Before and after clearing Before and after  (courtesy Blue Mountains Gazette)

Site clearing on Bodington Hill, Wentworth Falls for ‘Flora and Fauna Park’
Where is the site?
The Location The Location
10 Great Western Highway Wentworth Falls (next to Dillinger’s Nursery). The concrete driveway off the highway halfway up the hill (near the ‘Wentworth Falls’ sign) is the entry to the site.

The site is of high environmental and visual significance in a ‘Land Between Towns’ area, which is meant to provide a vegetated buffer between Bullaburra and Wentworth Falls.

This is the site of the controversial ‘Flora and Fauna Park’ which was the subject of a major community campaign opposing the development 30 years ago.

The development didn’t proceed and the site has been sold several times since, most recently in November 2017.

What happened?
From The Road From The Road
Over an unknown period up to May 8th, approximately 2-4ha of native vegetation and trees was clear-felled and removed from the site or trittered and spread over at least part of the cleared area.

No sediment controls could be seen from the fence on the highway on May 9th when several Conservation Society members went to see the damage.

It appears that clearing has been done in the E2 Environmental Conservation zone at the property boundary on the highway, destroying the wildlife corridor leading to the tunnel under the highway.

The clearing was reported to the Council by local residents and the Society.

The immediate concern is the potential for a major silt pollution event downhill into the large swamp and creeks in the next heavy rain.

Why didn’t anyone know about this?

A construction certificate (CC) provided by a private certifier approving the vegetation clearing was lodged with the Council in December 2018. Council has no part to play in this process, other than put the documentation on its website. The private certification system by-passes council and there is no public consultation. The council is the only entity that needs to be notified of the commencement of work done under a CC, at least 2 days before the work begins. The Society is trying to ascertain if the Council was notified.

Was the landclearing legal?
Land Clearing Land Clearing  (courtesy Blue Mountains Gazette)
The Society believes that the landclearing does not comply with the conditions of consent in the 1989 development approval. These conditions required a number of reports, plans and approvals before work could begin.

The clearing was undertaken based on a construction certificate issued by a private certifier and Council had no involvement in approving the recent clearing of vegetation on the site (information on the construction certificate can be found here. The Society has raised a number of concerns in regard to the validity of the certificate issued.

This event again raises questions about the private certification approval system in NSW.

The Society is vigorously pursuing the matter with the Council and with MP for Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle.

What is the developer saying that he intends to do with the site?

The developer told the Blue Mountains Gazette 29th May 2019 that the plan is for a $30 million dollar "five to six star" wildlife park development with 40 hotel rooms, which will "attract one million people per year"… "Construction will commence soon. There will be multiple species ... reptiles, koalas, wallabies ... I think the answer is yes [to crocodiles]".

The reference to ‘crocodiles’ relates to the initial 1989 wildlife park development application which included a salt water crocodile display. The developer at the time agreed not to include the crocodiles after intense community pressure. Approval for a wildlife park (without crocodiles) was granted in November 1989.

See the first Blue Mountains Gazette article (May 2019).

See the second Blue Mountains Gazette article (June 2019).

Hasn’t the development approval lapsed after 30 years?

Apparently not. This is because in 1996 the NSW Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, found that work that the then owner of the site undertook just days before the development approval was due to lapse (November 1992) did not require building approval and constituted ‘commencement’. If a development is deemed to have ‘commenced’ the development approval apparently never lapses. This has been confirmed by the NSW Department of Planning.

See a recent Council resolution on the issue.

What happens next?

The developer will have to lodge another Construction Certificate (CC) for the actual construction of the Flora and Fauna Park. Note that a CC is an approval, not an application for approval. There will be no opportunity for public consultation.

What you can do right now

The Council needs to know that the community is appalled by this environmental destruction and that it expects the Council to pursue the matter and potentially take action against the owner and the private certifier if the lawfulness of the Construction Certificate and the clearing is in doubt.

Contact the council by phone on 4780 5000 or email stating your concerns about the landclearing and asking what the council is doing about this.

Also contact the councillors and the mayor. Their contact details can be found on the BMCC website.