The owner of Bonny Hills land, rejected last year for residential rezoning, says the clearing of trees at the site in recent weeks complies with the Native Vegetation Act because he plans to run goats and horses on the block.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has expressed concerns about the destruction of wildlife habitat on the Beach Street land.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council has asked the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to investigate.
Outraged members of the Koala Hospital drove to the site on Thursday to protest the clearing work.
Cheyne Flanagan, clinical director of the Koala Preservation Society of Australia which runs the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, said the team were alerted to the site after phone calls from locals concerned about the destruction of wildlife habitat.
“This is 100 per cent core koala habitat,” Ms Flanagan said.
“Which means there are breeding female koalas here. We’ve treated koalas from this site before, we receive reports from locals about koala sightings on this site, we know it’s core habitat and it’s being destroyed. Once the trees are gone, you can’t glue them back.
“We had to move an echidna today. So it’s not only habitat for the koala there are nesting sites in the branches and hollows. There would have been gliders and other native wildlife too.
“We believe that the owner is exploiting the Native Vegetation Act by installing fences along the property, removing trees around the fences.”
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council director Matt Rogers said the council is not the regulatory body for this rurally-zoned land.
“The council is working with the OEH in relation to this alleged breach of the Native Vegetation Act,” Mr Rogers said.
“There is no approval in place for the work that has happened.”
Mr Rogers said the council met with contractors on site within the last few weeks and requested that no further work take place on the site.
When told the Koala Hospital was on site Thursday and may be again on Tuesday morning to protest clearing work being conducted, Mr Rogers said that was news to him.
A request to rezone the land on Beach Street was put to the council in November 2016, to amend the zoning for Lot 1 and 2 to Residential R1 and Environmental E2. The council advised the proponent the request could not be supported.
Mr Rogers said the council became aware of clearing taking place on or about February 25 this year.
Council’s agenda for the April 19 meeting states that, around this date, the “owner indicated (on-site to Council’s Natural Resource Officer) that the clearing was associated with proposed agricultural use of the land and that rezoning was not being pursued at this stage.”
On March 8, the council received a further request to amend the zoning, this time excluding Lot 1.
Council staff, in their report to councillors for the April 19 meeting, recommends the proposal to rezone the land not be supported. The report cites seven points to refuse the request, including the “likely impact on known EEC (Endangered Ecological Communities) and koala habitat”.
The landowner is Kevin Shanahan of the Astoria Group of Companies. He said the clearing work complies with the Native Vegetation Act’s Routine Agricultural Management Activities (RAMA), which states a raft of conditions for which rural land can be cleared without approval to create buffer zones around infrastructure such as fences.
“When we started the clearing work at the end of March we had a visit from one of the council officers and he reported us to the Office of Environment and Heritage. Before we did any of the work I had already confirmed with the OEH and the local land services that the clearing work we were carrying out was lawful,” Mr Shanahan said.
“We had a second visit from the OEH yesterday (Wednesday April 12) and the officer confirmed what we were doing is totally in accordance with the law.”
Mr Shanahan said his plan was to run goats and horses on the property. He said there is a strong market for goats.
He said he had requested a rezoning of the land to residential R1 and environment E2 to Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.
“We did make an application and it was council’s recommendation that they can’t support that application. We’ve known that since January.”
As far as the land clearing work goes, compliance lies with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
“The council are not involved in the process. It’s totally dealt with by local land services and by the OEH,” Mr Shanahan said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.