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Queensland koala habitat zones planning regulation changes

Koala in tree at Lone Pine Sanctuary
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 15:00

The Queensland government has moved on its policy to step up controls on removal of koala habitat in a response to the recent bushfires that have impacted bushland areas. However, despite its claims to have consulted stakeholders, the changes to the actual Planning Regulation (Schedule 10, part 10 and Schedule 11) were not widely communicated throughout the industry.

The change involves taking assessment for development in koala habitat areas away from councils effectively claiming that councils have not implemented the regulations successfully. It introduces an absolute prohibition to remove koala habitat in certain areas, regardless of what the planning scheme may allow. Note that there are very few absolute prohibitions in the state planning law, brothels anywhere except industrial areas is one example. The mapping of the affected areas can be checked on the Queensland Globe (turn on the koala plan layers under the environment group).

South East Queensland koala habitat zones
Image taken from Queensland Globe

There are some exemptions – if less than 500m2 of koala habitat is being removed. For smaller suburban allotments this may be sufficient, however for larger acreage lots this is woefully inadequate when you consider that they need to have onsite effluent treatment systems or much longer driveways. This “one size fits all” approach will in most cases clearly not work. In some areas clearing might be allowed but strict, expensive offsets will apply.

The approach taken ignores that planning schemes, drafted by local Councils are actually approved by the state government and that developers by and large follow those schemes. What the Queensland government has now done is to over-ride the planning schemes it has approved without any grace period to allow land owners to develop lots under the rules that were in place when they bought the land.

What is even more significant is that these rules apply even for just building a house! So clearing trees on your lot to build a house may be prohibited and you might not be able to actually build your house. Many ordinary families will be significantly affected by these changes. Also, many large developers that have bought land many years ago may be significantly affected. The impacts to the economy of Queensland will be felt, particularly in South East Queensland where projected housing plans may now need to be revised.

It is possible that even if you are not going to remove a koala habitat tree you are still affected because your development is “near” koala habitat (less than 50 metres!) and therefore you cannot do what you intended.

If you are thinking about buying land to develop or further subdivide, make sure you undertake a thorough investigation, in many cases to understand the extent of the development opportunity may involve a full ecology assessment and report. If you are selling the property it could be worthwhile to have independent reports prepared so that buyers can have a higher confidence before purchase. Contact us here if you wish to find out more or need assistance.

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