By Bev Jordan
More than 50 people gathered in a peaceful forest protest on Friday (February 4th) to mourn the loss of thousands of trees that will be cleared on the former IBM site in Coonara Ave, West Pennant Hills to make way for a new housing development.
Parents, children and dogs joined members of environmental groups at the protest which was held at the corner of Castle Hill Rd and Coonara Ave from 7pm and was watched by police.
The on-going protests against plans by developer Mirvac for the site at 55 Coonara Ave have spanned several years.
Protesters are angry at the clearing of endangered Blue Gum High Forest and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest and the loss of habitat for the critically endangered Powerful Owl and the Dural Land Snail.
Hills Shire Council rejected plans by Mirviac to rezone the 26-hectare site but in June 2020 the site was rezoned from Business to Residential and Environmental Conservation through the State Government’s Planning System Acceleration Program. The approval allowed medium to high-density residential development for up to 600 homes on a 9 hectare section of the site.
In September last year (September 20th 2021) the Hills Planning Panel approved the demolition of the IBM buildings at the site and associated civil works including the removal of 1,253 trees to enable the works to go ahead.
In announcing the unanimous decision to allow the demolition works to go ahead, the Hills Planning Panel added amendments to five conditions covering tree protection fencing and protection from accidental damage, signage, a fauna management plan which must be submitted to Hills Shire Council covering fauna protection and relocation, and fuel management arrangements.
Protesters at Friday’s vigil were joined by local councillors from Hills, Hornsby and Parramatta and Greens MPs, Senator Mehreen Faruqi and David Shoebridge who spoke as passing motorists tooted support.
They claim that with further development applications planned as part of the site a total of more than 3000 trees will eventually be removed.
Alice Suttie said: “Mirvac could put this land to much better use rather than destroying over 3000. It is not good for people, not good for the environment and not good for the animals.”
Hills Shire Councillor Ryan Tracey said: “Locals have no voice. Hills Shire Council voted against this. We have been railroaded.”
Hornsby Shire Councillor Emma Heyde said: “No fancy landscaping or press releases about a ‘residential community’ by Mirvac will ever erase the memory of the 3000 trees they destroyed. The Hills desperately needs green space, not more overpriced apartments.”
Newly-elected Hills Shire Councillor Mila Kasby also spoke about the loss to the community.
Submissions on the latest development applications for 55 Coonara Ave closed on Monday, February 7th. The new DAs show that the proposed number of dwellings has been reduced to 418 (252 units in four apartment buildings and 166 houses).
Toby Long, Mirvac General Manager, Residential NSW said the company was working with Hills Shire Council to satisfy precommencement conditions and would not start work until conditions had been met.
“Demolition works are expected to take approximately eight months to complete. They will be undertaken by a specialist contractor, managed by our project team and guided by expert consultants, under strict controls in accordance with all relevant approvals and the conditions set out in the approved Fauna Management Plan. We are working to minimise disruption of site works in accordance with the detailed conditions of approval and we are keeping local residents regularly updated on our program as it progresses.”
To read about the Hills Planning Panel Decision visit this link hills to hawkesbury.com.au/ibm-demolitionto-go-ahead/
Read about the re-zoning in June last year via this link hillstohawkesbury.com.au/ ibm-rezoning-approved/