure contributions of up to $700m each year into the future helping to create great places around new housing,” Scully said.
“Our infrastructure contribution reforms set up a stronger system with a fair and consistent charge applied across greater Sydney, lower Hunter, Central Coast and the Illawarra-Shoalhaven, to help pay for the infrastructure needed to support growing communities,” he said.
Two other major housing estates – Gilead Stage 2, proposed by Lend Lease, and Appin North, which is being developed by Ingham Property – are also being fast-tracked.