Animal activists join forces to hit out at koala plan
ANIMAL activist heavyweights turned out in force at an Independent Planning Commission meeting in Kingscliff yesterday to protest against modifications to the koala management plan at the proposed Kings Forest estate.
More than 20 activists spoke out against the proposed changes with most concerned about three modifications including fencing around a golf course in precinct 14, a lack of koala underpasses and securing 27 hectares of koala food trees.
Groups represented included Team Koala, The Northern Rivers Guardians, Birdlife Northern Rivers, Animal Justice Party NSW, Friends of Cudgen Nature Reserve and Friends of the Koala, among others.
The chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, Deborah Tabart OAM, was also in attendance.
The proposed modification of the Koala Plan of Management is the fourth revision of the plan which has caused mass controversy among the community since the initial concept was released in 2010 by Leda Holdings, the developer of the Kings Forest estate owned by Gold Coast billionaire Bob Ell.
Concerns have ramped up since NSW Labor announced Kings Forest as the alternative site for the Tweed Valley Hospital if it is elected on March 23.
Team Koala stated in a submission to the State Government that the changes were an attempt to "wear down community opposition by a series of modification applications over several years".
Yesterday, President Jenny Hayes said her organisation had only "ever wanted koala-friendly development."
"We have never tried to stop the development, we've only ever wanted the same thing, koala-friendly development," she said.
"In the beginning, we were horrified there was going to be a golf course, but then we inspected it on the proviso the golf course would be a buffer zone for the koalas to move around and we said okay we'll accept it."
Ms Hayes said a new modification request to place a fence around the golf course and remove that buffer zone was "suicidal" for the Tweed Coast koalas, which are now classified as endangered.
"To put a fence around the golf course means no movement through one area to another, so fencing around the golf course is suicidal for them," she said.
"We have to let them move, koala's don't just sit in the trees, they have to go find their mates, they have to find their food, and there are food trees within the golf course, why cut them off?
"For koalas to be cut off is absolutely disastrous."
Ms Hayes said the requirement to plant 27 hectares of koala food trees off-site, which could now be negated by using a financial offset, was "absolutely vital" before development begins.
"The 27 hectares is everything, it's everything," she said.
"If these three things don't happen properly, it's goodbye to our koala's, that how important it is."
Australian Koala Foundation Chairman Deborah Tabart said when the koala was listed as a federally protected species in 2012, all existing approvals at the Kings Forest site "should have been reset".
"There needs to be a Koala Protection Act, why can't Mr Ell listen and be the hero, what has he got to lose," she said.
"Mr Ell, be a hero. After 30 years I'm so tired of the community having to do the work for the developer, the developer is saying I'm going to impose this on you, but these are the people who live here, it's about you working with us.
"I've been to many Planning Assessment Commission meetings and have usually found they don't change a thing, so commissioners, do your job."
Leda Holdings told the Tweed Daily News many of the modifications in the fourth rendition of the Koala Plan of Management were "administrative details".
"Many of them are clarifications," Regional Manager Reg Van Rij said.
"Many of the concerns are unfounded and have long been dealt with, the underpass issue is ancient history."
Project Ecologist James Warren said there were already "seven underpasses allowing koalas to move between habitat" and the golf course took up much of a 50-metre buffer zone for the animals.
"There is very little habitat that the koalas would be cut off from," he said.
Mr Warren said there were only eight hectares left of the 27 required for koala food trees, which was why they were looking at a financial offset.
"Financial offsetting has become an option, meaning instead of having a requirement of planning 27 hectares of koala food trees, you can put a value on that and provide funding to the Biodiversity Conservation Trust in NSW," he said.
"The legalities are that the project should be able to provide a financial offset if they so desire, the legislation allows for it."