(Private Members' Statements, 17 October 2017, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Green open space, trees and bushland are essential to a city’s health, liveability, attractiveness and sustainability, but Sydney’s green space is rapidly being cleared and at serious risk of being completely eradicated. There is an urgent need for reforms to protect what is left, particularly in the inner city.
Sydney is famous for its natural assets: the dense urban terrain is complemented by beautiful parks, landscapes and beaches.
These provide important environmental benefits including carbon sequestration, pollution reduction, shade, reduced flood risks and habitat for wildlife. Here in the inner city native wildlife living in parks includes kookaburras, cockatoos, owls, flying foxes, possums, turtles, frogs, lizards and yabbies.
Green open space provides health, mental health and social benefits through opportunities for respite and recreation like walking, picnicking and sunbathing. Indeed I understand that a person is three times more likely to exercise if they live near green space.
The health and wellbeing benefits have associated economic advantages with people being more productive and relying less on the health system.
As our population expands rapidly and more people live in high density apartment buildings with no private open space, the need to expand urban green spaces becomes more important than ever. But development and infrastructure targets are putting immense pressure on urban green spaces and without adequate protections we could lose what we have.
My electorate, which remains the densest in the state, provides many examples of sacrificed green space for development.
The Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust has made many attempts to get approval for new stadia on Moore Park and we know that the trust continues to push this agenda behind closed doors. Moore Park greens continue to be used as a car park during events and grasslands and trees were lost to: the light rail; the Tibby Cotter Bridge; the busway; the Eastern Distributor; and more are planned for removal to reconfigure roads to deal with additional traffic generated by the WestConnex project.
Open space at the Entertainment Quarter, which is part of Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s open space bequest to the people of Sydney, is being earmarked for development with the Moore Park Master Plan providing for changes to planning controls to permit visitor accommodation and mega sports centres. It appears that plans for this site are being made behind closed doors.
The Crown casino tower was approved over what was reserved as Barangaroo South’s only public waterfront park, and the building will overshadow heritage public parks in the precinct like Observatory Park.
Despite successive government promises to transform Bank Street land in Pyrmont into a harbour recreation destination, UrbanGrowth has now earmarked the site as a storage facility for the supplies and rubbish of charter vessels.
The Sydney Modern Project will result in the loss of large portions of green open space within and connected to the Royal Botanic Gardens and The Domain.
The SOS Green Spaces campaign has identified approximately 80 sites of bush and parklands in Sydney and surrounds that are under threat. Many communities are fighting to protect these green spaces from destruction.
We need high level protection of native vegetation in urban areas but alarmingly laws that govern urban native vegetation management were eroded in the rewrite of our biodiversity laws.
The recently released draft Vegetation State Environment Planning Policy will allow clearing of biodiverse rich land in exchange for cash payments by developers. Offsets will not have to be like-for-like. In some instances, major projects will be able to proceed even when significant biodiversity impacts have been identified.
Urban bushland is rapidly declining and what is left is now scarce. If like-for-like offsets cannot be located in the close vicinity of the cleared vegetation, clearing should not be permitted. The impacts of losing irreplaceable native flora and fauna are too significant.
What a sad legacy we will leave if we destroy Sydney’s rich and important biodiversity for future generations.
I call on the government to introduce new laws to strengthen – not weaken – urban green space protections and immediately start work to expand city green space.