The following is a brief chronological account of the decisions made to position the Black Rocks sports field in its current location and the unfolding developments that threaten the koalas to this day:-
National Parks & Wildlife Service response to location of sports field
The response from the National Parks and Wildlife Service dated 25/9/2002 to the proposal to place the sports field within the Black Rocks 7(l) Environmental Protection Zone is summarised in Tweed Shire Council Agenda Item 16, 6/11/2002, p.134 as follows:
‘Landuse Recommendations proposed by GeoLINK (Figure 3) are supported by the Service except for the location of the 4ha sports field. The Service has recommended that this sports field be located outside of the subject site. This is to maintain the integrity of the wildlife corridor and significant koala habitat which would be severed by the proposed access road and infrastructure to the proposed sports field. It would also create human disturbance in this area where it currently does not exist.’
GeoLINK recommendation of location of sports field
An extract from the response by GeoLINK to NPWS letter dated 25/9/2002 states:
‘Impacts on the ecological values of the site associated with 4ha sports field could be mitigated. Therefore we consider the relocation of the sports fields west of the dunal ridge as an option worthy of consideration provided that they are sited clear of important ecological features such as the dunal ridge, osprey nest and significant stands of vegetation and physical constraints.....a winding access road could be designed to slow traffic speed in this area and help mitigate impacts on fauna, eg koalas.’
National Parks & Wildlife Service response to GeoLINK recommendation
On 16/12/2002 NPWS indicated support for:-
‘.....the provision of sports fields west of the dunal ridge (provided that they are located as close as possible to the proposed residential area on the eastern portion of the site, adjoin the western side of the dunal ridge and abut the southern boundary.’
Council recommendation of location of sports field
In their report dated 19/3/2003 Council recommended:
‘The sports fields are to be located as close as possible to the residential land on the eastern portion of the site, the western side of the dunal ridge and the southern boundary of the land.’
Inconsistency between NPWS and council recommendations
The sports field does not adjoin the western side of the dunal ridge, as recommended by NPWS, but is approximately 250 metres west of the dunal ridge. The location of the sports field has severed the corridor and human-related disturbance is causing ongoing significant threat to koalas and their habitat in line with the issues raised in the NPWS initial response dated 15/9/2002.
EXTRACT FROM ECOLOGIST SANDY PIMM EMAIL DATED 5/12/2013
History of Black Rocks development
• The original site of the sports field at Black Rocks was located within the area zoned for development and outside of rural/environmental protection areas. The sports field site was moved by negotiation to the former grazing land at the back of the development, in order to save a drainage line containing Swamp Mahoganies (with signs of Koala usage). It is understood (Graham Judge report) that this aim was not achieved despite the re-location of the sports field.
• Since removal of cattle from the area surrounding the sports field, high levels of natural regeneration have been achieved and much of the surrounds are now reasonably densely forested. Should this level of regeneration have been present during sports field negotiations, it is highly unlikely that such a decision would have resulted. In the absence of fill, mowing and building work, potential for regeneration of this site is high.
• The Pottsville wetlands/Black Rocks Koala sub-population is critical to the survival of the Koala on the Tweed Coast. This area is the one at present least affected by road and bushfire impacts.
• Although Koalas currently use the Pottsville wetlands, much of the preferred habitat trees (Swamp Mahogany) have been cleared from around its edges as this was where the elevation was higher and less impacted by flood or standing water, thus available for human use. This area is being targeted for restoration over time but this has not happened as yet and habitat resources here are still thin.
• The protected habitat behind the Black Rocks subdivision contains existing Primary Koala food trees in good numbers and must be regarded as Core Koala Habitat within the meaning of SEPP 44. Although Swamp Mahoganies were removed for the subdivision, it was designed to preserve Koalas through offsetting and there is no doubt that Richard Crandon donated a good portion of land to be protected at the rear. It is one of very few areas where a dog-proof fence was erected around the entire subdivision, only to be rendered almost ineffective when the sports field deal was made with Council (Patrick Knight knows the history of this) and the road was put in. The entrance road urgently requires a lockable gate of the same design and height as the rest of the fence (as occurs to the immediate north of Black Rocks) or at the very least a cattle grid in addition to the recent boom gate.
BLACK ROCKS BY THE SEA KOALA PLAN OF MANAGEMENT
As the sports field and access road are surrounded by core koala habitat and is home to a resident koala population, a Koala Plan of Management was triggered under SEPP 44. The requirements included a continuous koala/dog-proof fence to separate the residential estate from the koala habitat, dog and cat restrictions and traffic calming (see Black Rocks IKPoM).
Construction of the sports field commenced in 2007 and was open to the public in 2010.
Since the sports field was open to the public, several developments have been attempted and koala protection measures have been considerably weakened.
DEVELOPMENT APPLICATION PTV12/0022 FOR CONSTRUCTION OF TENNIS COURTS AT BLACK ROCKS SPORTS FIELD
At the 21 November 2013 council meeting (Minute # 698) this D.A. was refused because:-
‘The proposed development would have an unacceptable impact with respect to the adjacent significant habitat and breeding area for the threatened Tweed coast koala population and the proposed development is inconsistent with the aims of SEPP44 Koala Habitat Protection.’
KOALA PROTECTION GATES
A permanently locked boom gate was installed at the access road entrance to stop hooning, wild parties and increase koala protection.
COUNCIL MEETING 10/4/2014
Minute # 246 resolved that council replaces the boom gate with a koala/dog-proof vehicle access gate and additional fencing to close the gap in the continuous koala/dog-proof fence in accordance with council's Koala Advisory Committee recommendations. However, this resolution included council's Executive Management Team recommendation that the gate be locked at dusk daily.
COUNCIL MEETING 18/4/2014
Minute # 550 resolved that council noted the request of the Koala Advisory Committee, being that the koala and dog-proof gate, when installed, remain locked at all times except when being used by sporting organisations, but that the resolution of 10 April 2014 stands.
The boom gate was replaced with the koala/dog-proof gate and additional fencing as per Minute # 246 of 10/4/2014 council meeting.
COUNCIL MEETING 22/1/2015
Minute # 38 resolved that Minute # 246 of 10/4/2014 be rescinded, and Minute # 39 resolved to replace the koala protection gates with a koala grid, to conduct a study into koala numbers within the Black Rocks sports field precinct and to present a report on options to address hooning on the access road at a future council meeting. An amendment calling for a council report into the efficacy and suitability of a koala grid at the Black Rocks sports field was lost. At this meeting Councillor Longland made it very clear that the removal of the gates would not be dependent on the findings of the koala study.
NSW OFFICE OF ENVIRONMENT & HERITAGE
The OEH sent a letter to Tweed Shire Council dated 19 February 2015 requesting:-
‘Council to reconsider the motion to replace the existing gates at the entrance to the sporting field and not make any changes until the koala study is completed. This will allow more detailed information to be available regarding koalas, their habitat usage and the threats operating in the surrounding area to ensure that any decision regarding the sports field access and use is based on accurate and up to date ecological data.’
COUNCIL MEETING 21/5/2015
Minute # 283 resolved that Minute # 39 of 22/1/2015 be amended to include council's acceptance of assistance offered by the Office of Environment and Heritage in their letter dated 19 February 2015, and that the gates should not be replaced with a koala grid until the study into koala numbers within the Black Rocks sports field precinct is complete. At this meeting Councillor Longland made it very clear that the removal of the gates would not be dependent on the findings of the koala study.
MEN'S SHED DEVELOPMENT APPLICATION DA15/0160 AT BLACK ROCKS SPORTS FIELD
COUNCIL MEETING 21/7/2014
Minute # 394 resolved that Council supports the Pottsville and District Men's Shed request to construct and operate a Men's Shed facility at the Black Rocks sports fields.
COUNCIL MEETING 21/8/2014
Minute # 505 resolved that Council considers granting a limited use licence to operate the Men's Shed for a maximum term of 5 years at the Black Rocks sports field, that the Shed be relocatable, and that Council pursues alternative permanent sites.
COUNCIL MEETING 16/10/2014
Minute # 602 resolved that Council prepares and lodges the Development Application for the Men's Shed at the Black Rocks sports field.
COUNCIL MEETING 21/5/2014
Minute # 254 resolved that the Men's Shed Development Application be outsourced to GHD Australia for assessment, with a report to be presented at the August 2015 Planning Committee Meeting. (To date this report has not been presented.)