SSEC logo Sutherland Shire Environment Centre  

Foreshore Use, Biodiversity and Development

George Cotis - Port Hacking Planning Advisory Panel

I should point out in beginning that I'm not a professional town planner. I've been involved with Sutherland Council through its various advisory bodies since 1984 and urban development has emerged as part of the signature of totality when we're dealing with estuaries and it brings home the questions of integrated management.

With some of the things I'm about to present after Bruce's acknowledgement of the traditional owners, the Dharawal, there's probably some things that will emerge here that would warrant an apology as we go along.

Urban development or human development on the shores of Port Hacking has been a fact of life basically since white settlement on the east coast around Sydney. But by the 1970s, there had been a marked change in what was happening. That change was largely driven by a few things, Firstly, the supply of flat, easily accessible land had run out and coincidental with that was a marked increase in the affluence of people and in what they were seeking. Combined with that affluence was the technology to be able to do things on, and to, the foreshore which was not available previously. So by the 1970s there had been a marked change in the sorts of developments that had been happening on Port Hacking and by then, there was a realisation, particularly among professional planners and people who had a grasp on planning coding and preservation, that there were signs of unsustainability. Now this is a particularly delicate subject because we're now talking almost exclusively about freehold land, about ownership and the rights and expectations that go with that, whereas in the previous sessions we were talking about the public domain. Whilst some of the things we do on the shore have an impact on that, there isn't the sensitivity attached to people's rights. We're also talking about people's tastes and when we get to the impact of development there are a lot of things that become very personal because they are about taste and how we demonstrate ourselves to the community, how we project our personalities.

So by the 1980s, there was a re-writing of the development codes because of this sort of development.
So as we can see there's a little bit left along the skyline of native vegetation but we can see a few palmheads sticking up there and the rest is just block-built form. Now I don't know how the builders of these properties felt about it at the time, but the people who had the job of standing back and looking at the wider picture and where we might be heading, saw that there were a number of elements in this that constituted unsustainability. Now when we talk about sustainability, there are a number of elements. Most of the them are tangible but probably the intangibles include things like tastes. But where we excavate and severely modify the topography, where we remove native vegetation, where we remove habitat, where we replace the natural foreshore with built foreshore, all of those things have tangible components when we discuss the question of sustainability.

Next slide shows the sorts of things that the codes in the 1980s were amended to address.
I suppose there's an old saying "Money can't give you style". I hope none of the owners are here today. But basically, by any standards, by any of the material and tangible tests that we can put to sustainability, there's a very serious challenge, and one that was attempted to be met in the 1980s. So in the 1980s there were a set of codes drafted and after community consultation, were accepted. And these were about having development that created a minimum of disturbance, and I'll just read through the basic tenants of it. And we can look at what was , and now what is , and see whether or not things are working.
  • "Ensure that all development creates a minimum of disturbance to the natural landscape".

  • "Integrate development into the site"

  • "Encourage siting of buildings with regard to retaining as much existing flora as possible".

  • "Encourage landscaping to soften the appearance when viewed from adjoining properties and the waterways".

  • "Minimise the obstruction of water views and have regard to the amenity of adjoining properties".

  • "Preserve and enhance natural features."

  • "No development or restoration below the foreshore building line."

  • "A significant reduction of structures at the waterfront. And avoidance of pollution or adverse ecological effects on the waterways."

I've read directly from the aims and objectives of the existing LEP and they were basically aimed at achieving residential property development with retention of a natural skyline, good retention of the native vegetation, even given residences that vary in their opulences and magnitude. So there can be all manner of taste and extravagance accommodated but with a reasonably natural appearing outcome.

Now I would have thought that given the warm feelings that the drafters of those fine aims and objectives would have drawn at the time then this now is occuring within that framework. And this was also a heritage site.
So there's a number of issues with this. That's a heritage listed boat shed, the terrace gardens which have disappeared were heritage listed. The cottage with the red terra cotta roof has a heritage listing. And this is suppose to be cluster housing where the objective is to achieve the same floor space by clustering tightly but with a smaller footprint on the development site. Now this is still yet to be completed, but this has happened within the existing rules.

This shows the same property
With this one (below), there are a number of issues that say that this should have been prevented.
One of them is there's been in the foreground the total removal of vegetation to accommodate the siting and the architecture.

The other one (below) consists of two double blocks and the building could have been otherwise sited to have minimised the frontal impact and when you combine the frontal impact with a quite expansive cliff then we've got a total hard face vista from the waterway.

Again the blue place (slide) the codes talk about sympathy and empathy and minimal disturbance to the natural landform.
Well what happened to build that was a quarry of considerable magnitude and in fact the quarry pretty much represents what you see there and it was all moved in and out from the water. And of course we've got built form and colouring and the architecture which of course totally flies in the face of the sorts of sentiments and objectives that were aimed for in the existing codes. So all these things are happening within the existing codes.

Here's another example.
The only saving grace in this of course is the retained vegetation below the site.

This one's (below) a good example about other people's rights.
So some time ago, under a previous council, there was a move to have illegal structures removed from below the building line and at the time, the waterfront owners mobilised, and there was a very powerful expression of the right that say "we pay a million dollars plus for our blocks that should give us rights to do what we like". Well now in this case, the house on the left has done exactly that. And whilst the picture doesn't bear out the point, it has been so designed as to wrap around the living area of the red texture-brick place on the right and it's pool area. So any view in that direction and any privacy inside their house as well as their pool has just been trampled over by aggressive and inconsiderate architecture and again, this has been accommodated, not 30 years ago when we were learning better, but by the existing guidelines that I've read out to you.

So clearly we have a problem. Where is the problem? Well in my handout I give quite a number of causes of the problem. Part of it is the Council itself accommodating the expectations of landowners and developers and part of the problem within Council are some management directions. In other words, a cutting back of resources, so that what resources are there in processing development applications are productivity based with very little time or qualification for qualitative consideration. So the processing of development applications is "C'mon fellows, how many have we done this month?" and "We musn't clog the system up". Another reason why we're still having development that doesn't meet town planning objectives, is the Land and Environment Court.

This one (below) is a classic product of that and quite fankly I don't know what we do about that.
But the Land and Environment Court is clearly another problem when we're trying to deal with limiting impact and historically there have been some very unfortunate outcomes from that body for varying reasons. And that's a talk that I think urban planners, that the community, government seriosuly has to have and the sooner the better.

I also want to talk about impacts during the development stages, because as the scientists can better inform you, the thriving zone for seagrass is very limited in terms of its habitat. Its doesn't like it too deep, and likes the right amount of sunlight. It doesn't like to be overlayed with sediment, so it's very touchy stuff. So not only do we have visual impact in the foreshore scenic protection zone and the removal of habitat through that, but we also have some pretty ugly stuff. It was only about 3 months ago when I took this photograph.
There are a number of elements with this. One, this is a boatshed, this has been built to accommodate a little runabout and the machinery's been brought in by water. There are a number of questions that need to be discussed about this. One is, if the thing couldn't be built without incurring this sort of damage, should approval ever have been given? It's a bit like saying, if we can't have atomic testing without hurting people, should we therefore test?

So we've got a whole range of questions about environmental damage to seagrass and to other habitat during the construction stages.

Tree protection codes.

Even though the house was built up the top in front of Council's eyes, this is the sort of thing that happens and we can see around the foreshore.
Again this is the same property after about 5 years, there's a little bit of green growing there but nothing has happened to change that and nothing happened to the builder.
Here Council gave approval for this to happen on the left here. Council's approval was illegal but having been given, it was given. The material that went in here was just tipped into the thing. This was a boatshed and what the fellow here is doing, to build his boatshed he's brought the machinery in and he's just pushed the material he didn't want into the waterway.
When Council were informed of this, the inspector came down and said, "well this is within approvals". So we're now getting a handle on why things have to change.

Again this is in the foreshore catchment.
There's a street here and with heavy rain, we can see what's happening here. The drain is just near the little white car. This is next door to my house so you can imagine the sort of relationship I had with the builder while this was going on. So we're getting a handle on what is currently happening. Now we know the science, this is what we don't want.

There's another component. And that is now with foreshore and waterfront ownership that there is an expectation that approval will be given for development beyond the property. Now mercifully, DLWC is now having a serious look at this. The issue is the growing of permissive occupancies which extend out over the sensitive seagrass areas and which provide accommodation for boats which also have a permanent overshadowing affect. From a social equity perspective, this intrudes into the openness and the accessibility and the enjoyment of the waterway by other people. So the State Government is in fact presiding over the giving away of a natural resource, of the public domain, for private and exclusive uses. And some of it is demonstrated here.
Council's responsibility on the left we don't have a very aesthetic streetscape in terms of the vista well viewed from the street. Here we've got a different one so when viewed from the street and from the waterway, we've at least got some opportunity of retaining a natural skyline.
What do we need to do, is move the hearts and minds. Thank you
back to Estuary Forum 2002 index