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Ginninderry is Canberra's newest frontier, and it's seeing the bush capital confront the bush

By Jake Evans, 14 Mar 2019

ABC Online

The Murrumbidgee River near CanberraPHOTO: The developement west of Canberra has been planned for more than a decade. (ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Bushland west of Canberra is prime real estate for both developers and its current residents: threatened wildlife like the little eagle, the corroboree frog, and at least 28 other listed species.

But a project, which will see homes for 30,000 residents built on a strip of land running between the Ginninderra Creek and the Murrumbidgee River, has raised the ire of some concerned about the development's environmental impacts.

The Ginninderry project's first tenants will be moving into the new suburbs of Strathnairn and Macnamara by the end of this year, but the project has become a key tension point for the ACT Government, as it navigates the city's rapid growth and its reputation as the bush capital.

Now a new body has been established to safeguard the waterways beside the new development.

Ginninderry managing director David Maxwell said despite the concerns, work to minimise damage to wildlife has been exhaustive, and will continue.

"Each stage I'm going to be challenged about environmental [issues], I'm going to be challenged about little eagle and other things, so you've got to keep doing the work," he said.

A house being constructed in untouched bushland.PHOTO: Residents will begin moving in at the end of the year. (ABC News: Jake Evans)

Environmental issues have been a thorn in Ginninderry's side since it began planning more than a decade ago.

They most recently flared up late last year when Environment and Planning Minister Mick Gentleman decided to exempt Ginninderry from completing an environmental impact statement (EIS), a standard requirement for a major development.

But his Government partner on the project, Housing Minister Yvette Berry, said the project had exceeded EIS requirements.

"Everything I've heard, all the advice I've been given, the 10 years of work that have been done leading up to this moment in time, are significantly more than would be required under the ACT legislation or the Commonwealth act," Ms Berry said.

But environmental and resident groups like the Ginninderra Falls Association said their concerns still stood.

"We're not satisfied that we've been given all the information that we need to be satisfied," the association's president Robyn Coghlan said.

Trust gives some oversight to community

A river in bushland.PHOTO: A community trust will manage parts of the land. (ABC News: Greg Nelson)

To allay community concerns, the Ginninderry Conservation Trust is being established.

The community-led body would be charged with managing the land reserved for conservation along the waterways, including dealing with suburban cats and dogs, and dealing with bushfire risk.

Ultimately, it would be responsible for one-third of the 1,800-hectare Ginninderry development, including Ginninderra Falls, which is currently closed to public access.

One of the trust's first tasks would be opening up the falls to the community again, something that could happen as early as 2023.

But its remit will not extend to the land marked for the suburbs, nor to reviewing Government decisions such as exempting Ginninderry from its environment impact statement.

"They have made their decisions that this is what they're going to do, and the community can object as much as they like, but the economic imperative holds sway," Ms Coghlan said.

YOUTUBE: A short video, titled Life as a Little Eagle, by the ACT Government.

Ginninderry has acknowledged there will be damage to wildlife, to the land, and to waterways.

In its application to be exempted from an EIS, it said the development would potentially impact a dozen threatened species and two "ecological communities".

It also acknowledged increased run-off and sedimentation into the Murrumbidgee River could affect its health, but the trust will not be able to impose conditions on the new suburbs to mitigate those risks.

Rather, Mr Maxwell said the community could keep a check on Ginninderry through the more than 30 development applications it will have to submit over the coming decades.

"If there [are] things we aren't doing right, the community has the opportunity to have their say then," Mr Maxwell said.

"When I get to 2034 and I lodge a DA (development application) for New South Wales, I've got to deal with the fire standards and knowledge that exists in 2034, as when I'm 94 and I lodge my last application in 2055, I'm going to have to deal with the laws that apply in 2055, because they will change, the world changes."

A river running in the bush.PHOTO: Ginninderry has acknowledged there will be some damage to the environment. (ABC News: Jake Evans)

One of Ginninderry's obligations is to review its environmental management plan every five years, something that requires public consultation.

Ms Coghlan said whatever checks were in place were not the issue, and at the end of the day the land belonged to nature.

"This is an area where the natural environment and ecosystem should come first, and human needs should come second," she said.

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