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HomeLatest NewsLizard Rock development debate on bushfire-prone land heats up

Lizard Rock development debate on bushfire-prone land heats up

Northern Beaches Council has reiterated its opposition to a massive housing scheme near Lizard Rock, on Morgan Rd in Belrose, which would involve clearing nearly 50 hectares of native bushland for the construction of around 450 residential properties.

On 25 November, Council issued the statement: “The planning proposal is inconsistent with local and regional planning strategies and should be reconsidered in light of significant planning, environmental and hazard issues…

“In its submission to the Department of Planning and Environment, Northern Beaches Council said the Planning Proposal by Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) does not demonstrate strategic or site specific merit and should be rejected.”

The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) resubmitted their proposal to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPIE) for the development scheme at the start of 2022, which was open for public comments until a 22 March deadline.

It is among six primary redevelopment schemes MLALC have in the pipeline for the Northern Beaches Local Government Area (LGA).

NSW Dept Planning confirm that “The MLALC owns 912ha of land in the Northern Beaches LGA, meaning approximately 70% of its land has not been identified as having potential for other land uses and is not under investigation.

“Of the 9 sites (315.64ha) under consideration by these plans, only 1 site known as Lizard Rock (71ha) site is currently endorsed by MLALC members and the NSW ALC to be actively investigated for land dealing in the short term.”

Land near Lizard Rock, Morgan Road, Belrose, where a development of 450 homes is proposed. Photo: Alec Smart

Bushfire risk

The Lizard Rock housing development is in a region already identified by the State Emergency Services as vulnerable to bushfires.

In May 2009, the NSW Government blocked a development application at Lizard Rock after the Planning Assessment Commission reported the predominantly rural area is a sub-catchment for Narrabeen Lagoon and a significant bushfire hazard.

On 11 January 2018, one of the key reasons the Planning Assessment Commission gave for rejecting MLALC’s 2014 request to rezone and develop land at the western end of Ralston Ave, Belrose, just 3.5km from Lizard Rock, was its vulnerability to bushfires.

This is because the proposed Ralston Rd site, like Lizard Rock, was on top of a rocky ridge above a forested valley.

Bushfires travel faster up hills, so houses atop a ridge are significantly more at risk than dwellings in the valley floor. According to the NSW Rural Fire Service, “a fire travelling uphill will travel faster. In fact, for every 10 degrees of slope, a fire can double its speed. As a fire speeds up, it becomes more intense and more dangerous.”

However, the major concern is the presence of overhead power lines that course through the Belrose bushland with electrical currents between 66,000 to 500,000 volts surging through them.

However, this was countered by a 10 October 2022 Strategic Bushfire Study by Travers Bushfire and Ecology that was commissioned by MLALC, which stated: “The proposed Morgan road site is located within an area described as predominately in the lower range of potential fire intensity.”

Powerlines carrying electrical currents of up to 500,000 volts criss-cross Belrose bushland. Photo: Alec Smart

Criticisms and concerns

The scheme, summarised in the NSW Government draft Northern Beaches Aboriginal Land Development Delivery Plan, has attracted widespread criticism from a coalition of community and environmental groups.

As well as significant bushfire risks, principle objections include:

  • The vulnerability of nearby Aboriginal heritage sites and ancient carvings to vandalism and maltreatment;
  • Limited infrastructure to cater to a massive influx of new residents;
  • A significant threat to endangered animals and other wildlife due to vanishing habitat and cats and dogs.

Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan – who is rumoured to be challenging the vacant seat of Wakehurst when Liberal MP Brad Hazzard retires before the next state election – insisted the NSW Government should find alternative ways to support Aboriginal self-determination instead of allowing development on bushfire-prone land.

“Council one hundred percent supports the intent of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and appreciates the importance of enabling Aboriginal people to achieve economic self-determination through developing land,” Mayor Regan said. “But we are required to consider all proposals on their merits, regardless of the landowner, and this proposal does not stack up.

“We have numerous, significant concerns about this planning proposal. This is 400 plus homes in the middle of the bush, not connected to any services, surplus to any housing targets set by the State, that will exacerbate existing shortfalls in the provision of community floorspace for libraries and active open space for sports fields, and destroy around 45 football size fields of bushland. Not to mention, it puts future inhabitants in an extreme bushfire risk.”

Aboriginal engraving of a Kangaroo (foreground) in bushland near Lizard Rock, Belrose. Photo: Alec Smart

Incidentally, Brad Hazzard is on record as opposing the MLALC land development schemes, as is the Liberal MP for the neighbouring constituency of Davidson, Jonathan O’Dea.

So too is Joeline Hackman, recently-announced ‘teal’ independent challenger for the electorate of Manly, held by incumbent James Griffin, the NSW Environment and Heritage Minister. Griffin is one of four MPs overseeing the DPIE, the department currently considering the Lizard Rock development proposals.

Dr Sophie Scamps’ alternative proposal

Mackellar MP Dr Sophie Scamps also issued a statement conveying her opposition to the controversial development proposal. In an Instagram post on 25 November she said, “I’ve met with the NSW Planning Minister to convey my opposition, and the opposition of the community, to the Lizard Rock development proposal.
“As I told Sydney Morning Herald – the current proposal is not sustainable on any measure and a 2013 MLALC proposal to turn the site into an Aboriginal-owned National Park should be reconsidered.”

Dr Sophie Scamps’ Instagram post of 25 Nov reiterating her opposition to the Lizard Rock housing development scheme.

Dr Scamps affirmed her opposition to the Lizard Rock housing scheme in March this year during an interview with Manly Observer, in which she said, “I would like to see all parties reconsider a plan which would see the parcels of land owned by the MLALC in Mackellar turned into an Aboriginal Owned National Park. The former site of Waratah or Skippy Park could be turned into the gateway to the National Park as well as an Aboriginal Knowledge and Visitors Centre.”

Waratah Park comprises 12.6 hectares of bushland adjoining Ku-Ring-Gai National Park at the end of Namba Rd, Duffys Forest. It is here, between 1967-1969, that 91 half-hour episodes of the iconic television series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo were filmed, plus a feature movie.

Closed to the public in 2006, on 12 March 2015, Waratah Park was granted heritage protection and currently lays idle, with occasional management days by volunteers who trim the foliage.

Dr Scamps, who made a formal submission to the NSW DPIE in March 2022 with her alternative suggestion, told Manly Observer, “I believe this proposal would be beneficial for all parties. It would help save our local environment by stopping the destruction of our bushland and protect endangered species in the area. It would stop overdevelopment in the area and preserve our precious way of life in Mackellar.

“In addition, the National Park could provide long term employment opportunities for Indigenous people and would have economic benefits.”

Mackellar MP Dr Sophie Scamps at Lizard Rock, Belrose, where MLALC want to build 450 houses. Photo: Alec Smart

Threats to Wildlife

Nicole Romain, Belrose resident and founder of Facebook group Save the Northern Beaches Bushlands told Manly Observer, “My primary concern if these developments were to go ahead is loss of bushlands and natural environment – natural occurring ecosystems with threatened and endangered species of flora and fauna, including many sacred sites in this area we cannot afford to lose. Especially with these bushlands being known as the lungs of Sydney… This includes detrimental loss for the local Aboriginal community..”

Several species listed as endangered or vulnerable under the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, can be found in the area.

These include: glossy black cockatoos, heath monitors, square-tailed kites, eastern bent-wing bats, grey-headed flying foxes, yellow-bellied sheath-tail bats, powerful owls and Eastern pygmy possums. In January 2020, a koala was sighted near homes in Belrose, suggesting there’s a small colony nearby. Koalas’ conservation status in NSW is ‘endangered’.

Scientist Julia Walsh, Chair of Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee, told Manly Observer that reducing native bushland to small islands surrounded by houses and infrastructure is effectively a death sentence for the fauna within.

For example, construction of the Northern Beaches Hospital and the neighbouring infrastructure and housing severed links between bushland surrounding Wakehurst Parkway and Manly Dam to the south.

“The building of the new hospital in Frenchs Forest has irrevocably severed the long protected priority wildlife corridor, essentially trapping species on one side or the other,” she affirmed.

Why it is so important to retain wildlife corridors? 

“Because connected habitat maintains biodiversity,” she explained. “When we sever corridors, we force the species that can’t travel (small birds, reptiles, koalas, bandicoots, pygmy possums etc) locked into specific areas to only breed with each other.

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo feeding in the bush near Lizard Rock, Belrose. Photo: Alec Smart

“This impacts their long term viability and slowly drives those forced into smaller pockets of habitat to local extinction. When this is repeated over many developments and multiple patches of bushland, we are driving multiple extinctions collapsing populations that other species rely on.

“This also increases impacts by dogs as dogs are walked into areas previously less accessible… Pet cats also become a threat as they may hunt during the day or be left out at night which decimates vulnerable wildlife. People also emit light pollution – some even lighting their trees which impacts moths, bats, possums, nesting birds etc.

“I think we need to explore how to compensate the owners in a fair way that also preserves this natural asset for generations to come…. in this instance, if the state government can collaborate with MLALC to negotiate a fair outcome that preserves the forest to protect wildlife habitat then I am sure many residents of NSW would support this.”

Five more proposed developments after Lizard Rock

There are six areas of native bushland in the Northern Beaches Local Government Area that MLALC have targeted, including three in Belrose, two in Frenchs Forest and one in Oxford Falls.

They face clearance and rezoning for multiple redevelopment schemes, including industrial sites, sports fields, community centres and houses.

After Morgan Ave (Lizard Rock), the other five are situated at: Forest Way, Belrose; Ralston Avenue, Belrose; Aquatic Drive, Frenchs Forest; Paxton Street, Frenchs Forest; and Corymbia Circuit, Oxford Falls.

The proposed urbanisation has generated considerable comment and opposition from Northern Beaches residents and community groups dedicated to preserving the natural environment.

MLALC-owned land near Lizard Rock, Belrose, where a development of 450 homes is proposed. Photo: Alec Smart

A compromise solution suggested among many opponents is for the NSW Government to buy or lease the land from MLALC and preserve it for eternity as undeveloped native bushland.

The Sydney North Strategic Planning Panel is expected to undertake an independent review of MLALC’s proposal to the NSW DPIE for the Lizard Rock development in December 2022.

According to Planning Portal NSW, “Planning Panels are independent bodies that strengthen decision making on regionally significant development applications and other planning matters including certain planning proposals and Aboriginal land planning. Determinations made by the Planning Panels are not subject to the direction of the Minister for Planning.”

Manly Observer’s previous report on the MLALC development proposals


Details of the Lizard Rock development on the NSW Dept Environment and Planning webpage


Lizard Rock planning proposal documents with the NSW Government


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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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