Last minute legal action is underway to stop the controversial Sunrise Beach BlueCare development that could be just hours away from destroying an important habitat for the endangered Glossy Black cockatoo.
The action, launched by three Noosa locals – 12-year-old activist Spencer Hitchen, his mum Maxine and environmental philanthropist Angela Whitbread – is likely to prove a major embarrassment for Noosa Council.
It is a two-pronged approach, taking on Noosa Council and the Queensland Government.
First, there’s a request for immediate intervention by the Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Linard for an Interim Conservation Order “to urgently prohibit or control land clearing of critical habitat of the South-eastern Glossy Black-Cockatoo at 1 Grasstree court, Sunrise Beach.”
The applicants say the Interim Order should remain in place until; 1. suitable offsets are established, 2. there’s a Council review of critical habitat loss in line with national Conservation Advice, and 3. a Federal Recovery Plan and Action Statement is approved.
Second, Noosa Council has received a letter from Brisbane-based law firm Ninox Law, which;
- Accuses Noosa Council of acting improperly by delegating power to a staff member to sign off on a faulty offset deal involving growing replacement trees on a contaminated former dump site.
- States the approval of the ‘offset’ deal should not have been delegated to a staff member because of its significant community interest.
- States that Council did not correctly register the delegated authority, rendering it invalid.
- Will compel Noosa Council to provide a “statement of reasons” for its decision to approve recent changes allowing the land clearing to go ahead, including its revised Environmental Management Plan.
- States that the habitat destruction is inconsistent with Federal Conservation Advice relating to the endangered Glossy Black cockatoos.
The letter regarding the “unauthorised delegation” process that paved the way for the land clearance has been sent to the Noosa Council acting CEO Larry Sengstock with copies to all Noosa Councillors.
Ninox Law request that the approval of the ‘minor change’ application on 16 May 2023 be revisited by Council and considered by all Councillors.
Monday June 5th. A deadline, and a protest
Ironically, on Monday – World Environment Day – The Uniting Church developers were set to unleash the bulldozers on the controversial site at Grasstree Court, Sunrise Beach.
A protest is scheduled on the site at Grasstree Court at 9 O’clock on Monday morning.
Some of the habitat has already been cleared for an Aged Care home being built next to the Sunrise Beach shops. The next – and most damaging stage – is the 5.8 hectare site just to the South, making way for 122 retirement homes in a retirement village.
This stage, known as Lot 9, would bulldoze all but four of the habitat of Casuarina trees that provide a critical feeding ground for the local Glossy Blacks.
The Law firm says the proposed land clearing is now inconsistent with the Federal Conservation Advice on Glossy Black Cockatoos.
“The project that was referred to the Minister and assessed included the proposal to clear 5.8 hectares of critical habitat for Koalas and the south-eastern glossy black-cockatoo. However, the offset plan that the proponent included in its EPBC application has been changed, one of the offset areas has failed, and Council has approved remediation of a landfill site to offset 5 hectares of critical habitat. A rigorous environmental impact assessment of this proposal has not been completed.”
At the heart of this damaging process are two fundamental issues.
- The elected Noosa Council leadership should not hide behind ‘delegation’ to staff in matters of such high profile and controversy.
- The ‘offset’ deal signed off by a Council officer appears to be – at best – highly questionable, and at worst, deeply flawed.
And, an embarrassing footnote…
Ninox Law also refers to an extraordinary letter sent by Noosa Council to 12 year-old Spencer Hitchen and his mother last month after the ‘offset’ deal was agreed by Council.
Ninox Law says the Council letter stated “staff cannot continue to take the numerous calls that you make to Council now that you have been provided with this information and we will not be responding to any further questions on this matter.”
Noosa Matters has had a close involvement in this issue through our contributor Barry Cotterell, a retired barrister and President of the Peregian Beach Community Association. He provides some context.
Council staff recently used their delegated authority to approve the offset site, a nearby former dump, as “suitable” despite significant contrary evidence.
The evidence shows that in five-years the seedlings at the offset site will still only be two-metres tall and many years away from being a possible food source for the endangered Glossy Black cockatoos that will be deprived of the trees they currently live off.
When the bulldozers flatten their habitat on Lot 9 at Sunrise Beach, these birds can’t eat from the promise of a future tree that hasn’t yet been planted.
The so-called ‘offset site’ is a degraded former dump which needs to be capped to contain unknown contaminants. The evidence provided does not look at the impact of the trees being planted above the capping and of their roots breaching the cap – with the threat of contamination of Burgess Creek down to the ocean.
The Development Approval (DA) has always required BlueCare to “re-establish the habitat” of the Glossy Black Cockatoos to be destroyed at the development sight (Lot 9) at a suitable offset site.
To give the tick to this highly questionable old dump site and seedlings that are many years from being a potential food source makes a mockery of the term ‘offset’.
BlueCare are proposing to remove all of the feed trees from Lot 9, except for four isolated trees which clearly do not constitute “a habitat”.
This ‘offset’ deal was approved as a “minor change” but without it – the development could not proceed.
Despite the state-wide embarrassment the development is causing for Noosa’s reputation, it’s not the first time the Council has processed this matter at staff level, rather than having a full meeting of Council vote on it.
BlueCare failed to act on implementing this aspect of the 2011 approval until 2021 when they finally started collecting the seeds for germination.
In 2017, staff approved a four-year extension of the Development Approval when BlueCare had, at that stage, failed to act on it for six years.
If this extension had been referred to Councillors it may have been refused as there was no evidence presented to prove that the development was still justified on the basis of need, and also there was no justification for the long delay in failing to act on the approval which was about to expire.Barry Cotterell, retired barrister & President of PBCA.