SSEC logo Sutherland Shire Environment Centre  


Endorsed by SSEC Board - 23 March 2004

Population | Urban Development | Urban Bushland | Transport | Waste & Consumption | Nuclear | Estuaries & Waterways | Kurnell | Light Pollution | Heritage

The Effect of population

The ocean has an enormous capacity to act as a waste-sink, and if one small pleasure boat discharges the body waste of its occupants directly into the ocean, no great harm occurs.  But when 200,000 Sutherland residents discharge their body wastes straight into the ocean at Potter Point, even the ocean's ability to act as a waste-sink is overwhelmed.

Such is the multiplier effect of population growth: the more people there are, all other things being equal, the greater the environmental impact.

But all things are not equal.  Our per-capita impact is increasing at the same time as our population is increasing - a double whammy!

Most environmentally aware people take positive steps to try and reduce their personal environmental impact; a difficult task given the constant barrage of advertising, which urges them to consume even more. Yet, individual successes in reducing personal environmental impact are swamped by population increase.

Australia's population is projected to grow by up to 9 million during the next 50 years.  Sydney's population (now just over 4 million) is projected to rise to somewhere between 5.7 and 6.2 million in the same period, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' recent publication Population Projections - Australia, 1999-2101.

The Bureau assumes that Australia will continue with high immigration levels, but points out that a policy of zero net migration would see Australia's population peak at 20.9 million in 2028.

Given the enormous impact that population has on the capacity and resources of Shire managers to care for the environment, the Centre believes that the Australian Government should adopt a population policy that should then be reflected in the environment and urban planning at state and local government level.

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Urban development

The Shire is in danger of further degrading its environment and ambience unless more sustainable urban development is introduced and rigorously implemented through the planning regime.

In the space of almost 50 years, Sutherland Shire has seen a 400% increase in population and nearly twice the rate of development of Sydney as a whole. Traffic and parking congestion, high-rise, villa and townhouse development, and dual occupancies have all contributed to a sense of loss of a spaciousness that identified the quality of Shire-life. Bushland is disappearing under urbanisation, overuse and undermanagement. Waterways are degrading through pollution, sedimentation and inappropriate foreshore development.

The Centre contributes at every opportunity to debates regarding urban planning. Members of the Centre participate in Sutherland Shire Council's working parties on urban development, and in strategic focus groups. The Centre monitors opportunities to make submissions on urban planning issues and has, over the years, participated in several inquiries on the topic. Importantly, the Centre provides advice to community members and to Precinct Groups on how to oppose urban development proposals or to work with developers to achieve sustainable outcomes.

The Centre's policies on residential development:

  • Urban planning should not start with assumptions regarding population growth. Growth should be controlled to suit the aspirations of communities and to protect local ecologies.

  • There should be no further rezoning for higher densities. Current infrastructure, particularly transport and sewerage, is already stressed and the priority should be to address the infrastructure issue.

  • There should also be greater resident participation in the making of planning controls at the earliest stage of planning.

  • Building heights should be limited to three storeys unless varied by an Environment Impact Statement and after extensive community consultation.

  • Surplus government land should not be sold for high-density development. This scarce, valuable land should be retained for community use or open space.

  • Native vegetation corridors should be safeguarded from development impacts.

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Urban bushland

Closely aligned to the policies on residential development are the Centre's policies on urban bushland:

  • Maintaining biodiversity in the Shire should be the concern that underlies decision-making on urban development.

  • No compromises should be made that reduce the total bushland cover in the Shire. Removal of native vegetation from sites to be developed should be discouraged and revegetation plans be submitted together with development applications, and no development given a compliance certificate till revegetation efforts are deemed satisfactory.

  • All efforts should be made to increase bushland cover through increased planting of endemic natives on private and public lands. The Centre supports activities by volunteer and government groups to educate residents on the value of favouring native vegetation gardens, especially ones that comprise local indigenous vegetation.

  • Bushland corridors should be established, and where they already exist, maintained, to enable natural interactions of seed stock and movement of fauna. These corridors should be given a highly protected zoning to restrict types of development.

  • Appropriate management plans, funding and resources should be provided by public authorities for the removal of noxious and nuisance weeds from bushland areas.

  • Appropriate management plans, funding and resources should be provided by public authorities to encourage appropriate access to bushland.  Access to bushland which leads to degradation should be denied.

  • Encouragement should be given to schools to foster a love of bushland and native gardens.

  • Appropriate measures should be enforced to penalise people who remove native vegetation without permits. These penalties should be enforced within a regime that rewards people who decide to retain, restore and reinstate native bushland.

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The Sutherland Shire is not immune to the intractable transport problems facing most urban areas throughout the world. Lack of integrated land use and transport planning has resulted in a Shire that is poorly accessed by pedestrians, a lack of a cycleway networks, and inadequate public transport, with resultant increases in motor vehicle use, congestion and air and noise pollution.

The link between road building and increased private vehicle use is well established, as is the link between increased private vehicle use and air pollution, greenhouse gas emission and consumption of finite oil resources. In many modern cities (particularly in western Europe), private vehicle transport is being discouraged, with a distinct preference given to pedestrian, cycleway and public transport network development.

However, in Sutherland Shire (indeed over the whole of New South Wales) the emphasis on road building has continued. More freeways and tollways continue to be built, despite frequent protests from Sydneysiders. Court cases against the environmental and economic impost of freeway developments are no longer unusual. At the same time, funding for pedestrian facilities, cycleways and public transport remains inadequate to bring these facilities up to the standard required.

The highest priority for Sydney must be development of an efficient public transport system. The prerequisites of such a system are:
  • high service frequency

  • high level of coverage

  • travel times competitive with private transport

  • adequate capacity loading during peak times

  • fully integrated ticketing

  • coordinated timetables for interchanges.

In the Sutherland Shire, the Centre supports moves to create an access and transport system that is:
  • ecologically sustainable;

  • encourages healthy lifestyles;

  • provides equitable access to transport for all people, regardless of age or socioeconomic level and for those people with disabilities;

  • safeguards the aesthetic characteristics of neighbourhoods; and

  • promotes the economy of the region.

Walking and the use of bicycles are alternatives to use of the private motor vehicle. Yet, footpaths are often poorly maintained and lit, and in many cases made uncomfortable because of proximity to fast flows of car traffic.

While bicycle ownership in the Shire is high and recreational cycling is popular, use of bicycles for short journeys is extremely low. This is because the Shire does not have a comprehensive network of safe cycleways that connect commercial centres, public transport terminals, schools and civic areas. There is also a lack of facilities to park and secure bicycles.

The New South Wales rail system has been neglected by governments from both sides of the political divide. The network's track capacity and signalling systems are unable to run the number of trains the city now requires. Focusing on Sutherland Shire routes alone reveals that several points along the Cronulla line are only single-track. This limits the number of services.

The Centre urges local, state and federal governments to work together with private transport providers and community representatives to design a comprehensive access and transport strategy that delivers:
  • A system that integrates land use and transport planning.

  • Provision of an integrated network of safe pedestrian and bicycle routes.

  • Increased facilities for bicycles at major centres and on public transport.

  • Total rezoning of the undeveloped portion of M6 corridor to non-freeway uses.

  • Integrated fares, ticketing, timetabling and information systems for the whole public transport network. Design of roads and intersections to give priority access to buses.

  • Increased frequency of public transport availability.

  • Upgrade of existing heavy rail infrastructure.

  • Construction of new rail lines on major trunk routes.

  • Secure funding for the maintenance and upgrade of public transport systems.

  • Action to end perverse subsidies for road transport.

  • A State Freight Plan which reduces the transport of freight through urban areas.

A strategy to achieve these goals should be formulated in 2004-5 with the aim of delivering over the ensuing two decades.

Such a strategy is essential in the face of continued population growth, the need to conserve remaining natural areas, the NSW Government's "urban consolidation policy", the health impacts and reduced urban amenity caused by the current dominance of car-based lifestyles, the economic and ecological dangers of continued reliance on high fossil fuel consumption, and the inequities built into current access modes.

(For more information on the Centre's transport vision, visit our webpage)

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Waste and consumption

In 1990, Australia produced over 14 million tonnes of waste - nearly one tonne for each person (domestic waste comprises 45%; commercial and industrial, 37%; and construction and demolition, 18%).  Most of this waste was dumped into landfill, short-circuiting any likelihood of re-using or recycling materials, while causing contamination of large areas of land.

In line with many other States and in response to the Federal Government's call to reverse wasteful practices, the NSW Government introduced legislation to reduce waste in NSW by 60% by 2000. It introduced the notion of a 3Rs hierarchy of waste management practice: reduce consumption, re-use products, and recycle goods. The State's target was not reached.

The Centre calls on NSW Government to support extended producer responsibility (EPR). Unless we insist on government legislation that obliges industry to take a leading role in responsibility for waste, industry will not seriously introduce waste reduction measures into its products and packaging. Manufacturers should take a cradle-to-cradle approach to the goods they produce, ideally never terminating ownership of goods but leasing them over their useful life to be returned and reworked and made productive once more. One glaringly obvious means of encouraging EPR is the introduction of container deposit legislation, already demonstrated to be a success in South Australia.

In addition, the Centre supports a ban on greenwaste to landfill and supports efforts to achieve zero waste which would negate the need for waste land fill sites. This last factor is among the most controversial and long-running campaigns on waste management the Centre has been involved in.

Landfill sites

Lucas Heights Waste Depot or "landfill" or "tip" is located in the Sutherland Shire Council area.  This facility is controlled by NSW Waste Service and comprises: Lucas Heights Landfill No. 1 (LH1), closed since 1985 and in the process of rehabilitation as a sporting/recreation area; Lucas Heights Landfill No. 2, Lucas Heights Waste Management Centre (the largest tip in Australia); and Lucas Heights Conservation Area (LHCA), which is no longer intended for landfill use.

In 1996, an attempt to expand LH2 ended in mediation (Report by the Commissioner John Woodward). Sutherland Shire Council and the Centre joined in that mediation process and conceded an expansion of 8.225 million tonnes, conditional on certain basic requirements. The Centre has the following policies with regard to those conditions and on management of waste-to-landfill in general:
  • The door should be permanently closed on the issue of expanding the Lucas Heights tip beyond the conceded 8.225 million tonne expansion.

  • Waste Service NSW must live up to its agreement regarding the annual reduction of putrescible waste into LH2 from approximately 1,000,000 tonnes down to 575,000 tonnes after 31 December 2000.

  • If Waste Service NSW is able to increase recycling capacity of LH2 by about 55,000 tonnes per annum, it must not be allowed to increase the overall amount of waste into LH2.

  • Severe penalty fees imposed on Waste Service for exceeding annual tonnage must adequately reflect the long-term cost to Sutherland Shire of reduced tip life.

  • There should be no incineration or receival of incinerator residues at the LH2.

  • Waste Services NSW should implement a quarterly waste-reporting program to enable Sutherland Shire Council and the community to monitor quantities of waste received from each member council using Lucas Heights.

  • All references to pollution levels complying with EPA standards should be "below the limits of detection".

  • All water and other sampling should be non-routine, without prior notice to tip authorities, and carried out by independent agencies.

  • Leachate must be managed on site and disposed of to prevent potential downstream impacts.

  • Tip odours should be sourced and controlled.

  • The LHCA site was handed over to Sutherland Council ownership on 4 September 2000 and Council must now insist that Waste Services' redeem the site for handing over to National Parks and Wildlife.

  • A plan of management of the area should be drawn up and implemented. This should include cleaning up the old landfill sites near the LHCA. The Commonwealth and State Governments must accept responsibility and begin clean up of Little Forest Burial Ground.

  • All options to encourage small-scale waste-derived produce ventures within the LH2 boundaries should be pursued.

Water consumption

Sydney's wasteful consumption of water continues to be a concern. The Centre's supports:
  • Implementation of water conserving water design and management for public facilities.

  • Giving industries in the Shire incentives and support to be water efficient.

  • Encouraging domestic consumers to minimise water consumption through the use of water conserving design, education and price incentives.

  • Installation of water tanks for domestic consumption of water

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Nuclear reactor and nuclear waste

In 1958 the first and only nuclear reactor of any kind was commissioned at Lucas Heights.  Its stated purpose was to assess the possibility of nuclear power in Australia. The first years of the nuclear reactor's operations were during the "Cold War", so it also carried out some research on nuclear weapons. Around 1970 both areas of research were discontinued and five years later the reactor was described as being technologically obsolete.

From that time, at intervals of five years or so, requests were made to successive Federal Governments for a new reactor and, just as frequently, the requests were rejected. In 1992, following another try, the government set up the Research Reactor Review to investigate the request. The Review rejected the need for a new reactor on the grounds that the scientific effort alone could not carry the case - there was no prospect of commercial or industrial capital. The Review added that work should be commenced immediately to identify and establish a high level waste repository.
This Review was the only independent public inquiry that has ever been carried out on nuclear activity in Australia. The SSEC was heavily involved in it.

In 1997 the Federal Government arbitrarily announced that a new reactor would be built and that it would be at Lucas Heights. Since then the Centre has continued to oppose the proposal on the grounds of cost, safety, emergency planning, national interest, lack of access to insurance, waste storage and handling, and intergenerational responsibility. Detailed arguments on each of these points can be found on the Centre's website in the form of submissions to both Australian and international inquiries.

In co-operation with People Against a Nuclear Reactor (PANR) the Centre's policies are to:

  • Urge the HIFAR reactor be closed down urgently and eventually decommissioned in the safest way to prevent harm to workers and to members of the local community.

  • Oppose the building of a new reactor either at Lucas Heights or at any other location in Australia.

  • Support responsible waste management practices that will be sustainable to future generations. Passing on a problem to our descendants is unacceptable. Sending the ANSTO waste that has been produced over the past 45 to another community is not a solution, merely expedience.

  • Support a major scientific establishment at Lucas Heights but without the use of a nuclear reactor. Such an advance would have the total support of the local community. It would erase the years of mistrust of the operator.

  • Encourage research into alternative methods of producing radioisotopes - in particular those of use for medical therapeutic purposes. Australia could become a world leader in the manufacture and use of accelerators that do not produce intractable waste. This would ensure that employment increases to the level of two decades ago.

  • Urge the NSW Government to independently carry out a study on local residents' health, funded by the Federal Government. No serious study of local residents' health has ever been undertaken. The effects of radiation on health may take decades to show up. Because HIFAR has been operating for 42 years any adverse effects may now be evident.

  • Urge the Federal Government to ratify the international agreements on liability in the case of an accident involving any nuclear device in Australia.

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Estuaries and waterways

The waterways of Sutherland Shire - its rivers and bays - are its jewels. They wedge into the landform from the sea, separating urban developments and providing sought-after vistas and recreation opportunities for residents and visitors alike. The main waterways are the Woronora and Georges Rivers, which merge and flow into Botany Bay, and the Hacking River, which flows into Port Hacking.

The waterways exist in some of the most rapidly growing local government areas in Australia. Their catchments contain the homes of almost half of Sydney's population. Because of the demand for waterfront living, the foreshores of the rivers, estuaries and bays are subject to intense urbanising pressures. Environmentally unsustainable land development, including vegetation clearing, increased hard surface area, and unfiltered pollutants entering waterways through stormwater pipes - many replacing natural water courses - have contributed to: the siltation of creeks, rivers, estuaries and bays; the disappearance of wetlands and seagrass beds; the reduction of water quality; and the reduction of biodiversity. As well, many bays have become crowded parking lots for water vessels and have lost their tranquility and safety with the proliferation of noisy motorised vessels.

The Centre believes that:
  • Waterways are public assets that should be managed for the public good. No part of a waterway should be relinquished for private gain unless there are significant and demonstrable social gains and no reduction in the environmental sustainability of the waterway. In this respect, the Centre believes the precautionary principle should be invoked when deciding development proposals.

  • Management of waterways should be carried out on an integrated basis. All government authorities with jurisdiction over a waterway or parts thereof should cooperate fully to bring about optimal and environmentally sustainable gains for the waterway.

  • Permitted uses of waterways should adequately consider the full range of users, including the requirements of native fauna in national parks and reservations. The desires of residents, foreshore picnickers, canoeists, surfers, swimmers, windsurfers and the like for relatively quiet and safe waters should be as important as the desires of users of highly mobile, motorised craft.

The Centre's waterways policies:

  • An effective system of noise control zoning.

  • Protection of low impact users (swimmers, surfers, kayakers etc)

  • Better rubbish control measures and access.

  • Better policing and education.

  • A 'pump out only' regulation if there is no other way to prevent unlicensed discharge of effluent into the waterway (the current law prohibits such discharge).

(Specific to estuaries)
  • Formation of one management plan for each of the two estuaries.

  • Protection of Posidonia beds. Boats to be low speed over seagrass meadows. Anchoring over seagrass should be discouraged.

  • Power boats not allowed to operate in sensitive estuarine inlets, such as the Basin in Port Hacking, because of noise, fuel pollution and turbulence. Human powered craft allowed in such areas except where there are prohibitions for conservation purposes, such as in Quibray Bay in Botany Bay.

  • Four knot speed limit in multi-use areas in estuaries such as on the southern side of Port Hacking, to protect low impact users, reduce PWC (jetski) nuisance, and protect the amenity of the foreshores.

  • An effective management program covering both foreshore and waterway to be a prerequisite to the development of any foreshore facility over public land, such as boat ramps.

  • Better control of harvesting of the foreshores.

  • Studies of sustainability of levels of bait pumping.

  • Channel maintenance dredging allowed but only within a total management program which ensures that the estuary's ecology will not suffer and the gains for public expenditure on dredging benefits all estuary users.

(Specific to Botany Bay)

The environment of Botany Bay has suffered significant abuse as a result of urbanisation in its catchment and industrial activities within the Bay itself. Pollution flowing down the Cooks and Georges Rivers has contributed to the demise of a once thriving oyster industry. Hazardous industries in the area have contributed to the contamination of large areas and, particularly worrying, have caused the contamination of groundwater which is seeping into the Bay. Infilling of the Cooks River mouth, the expansion of Sydney Airport and Port Botany, the oil refinery and sand mining on the Kurnell Peninsula, dredging, loss of seagrass meadows and the ongoing denuding of foreshores by developers and residents have altered the dynamics of tide, wave and sand movement, causing changes to shorelines and generally reducing the habitat value of the area for endemic and migratory birds.

The Centre:
  • Calls for the establishment of a single authority with resources and a clear mandate to protect the biodiversity of the Bay while overseeing its ongoing development;

  • Opposes the expansion of Port Botany and the Airport - apart from the impact that such expansion would have on the already congested transport system of the area, the ecology of the area would be further damaged; and

  • Urges the implementation of programs to prevent contaminated groundwater from seeping into the Bay - every effort should be made to prevent further contamination of groundwater; and

  • Opposes proposals to increase hazardous industries in the area and suggests instead their relocation to less populous areas less likely to be increases stresses on urban amenity and become the targets for terrorist attacks.

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The Kurnell Peninsula is a significant cultural and ecological asset. It is the Birthplace of Modern Australia - the site of Captain James Cook's first landing - and the first meeting place of European and Aboriginal cultures. Kurnell is also the site of the most important wetland in the Sydney region (at Towra Point), regionally significant vegetation, sand dunes, a village of 2600 residents, and several industrial establishments, including Sydney's largest oil refinery.

Sadly, the Kurnell Peninsula has been neglected and abused over many decades:  Its once spectacular sand dunes have been depleted by sandmining, violated landfill operations, overgrown by noxious weeds, and eroded by 4WD and horse riding activities; The Shire's sewage is discharged from the Peninsula's coastline, and there are tourist/residential/industrial development proposals which would add to environmental pressures in the area.

The magnitude, complexity and fragmentation of issues facing sustainable environment planning on the Peninsula place heavy constraints on achieving a lasting rehabilitation.

The Centre believes the following measures are required to resolve many of the problems on the Peninsula, to properly honour its cultural heritage, and to ensure its environmental sustainability:
  • Cessation of sandmining and protection of all remaining dunes.

  • Rezoning of most of the land to ensure environmental protection.

  • Review of the Peninsula's statutory Regional Environmental Plan (REP).

  • Establishment of an independent strategic plan/management plan.

  • Cessation of 4WD and trail bike activities.

  • Promotion of all weed eradication efforts across the entire Peninsula by private landholders and volunteer groups.

  • Increased resources for NPWS to manage the two 'icon' reserves, namely Towra Point Nature Reserve and Botany Bay National Park.

  • Promotion of public access to the Peninsula , that is not damaging to its environment.

  • A Masterplan for the Taren Point area to protect its important habitat values.

  • Support for the concept of a protected corridor of native vegetation/open space across the length of the Kurnell Peninsula.

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Light Pollution

Light Pollution occurs when too much artificial illumination enters the night sky and reflects off airborne water droplets and dust particles causing a condition known as skyglow. Light Pollution occurs when unmanaged glare emitting from improperly aimed and unshielded light fixtures causes uninvited illumination.

Light Pollution affects everyone's quality of life by:
  • Robbing people of the right to privacy and use of land when glaring unshielded lights shine artificial illumination onto properties at night.

  • Disturbing a sound night's sleep when artificial illumination coming from poorly aimed and unshielded light fixtures shines glare into windows at night.

  • Damaging health by disrupting natural hormone production regulated by natural circadian rhythms.

  • Robbing everyone of their right to view the stars.

  • Disturbing the natural diurnal rhythms of wildlife - especially harming nocturnal animals, migratory animals and animals in flight.

  • Wasting energy on unwanted light, thus increasing greenhouse gas levels.

The Centre's policy is to promote the adoption of standards that minimise wasted light from public lighting and lighting that affects public areas including the night sky. The standard should include measures that:
  • Shield public lighting, focusing it on target areas without light spill, especially in public areas.

  • Disallow uplighting and bright billboard lighting - but if these are installed they should have strict curfews.

  • Control the installation of lighting in residential and commercial developments so that it does not impact neighbours, and use curfews on brightly lit areas, such as carparks, sportsfield and public parks.

In addition, the Centre supports initiatives to monitor the effect of light pollution on the night sky and uses the results of such monitoring to promote and adopt lighting standards that enable appreciation of the full splendour of the night sky.

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The Shire is rich in Aboriginal and early settlement history. Knowledge and appreciation of the Shire's cultural history has the potential to enhance the sense of place felt by Shire residents and visitors and hence their willingness to engage in appropriate care and maintenance of the environment.

The Centre will support:
  • Work by the Aboriginal community to ensure that their needs and wishes regarding interpretation of and access to sites are appropriate;

  • Preservation of Aboriginal artefacts and living places, these existing predominantly in large tracts of Shire bushland but sites also within more developed areas.

  • Documentation of remnant and sacred sites, and management plans that ensure maintenance and access protocols.

  • Supports the documentation and development of management plans for the remains of early management history.

  • Efforts to promote research and knowledge about early history of the Shire- such knowledge being used to inform development plans.

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