A dispute over plans by a property developer to raze a local forest on the bushfire-ravaged south coast of New South Wales has been escalated to the federal environment minister amid concerns the project could threaten endangered species.
Residents of Manyana have been protesting against plans by Ozy Homes to clear 20 hectares of unburnt mature-growth forest to make way for nearly 180 housing lots.
They are opposed to the development given that so much local bushland has been burned.
Ozy Homes was due to start clearing the forest in Manyana last week but agreed to pause work until Monday to allow for discussions, the community group Manyana Matters said in a statement this week.
But after a meeting on Wednesday between Ozy Homes, the NSW planning minister, Rob Stokes, and representatives from Shoalhaven city council, the group on Thursday said the developer had shown “no indication … that they are willing to further delay the start of work on this project”.
Manyana Matters has now engaged the Environmental Defenders Office to act on its behalf, with letters sent to the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, and the director of Ozy Homes.
The community group wants the development – approved by the NSW government in 2008 – referred to Ley for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, saying it could affect a number of threatened species, including the critically endangered swift parrot.
Apart from experts finding the project will directly impact listed species by clearing bushland that provides key areas of habitat, the site “is now surrounded by fire-affected forest and has become an important refuge for wildlife”, the letter to Ley says.
“The EDO has informed us there is a strong chance this project may be in breach of the [act], given the presence of threatened species on the land slated for development,” Manyana Matters said.
The organisation will call on Ley “to invoke her powers under the Act to delay this project until a proper assessment can be completed”.
In the letter to Ozy Homes, the EDO said it was under instructions to seek an assurance that the developer would refer the project to Ley and that no work would start until a determination has been made.
Ozy Homes and Ley have been contacted for comment.
More than 56,000 people have also signed a Change.org petition calling for a halt to the land clearing to prevent any harm to the greater glider, which is listed as vulnerable.
And there are calls for the state government to order Forestry Corporation to abandon plans to log Nambucca state forest on the NSW north coast.
“Logging these forests after so many were devastated in the summer bushfires is morally indefensible,” said the Nature Conservation Council chief executive, Chris Gambian.
“Trees that are habitat for a wide range of native animals, including the greater glider, sooty owl and koalas, will be cut down to make telegraph poles, pool decking and pallets.”