PORT Macquarie-Hastings Council will forward its Airport Business Park planning proposal to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment for approval, confident it has found the right balance between future development and the protection of the environment.
The project has come under intense community scrutiny with the protection of sensitive koala habitat and the validity of council's biocertification processes the key concerns.
Opponent Phil Lloyd, who lodged a submission against the proposal, said it is bitterly disappointing the majority of councillors voted to proceed with this "destructive development", despite the overwhelming negative feedback.
Mayor Peta Pinson voted in opposition.
King and Campbell Pty Ltd's Tony Thorne, who represented council throughout the consultation process, reported that the majority of submissions made raised concerns about the extent of koala habitat loss.
He said the land that is subject to the business park planning proposal impacts less than two hectares of primary koala habitat and three hectares of secondary koala habitat. All impacts will be offset in conservation land approved in council's biocertification agreement.
"The conservation lands created by the biodiversity certification agreement will result in the permanent conservation and management of 444 hectares of primarily council-owned land and a commitment to purchase a further 40-50 hectares of blackbutt-tallowwood forest, resulting in approximately 500 hectares being under council's permanent conservation and management which will ultimately contain approximately 350 hectares of koala habitat," Mr Thorne said.
Cr Justin Levido said the decision represents the end of a long journey.
"It's an excellent example of council being a very good corporate citizen, adopting a biocertification which is one of the first on the north coast and looking at not only protecting the airport infrastructure, looking at developing a business park, but also protecting enormous amounts of environmental heritage and in particular the issue of koalas," Cr Levido said.
He said it is "an excellent environmental result on all fronts".
Cr Rob Turner said the airport business park project has been a long time coming and arrives with "environmental wins" for the community.
"This is not a business park we are going to be occupying in the next five years, or the next 10 years, maybe the next 15 or even 20 years," Cr Turner said.
"This is something to sure-up the future of our community so that we do have some land ... and we do grow to needing it, that we can grow and have this space put aside.
"In 50 or 60 years time people will say council was very strategic and far-sighted with the decisions they made around the airport.
"It's not about the community in the here and now, it's about our community in the future and this really helps set us up strategically for the future."
Mr Lloyd said there has been significant community objection to the business park project.
"Given the recent catastrophic bushfires, the better option should have been to defer this project until the koala population numbers had been properly quantified," Mr Lloyd said.
"As both the regulator and developer, council could have taken the high moral ground in its role of custodian of our precious fauna; instead they opted for a short term profit at our koalas' expense.
"It results in an overall decrease of koala numbers and over 100 hectares potential habitat. Council's proud justification is that they have set aside larger local areas with greater future koala habitat protection status.
"It is well documented that translocation doesn't work and unlikely koalas would be able to migrate to find suitable space in the already inhabited offsets.
"Cr Turner claims residents in 50 years time will applaud how far sighted council was in establishing this park. By then koalas I fear, will be functionally extinct with perhaps a few found in small protected pockets and in zoos, but at least we'll have a business park."
Mr Lloyd said of even greater concern is the cumulative koala population and threatened species impacts by inter-linked projects including the construction of a flood-free airport access road and the necessity to upgrade the Boundary Street and Hastings River Drive intersection which won't cope with the additional traffic generated by the business park.
"To build such major roads, a nearby supply of gravel would be needed. This is of course where their plan to expand Sancrox quarry comes in, yet again at the expense of known koala habitat," he said.
"I urged councillors to delay this significant decision with potentially devastating environmental effects as well as significant use of ratepayer funds until more essential data had been collected.
"Typically council and the current majority of councillors have ignored any community feedback to proceed with this indefensible and largely unfunded project. Community consultation seems to be more of a regulatory box that has to be ticked rather than an empowerment of residents to be part of the decision making process."
Development of the Port Macquarie Airport and council's surrounding Thrumster lands will be staged over the next 20 years.
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