Proposals to sell and develop up to nine bushland sites has surprised many Northern Beaches residents.

Empowered by the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1983, the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) was able to successfully lay claim to freehold ownership of multiple crown land sites on The Northern Beaches.

In October 2021, the MLALC conducted a strategic assessment of nine sites it owns on the Northern Beaches, which recommended six locations as having suitable short to medium term development potential. The first of which is 71ha of land known locally as ‘Lizard Rock’ at Morgan Road, Belrose (main image).

The other eight sites considered in the strategic assessment are:

  • Aquatic Drive, Frenchs Forest (1.93ha)
  • Forest Way, Belrose opposite Bundaleer Street (15.56ha, Madang Road)
  • Forest Way, Belrose at Crozier Road (2.7ha)
  • Corymbia Circuit, Oxford Falls (11.8ha)
  • Paxton Street, Frenchs Forest (4.4ha)
  • Paxton Street, Poulton Parade and Wearden Road, Frenchs Forest (6.4ha)
  • Cromer/Oxford Falls (66.35ha)
  • Ralston Avenue, Belrose (135.3ha)

The MLALC has prepared a draft Northern Beaches Aboriginal Land Development Delivery Plan (DPP) that has been placed on exhibition by the NSW Department of Planning until next Monday (21 March). The document proposes six of the nine sites be put forward for planning and development consideration.

Consideration of planning proposals for Aboriginal owned lands are automatically considered ‘regionally significant’, meaning Northern Beaches Council does not have ultimate planning control over the proposals being made. Council has made public its submission, which highlights ‘inconsistencies’ with key planning documents, such as the Towards 2040 Local Housing Strategy.

Founder of Save the Northern Beaches Bushlands Facebook group Nicole Romain said she was very surprised to learn of the proposal and many people had thought the land was protected bushland.

Nicole Romain

Nicole Romain

“I grew up in the Northern Beaches area, I have lived here my whole life. Most of my childhood was in Belrose in the bushland. For a young person growing up, it’s so good for your health and wellbeing.

“The proposed development plans for these bushland areas, which at the moment is a draft delivery plan via the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), is looking at nine sites in total. It’s a lot of bushland to be developed and for us to lose as a community.

“Here, where Lizard Rock is at Morgan Road, there is 71ha being looked at for development, which is something like 450 houses and quite a bit of infrastructure needed to service those.

“What gets developed and taken away as bushland areas, we can never get that back, or have it replaced. It’s a natural ecosystem that’s here, that sustains us, and to lose that is a major loss for all of us.

“Save the Northern Beaches Bushlands is not opposed to development for future planning in the Northern Beaches area, and we do support the self-determination of the Aboriginal people but not at the cost of our precious bushlands,” said Ms Romain (image below).

At a recent community consultation event on the proposals hosted by NSW Department of Planning, Director North District Brendan Metcalfe responded plainly to a community question about why the land could not be kept as bushland.

“It is not a bushland reserve, it is private land. It is their [MLALC] land,” said Mr Metcalfe.

Mr Metcalfe went on to discuss the issues of equity involved for Aboriginal people, and trying to achieve reconciliation and justice for having been originally dispossessed of the land.

According to the NSW Department of Planning presentation, the planning process aims to facilitate appropriate development of Aboriginal lands within environmental constraints to enable economic prosperity for the benefit of Aboriginal people.

Former NSW Minister for Planning and Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes suggested the proposals should be considered together, rather than separately.

Rob Stokes

Rob Stokes

“The MLALC is the legal owner of a significant amount of land on the Northern Beaches. As a landowner, they have every right to put in applications to develop their land.

“As a local member, what I think would be a terrific outcome would be to strategically look at all of their land holdings and identify those that may be appropriate for development to help Aboriginal people achieve self-determination.

“At the same time, identify land that is not capable of being developed either because it has natural hazards, or because it is of biodiversity value, so that can be appropriately protected. So that we get a resolution of all the land holdings of MLALC, all at the same time,” said Minister Stokes.

Ms Romain is urging people to make a submission opposing the development of the land and finding another solution to provide an equitable outcome for Aboriginal people. She is offering submission writing workshops in the project space at Belrose Library at Glenrose Place, Belrose, today (Thursday, 17 March) from 2.00pm-5.00pm, tomorrow (Friday, 18 March) from 2.00pm-5.00pm and Saturday (19 March) from 2.00pm-4.00pm.

Submissions on the Aboriginal Lands SEPP amendment and Northern Beaches Aboriginal Land DDP can be made at the NSW Department of Planning website until Monday, 21 March 2022.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate, NSW Department of Planning

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