Attention: North Sydney Planning Panel
I write to oppose the proposed rezoning of land at Patyegarang, Morgan Road, Belrose, or “Lizard Rock” (PP-2022-3802). I also indicate here my interest to speak at the public hearing considering this proposal.
The revised planning proposal now before the Sydney North Planning Panel is substantively the same as the previous proposals, which were comprehensively opposed by the local community and council.
I endorse the detailed and rigorous submission by Northern Beaches Council opposing the planning proposal, drawing on their considerable in-house expertise, as well as expert bushfire risk supporting analysis which has been commissioned.
Clearing high value bushland for a low density 450 home residential subdivision is outdated, unstrategic and risky. The development of the Lizard Rock site is environmentally reckless, goes against good planning principles and is not in the public interest.
This submission firstly addresses some mistruths which have been canvassed in the public domain in relation to the site. Secondly, it outlines the overarching fact that this rezoning proposal is not in the public interest. Thirdly, it covers the main areas of concern which have been raised with me by the community in relation to the proposal: the hazardous bushfire risks; the unacceptable ecological impact; and the brazen inconsistency with contemporary good strategic planning.
Mistruths about the site have been spread in the public domain
In a recent radio interview the CEO of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) made some statements that I wish to correct.
“That MLALC pay rates"
Response: The MLALC do not pay rates. Land that is vested in the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council or a Local Aboriginal Land Council and is declared under Division 5 of Part 2 of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 is exempt from payment of rates.
"Only 20% of the site will have housing on it"
Response: The MLALC's Planning Proposal would facilitate development, resulting in approximately 44.7 hectares (an area equivalent to about 45 rugby fields) being cleared – this is approximately 64% of the site area.
"The land was cleared for a quarry and farmland in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950's"
Response: Biodiversity and contamination-related documents submitted with the MLALC planning proposal indicate that a former quarry was located outside the site. The documents reveal that most of the vegetation on the site was intact or in good condition, and the small portion that had degraded was fringing the existing residential development.
Additionally, historical aerial photographs from the 1940s and 1950s show small parts of the site as patchy clearings. Since that time (80-90 years ago), these limited areas have regrown and are now well-vegetated in a near-natural state.
"Warringah Council didn't give our land a zone"
Response: All parcels of land have planning rules that guide what landowners can and can't do on their property. This applies to everyone – regardless of who owns the land.
This parcel of land at Lizard Rock falls under the Warringah Local Environmental Plan 2000 (WLEP 2000). When the Warringah Local Environmental Plan 2011 (WLEP 2011) was introduced, the state government 'deferred' part of the Local Government Area around Oxford Falls and Belrose from inclusion in the new WLEP 2011, following representations made by several landowners in the area.
The land owned by MLALC was part of the 'deferred' land. The planning controls under the WLEP 2000 still apply to the site today.
The State Government doesn't have a policy to buy back Aboriginal land claims
Response: The state government does have mechanisms to buy the land back, and given its proximity to Garigal National Park, it could be incorporated into the existing park. There are at least eight examples this year where the government has acquired land for the national parks system.
Indigenous groups on the Northern Beaches are not verified Aboriginal People
Response: The Northern Beaches Aboriginal Support Group is made up of Aboriginal people living locally.
Northern Beaches Council, and myself personally wholeheartedly supports the spirit of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which seeks to transfer unused Crown Land to Aboriginal Land Councils as recognition of past dispossession and to support self-determination. We, however, oppose this particular development at Lizard Rock due to serious concerns relating to hazards and environmental impacts; and we continue to push for the NSW Government to buy the land and make it National Park.
Rezoning this site to R2 is not in the public interest
This site falls within the electorate of Wakehurst, for which I am the elected member of the NSW Parliament. Opposing this proposal was a key motivation for me in deciding to stand at the March 2023 election and was at the centre of my policy platform, which the community endorsed by electing me. During the election campaign, and since, the depth and breadth of community opposition is crystal clear.
The Wakehurst community is overwhelmingly opposed to this development proceeding. At every opportunity the local community and local council have made submissions to planning processes opposing the project, but they have been ignored.
Development on this site is not in the public interest for the people of NSW, as it destroys 45 football fields of native vegetation, home to multiple threatened species, eroding a vital wildlife corridor and diminishing our collective shared natural heritage.
Development on this site is not in the public interest for the current and future residents of the Northern Beaches who will have their amenity impacted by knock-on effects. This includes increased traffic congestion through creating car dependent, isolated residential areas which lock in use on already strained corridors. It is essential that growth is concentrated close to public transport and infrastructure which can support it.
That this rezoning proposal is not in the public interest is further reinforced by the uncertainty around the amount of affordable housing and open public greenspace which will be included in the potential development of the site.
Crucially, development on this site is not in the public interest for the future individuals and families who would live in this new subdivision and the emergency service staff who would be responsible for assisting them in future bushfires. Given the information we have in front of us from bushfire experts on the fundamental constraints on evacuation in the case of emergency, it is unethical to proceed any further down a path of development on this site.
For over 15 years, I have worked with the Government of the day and the Planning Department (with my Community) to meet housing targets, increase affordable and social housing, develop LEPs, Structure Plans for Town Centres and embed good planning and design principles, at the same time increasing customer satisfaction, and a level playing field. I have not blindly opposed development because it is easy or popular, but instead be part of the solution and ensure good and fair planning (and development) for the Northern Beaches, which is constrained because of its topography, location and insufficient infrastructure. My track record speaks for itself for well over a decade.
Risk to public safety in a bushfire emergency makes the rezoning unviable and irresponsible
As part of their submission to the exhibition of the Draft Planning Proposal, Northern Beaches Council commissioned advice from expert bushfire consultants Black Ash. This assessment made clear that ‘the planning proposal has been developed on the premise of evacuation being provided by Morgan Road and a new slip lane onto Forest Way and a new emergency access on to Oates Place. The availability and utility of both of these key aspects has not been demonstrated in the planning proposal and are fundamental enabling provisions for the planning proposal’.
These evacuation route issues remain unresolved with the proposal currently on exhibition. I have spoken to fire fighters who were in the field during the 1994 fires, which affected the suburbs surrounding the Lizard Rock site. The thought of having thousands of additional people to evacuate from the location is terrifying to them and the current local volunteers, many of whom have etched in their memory the recent horror summer of 2019 where they were deployed to all areas of the state and witnessed destruction and death on a huge scale.
It gets worse. If approved, the zoning then has a range of SEPPs that would allow additional housing such as granny flats for example, under an exempt development pathway. So in addition to 400 plus homes, there is the potential for 400 granny flats. More people and cars to evacuate on a narrow single lane road. Why would anyone approve such a development knowing they are facilitating a situation which puts lives at risk? We know better. We know there will be another fire. When will we learn?
Eminent coastal engineer, Angus Gordon OAM, has also recently brought to my attention the downstream implications of increased run off if the development of the site goes ahead. He outlines that this will have implications for the Wakehurst Parkway, increasing flooding events. Additional runoff at a time when flooding events are intensifying and we are trying to fix existing issues with Wakehurst Parkway is the last thing we need.
The ecological and environmental impact of the rezoning is too high
The site of the proposed rezoning contains high value native vegetation which is part of a wildlife corridor connecting bushland on private and public land. This is an important part of the ‘green lungs’ of Sydney, of significance to the entire city. Native vegetation on the site provides habitat to threatened species including the red-crowned toadlet and spotted-tail quoll.
The idea that these values can be maintained while clearing 44.7 hectares to establish 450 residential lots, as well as associated Asset Protection Zones, is absurd. This scale of clearing and disturbance in the catchment will inevitably result in increased pollution and sedimentation in Snake Creek and Narrabeen Lagoon.
The rezoning is not consistent with good strategic planning
This rezoning proposal flies in the face of the strategic planning framework which aims to guide an overarching vision that will lead to the best outcomes for the community and the environment over the long term. This proposal is inconsistent with the Greater Sydney Region Plan, North District Plan, Northern Beaches Local Strategic Planning Statement – Towards 2040 and Northern Beaches Local Housing Strategy.
I am very much in favour of density done well as stated previously. The Northern Beaches Local Housing Strategy makes clear that we are committed to meeting housing targets on the Northern Beaches through adding density in strategic locations. This is consistent with good planning policy and the government’s stated vision for new dwellings to be concentrated close to infrastructure. The Lizard Rock rezoning proposal is totally counter to this logic.
The Department of Planning have worked with Northern Beaches Council and Transport for NSW on an evidence based approach to planning dwelling targets, focusing on infill development around existing transport hubs. This proposal sits outside this framework and is therefore in addition to targets set by the NSW Government. The current NSW Government has made clear they are not building the Beaches Link Tunnel and or Stage 2 widening of Mona Vale Road. There are still no plans for upgrade of intersections along Pittwater road to break existing congestion.
I am also very concerned about the direct conflict of this rezoning proposal with the evidence based findings of Northern Beaches Council’s Conservation Zones Reform which recommends applying a C3 Environmental Management Zone to most of the site due to its high environmental value and the hazards that impact the site. The draft plans from the Conservation Zones Reform work propose zoning Oxford Falls and Belrose Rural and C3 Environmental Management. If the Lizard Rock site is successfully rezoned, this creates a dangerous precedent for future landowners to pursue spot rezonings in this area, undermining the objectives of the Conservation Zones Reform.
All rezoning and development proposals should be considered on their merits, regardless of the landowner or proponent. This proposal does not have strategic merit or site-specific merit and the only responsible course of action for the Sydney North Planning Panel is to refuse the rezoning proceeding.
Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission.
Michael Regan MP
Independent Member for Wakehurst