A proposed plan to build student bush accommodation on Frensham grounds was deferred for environmental concerns.
The development application was put before councillors at the Ordinary Meeting of Council on September 9, 2020.
The proposed development included:
- Six student cabins, each being a single storey and accommodating a maximum of 72 students.
- Two staff cabins.
- A multi-purpose hall building containing common room, kitchen, staff office, laundry, drying facilities, amenities storage area and outdoor barbecue area.
- Central 'fire pit' and communal seating area, with sandstone blocks to create an amphitheatre seating area.
- New vehicular access including a bridge over the watercourse.
- Additional on-site parking for 5 cars.
The development also included plans to remove 249 trees, of which 85 are native trees and 16 koala feed trees, the remaining trees are Radiata Pine trees.
Several exotic shrub species and native shrub Pittosporum Undulatum would be removed to accommodate the development and bushfire asset protection zones.
Community environmental activist Clive West spoke against the development.
"We are not seeking a refusal for the development but a deferral and a recommendation to Frensham to meet with our wildlife experts," he said.
"We also seek that the DA be referred to council's environment and sustainability division and committee.
"The developer's biodiversity report is based on citings or evidence of a very limited range of species. The wildlife experts who have worked with Frensham School strongly contest this.
"The report does not mention the platypus seen in the river, nor kangaroos, swamp wallabies or echidna's."
Mr West said the report also called for the removal of all the wombats from "their long-established habitat."
"The development is to be built on top of a major wisdom - which is a colony of wombats," he said.
"Contrary to popular belief, wombats are social animals and whilst they occupy their individual burrows, they co-exist in the wisdom."
Mr West said that resulting dispersal of the wombats would lead to many wombat deaths as they search for new habitats.
Mr West also said the proposed development for an environmental education facility was contradictory.
"The fact that the new environmental education facility is to be situated on a location which requires the destruction of the habitats to be studied indicates some misguided contradiction in thinking behind the choice of site," he said.
"There are several cleared areas within the lower hold that would no require any bushland to be cleared."
A representative of Frensham School, Erin Dethridge, addressed the council in support of the application.
"This development is an important project for Frensham to deliver its curriculum," she said.
"[Frensham] has worked with its consultant team to develop an appropriate setting within its campus while minimising environmental impacts.
"The proposal has addressed the issues raised in the submission and has received an endorsement from the Rural Fire Service, Water NSW and the Natural Resources Regulator as well as support from council officers."
Ms Dethridge said she was aware of the community interest in the application and understood the key concerns were about the location of the development in the bushland and proposed tree removal.
"I understand there was a suggestion that the bush camp could be relocated somewhere else on the campus such as the neighbouring bush pitch," she said.
"The bush pitch to the east of the development site is integral to the school and is part of the facilities that are used to host weekend sporting competition that includes 32 schools and is attended by around 1200 people each weekend.
"The purpose of the development is to deliver bush style accommodation that connects students to the natural world in order to make a positive contribution to human health and embrace new learning opportunities.
"Students will have the opportunity to live and exist within the natural environment in a safe and secure part of campus, yet remain connected to essential elements for school life."
Ms Dethridge said that minimising the impact to local fauna and flora was a key driver of the design and location of the development as the school program "aims to change students attitudes towards environmental issues."
"The buildings adopt a range of sustainability initiatives and the required tree removal includes 164 pine trees which are an environmental weed specie within the Wingecarribee Shire," she said.
"The school is committed to improving the natural environment of the area by removing a large number of exotic and weeds species and rehabilitating the area over time by introducing native species which will ensure significant improvements to the environmental quality of the area.
"The proposal is environmentally and technically sound and will not adversely or significantly impact the community despite their concerns."
Councillor Larry Whipper put forth a motion to defer the application due to significant public concern about environmental impacts and incremental loss and irrevocable habitat impacts associated with this development including (but not limited to) koala feed trees.
The motion also asked the applicant to refer the proposed development to the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and for council to facilitate a meeting between Frensham School and community representatives to explore the possibility of relocating the development to prevent environmental and habitat impacts.
Cr Whipper said his concern was that the tree corridors were "starting to be broken up."
"I know Frensham have been associated with the shire for a long time and they make a wonderful contribution to the community," he said.
"As such, I believe it's only appropriate they engage in the community in these discussions because not only did we get 40 quite strong responses to this exhibition raising serious and genuine concerns, we must've received in the last three to four days 80 emails that equally raised serious concerns.
"I don't think we should turn a blind eye, it's really important to keep those corridors and wildlife movement. It's critically important."
Cr Whipper said there were more vacant sites and suggested that the development was in the wrong place.
"I can't understand why we would put this pressure on the wildlife that uses that land."
Councillor Ken Halstead said he was appalled at the proposal.
"It's beggars belief that a proposal like this would be suggested at the expense of the local natural environment," he said.
Mayor Duncan Gair flagged an amendment to signal for consultation with the school but not to refer it to the Commonwealth Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.
"There is nothing I really oppose in what Councillor Halstead and Councillor Whipper has said in relation to this," Cr Gair said,
"It's just that I think we are going one step too far too early. The community has sent a really loud and clear message that they aren't against the proposal, they're against the location.
"I happen to agree to that with a large degree of that.
"I think we should just go back to the school with the concerns and ask if they can work with council to relocate.
"In this instance, there is no need for the extra pressures that will be applied to the department of agriculture and other areas that will be consulted."
Councillor McLaughlin said council wasn't against the proposal.
"It is the location," he said.
"We were down there today, we walked two minutes from that spot into the bush pitch and my understanding is that it hasn't been used for years and years.
"There's an opportunity there for a location."
Councillor Grahame Andrews supported Cr Gair's amendment.
"I will support the amendment," he said.
"I've got no real problem with Councillor Whipper's motion except for the community meeting. I don't believe it's necessary which is why I won't support the motion."
The councillors voted for the amendment first.
Councillors McLaughlin, Gair and Andrews voted for the amendment.
Councillors Halstead, Whipper, Peter Nelson, Ian Scandrett and Garry Turland voted against it.
The amendment was lost.
Councillors Halstead, McLaughlin, Nelson, Scandrett, Turland and Whipper voted to defer the development.
Councillors Andrews and Gair voted against it.
The motion was carried.