Subdivision of the rural areas of the Hills Shire has been a long running and contentious issue for well over ten years. In 2012 Hills Shire Council adopted new planning controls that allow for increased housing density on land of 10 hectares or greater, that has been mapped as being of high biodiversity value. The objectives of these planning controls are to “ensure land is developed, managed and conserved in a holistic and sensitive manner to achieve an environmental outcome that ensures the protection of the landscape, biodiversity and rural setting of the land” (Hills Shire Council DCP 2012). In the minimum allowable area of 10 hectares, at least 60% must be a community block and 6 housing blocks are allowed. In a larger area there can be more housing blocks.
Despite the rather lofty environmental sentiments portrayed in the zoning objectives, there are a number of concerns that we have identified that the Hills Community should be aware of.
Many approved cluster subdivisions are unlikely to fulfil the required biodiversity outcomes
There have been a number of cluster subdivisions that have required some level of vegetation clearing for the building lots. This loss of vegetation including mature trees (mature trees in some cases) on the building lots reduces bird and marsupial habitat. Vegetation clearing also increases erosion which can severely impact our creeks and waterways. On-site wastewater systems can lead to nutrient rich water flowing through to the community lot, which means weed plumes and poor water quality of streams, wetlands and creeks.
With population increases comes a significant risk of bushfire and greater risk of property damage and death during a fire. The risk to our Rural Fire Service volunteers who are fighting these fires also increases. Many of these cluster subdivisions are in areas which have no town water supply, reducing firefighting abilities by land owners & greatly increasing the risks.
Biodiversity management – a costly responsibility
There are significant costs associated with managing the community lots. The vegetation management plans (VMP) which must be developed for the community lots, with controls such as bush regeneration, weed control, fencing and water management. There might be prohibitions on pet ownership. These controls are enforceable and the payment of a bond is required to ensure the VMP is followed. Management of the community lots is similar to strata title within apartment blocks. While this process will be positive for owners who share a common goal of environmental protection, there will be many who find this responsibility too difficult. Which means more risk to the environment.
Disputes between neighbours
Similar to body corporates within strata title there will be the likelihood of disputes over how the community lot is managed. Disputes are relatively common within apartment living and can lead to court action. It’s possible that VMPs may not be implemented due to these disputes which will again lower environmental outcomes.
With more people there will be more traffic. Unlike other developments, cluster subdivision developers do not have to contribute to funding road upgrades. The existing community will therefore have to contend with more traffic as well as degrading roads. With no viable public transport options, adding a cluster subdivision population to the proposed developments along New Line and Old Northern Rds, will mean severe traffic stress for those of us who work outside the district.
While there are a few positive outcomes for these cluster subdivision developments including benefits to local business, increases in school populations and better biodiversity management in some cluster subdivisions, there are quite a number of negative outcomes that will impact not only on our unique environment but also on the community at large. We need to be asking Council whether this new type of development is actually meeting its objectives and whether the negative outcomes that result from them are actually worth it.