By Bev Jordan
Environmentalists and locals are devastated that The Hills Planning Panel has agreed to an application by Mirvac Projects Pty to demolish the former IBM buildings at 55 Coonara Ave, West Pennant Hills which will include the clearing of 1,253 trees.

The site contains Blue Gum High Forest and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest, which provide a habitat for the critically endangered Powerful Owl and the Dural Land Snail

– identified as Critically Endangered Ecological Communities under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

The decision was made public on Monday, (September 20th) following an impassioned forum on Wednesday last week when representatives from seven community groups addressed the panel and 27 individuals registered to speak.

The former IBM site was rezoned from Business to Residential and Environmental Conservation in June last year through the State Government’s Planning System Acceleration Program despite objections from Hills Shire Council. The re-zoning will enable medium to high-density residential development on the 9ha site for up to 600 homes.

In announcing the unanimous decision to allow the demolition works to go ahead, the Hills Planning Panel stated: “Having regard to the relevant provisions of the Biodiversity Act,1979 and the detailed advice provided by Council’s Senior Biodiversity Officer, the panel is satisfied that the development the subject of the DA is unlikely to result in a serious and irreversible impact on the Blue Gum High Forest or on the Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest.”

It has added amendments to five conditions covering tree protection fencing and protection from accidental damage, signage, a fauna management plan which must be submitted to Hills Shire Council covering fauna protection and relocation, and fuel management arrangements.

The plea to the Planning Panel from most speakers was asking why so many trees needed to be removed for the demolition to go ahead.

The first speaker was Hills Mayor Michelle Byrne who said: “The biggest concern for residents is the loss of 1,253 trees with only 60 replacement trees. These are species we do not want to lose. Once they have gone, they have gone for good. I think clearing a large amount of Blue Gum Forest High Forest is not a great outcome for anyone.”

Mayor Byrne said now the land had been re-zoned the focus was now to work with stakeholders to minimise the impact on the environment and surrounding owners.

Jan Primrose, speaking on behalf of Forest in Danger, an alliance of 12 community and environment groups fighting the plans for 55 Coonara, said the removal of 1.85ha of critically endangered species was a huge shock.

After the decision, she said: “It’s more than disappointing that Mirvac doesn’t consider that it can remove the current buildings on the site without clearing 1,253 trees. That’s a huge number of trees to lose on one site alone plus there will be hundreds more for the development application for the northern part of the site.”

Joan Rowley from West Pennant Hills Residents Association said the work will have an irreversible impact on West Pennant Hills valley.

Catherine Woollnough from PYSE (Protect Your Suburban Environment) said the number of Blue Gum High Forest trees being cleared represented 40 per cent of the number on the 9ha site.

Trish Brown from Byles Creek Valley Union said they were concerned about the impact on the endangered Powerful Owl. She asked for changes to the hour’s work was carried out on the site to lessen disruption.IBM

Ishbel Cullen from the Nature Conservation Council said a lot more needed to be done to protect native wildlife living in the forest and asked for extra time for relocation.IBM

Mirvac Development Director Adrian Checchin said the approval of the demolition works was an important first step and would deliver much-needed homes and “make this cherished forest environment publicly accessible to the community for the first time in approximately 100 years.”

“In June 2020, the site was rezoned to Environmental Conservation to protect important ecological elements of the site, and permit new medium and high-density residential dwellings,” he said. IBM

“We continue to work with the planning controls and are close to finalising a design that is sensitive to the landscape and forest environment, within a masterplan which protects and enhances the important ecological elements of the site.IBM

“We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the Hills Shire Council and the community, as we work through the next phase in the approval process, to deliver the best outcomes for the forest as well as residents of West Pennant Hills.”IBM

Mayor Byrne said she would be continuing the campaign to reclassify the Cumberland State Forest, which adjoins the Mirvac site, into a National Park.

IBM

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