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Menai 'B' Indoor Sporting Complex

About the Menai 'B' site

The bushland site known as Menai (Business) 'B' is located behind the Menai Marketplace in Allison Crescent. The site is a horseshoe shape and is approximately 4.2 hectares in area. The site contains Shale Sandstone Transition Forest (SSTF) which has been listed as an Endangered Ecological Community under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.

The two predominant vegetation communities are Angophora-Stringybark Forest and Scribbly Gum-Dwarf Apple Woodland/Mallee. There is no real line of demarcation between the vegetation communities in the Transition Forest. The transition is thus somewhat dispersed throughout the site. The species Melaleuca deanii is also found on the land and has been listed as 'vulnerable' by the Scientific Committee.

The Transition Forest is in good condition and has a higher diversity of species than other stands of SSTF elsewhere in the Shire. Within the Shire much of these forests have been cleared and only small remnants remain in the Menai area. (Woodward, 1999)
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Background and history of the issues

In 1998, Sutherland Shire Council proposed to build an indoor sporting complex on part of bushland behind Menai Marketplace in Allison Crescent Menai. The bushland contains Shale-Sandstone Transition Forest (SSTF) which has been classified by the NSW Scientific Committee as an endangered ecological community. The site was originally earmarked as a Business Park for light commerical activities prior to the discovery of SSTF on the site. The National Parks and Wildlife Service have noted that the bushland is one of the best examples of Shale Sandstone Transition Forest (SSTF) in the Shire. Much of the Menai area was covered in this type of vegetation. Very little of this bushland now exists.

The bushland area is only four hectares. According to experts, this is at the margin of sustainability so any development on any portion of the site will threaten this sustanability.

As required by legislation, Council carried out an eight-part test when preparing its first development application (DA) for the indoor sporting complex. The test measured whether there is likely to be a significant impact on the bushland as a result of the development. The test indicated there would be so Council then sought the concurrence of the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to proceed with the development. The Director did not give concurrence, noting that there was insufficient evidence that the social benefits of the development outweighed the benefits of retaining the bushland.

Council then selected another site in the same bushland area. This site is closer to residential development and to an area already congested with traffic. Council again carried out an eight-part test and ruled that provided the rest of the bushland was rezoned to prevent further development and was appropriately managed, there would not be significant impact. With this result, Council did not need the concurrence of the Director of NPWS.

Residents and the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre protested that the development would cause significant impact on the bushland and that the impacts on the residential amenity of the area would be unacceptable. The Centre's initial attempt to have Council rethink its development proposal was rejected by Council. The Centre sought the advice of the Environmental Defender's Office (EDO). The EDO assessed the case and believed that Council had not followed due process and filed for a hearing in the Land and Environment Court.

In a last effort to avert a court case, Council and the Centre agreed to attempt mediation. Unfortunately, after one-an-a-half days of talking, we were unable to resolve differences. We expected to have the case decided by the Court, but one week before the court case, Council surrendered its application, giving notice that it would make another DA in the near future ­ after having consulted further with the community. The Centre released the following statement to the Media when they were told of Council's surrender decision.

Media Release - 11 August 2000

An indoor sport complex in Menai Area

The Centre this month was pleasantly surprised at Sutherland Shire Council's decision to surrender its current development consent for an Indoor Sports Complex at Allison Crescent, Menai.

The proposed development has been the subject of a disagreement between the Centre and Council for many months. Indeed, the issue was due to be heard in the Land and Environment Court in mid August.

The Centre's key concern was that Council had planned to build the sports complex on a piece of bushland which had been declared an 'Endangered Ecological Community' by the NSW Scientific Committee. The Centre believed it would be impossible for the remaining bushland to survive additional urban pressures and that Council should delay the development until a management plan was implemented.

An experienced ecologist had advised the Centre that assessment of the Sports Complex on that site required a Species Impact Statement. The potential of the Sports Complex to impact upon the bushland has been recognised by many experts, including the Council's own officers. The National Parks and Wildlife Service had also said that all the bushland on the site should be retained to increase the viability of the endangered species.

Council's Environmental Scientist has reported that the endangered community on this site is potentially the most diverse example of this species, and has high ecological significance. In the light of all this evidence, it is of concern that Council is insisting on locating the Sports Complex on this sensitive site, rather than any of a number of other more suitable sites in the Menai area.

The Centre tried unsuccessfully to persuade Council to consider other sites for the indoor sporting complex. After exhausting attempts to discuss the matter with Council, the Centre eventually engaged the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) to help them fight the proposal by using legal means.

We hope now to be able to work with Council on any future proposal for an indoor sporting complex at a more suitable site - a site that does not lose a significant bush area to the Shire.

The Centre would like to acknowledge the tremendous assistance of Chris Norton from EDO. His work was very welcome and beyond that which could have been expected.

Rezoning and a Management Plan

In April 2000, Council moved to rezone a portion of site to 7(b) Environment Protection - Bushland via a draft LEP process . The rezoning proposal omitted the section where the sporting complex is proposed to be built. The State Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, Andrew Refshauge, gazetted the rezoning as proposed by Council. Council also passed a draft Management Plan for the site. A budget has been passed for implementation of the plan, , but to date dumping, parking and abuse of the bushland site continues without apparent controls from Council (although after much agitation by residents, a temporary fence was erected). We are also concerned that the Management Plan will not be able to specifically deal with any potential impacts of the sporting complex on the remaining bushland (Lembit, 2001)

The new DA

In late 2000, Council submitted another DA for the sporting complex. There are few changes in the new DA. The concerns of residents and the Centre regarding the impacts on the bushland and social amenity remain the same. Despite our objections, Councillors voted to approve the new DA in February 2001.

In May 2001, Council distributed a letter, signed by Sutherland Shire Mayor, Councillor Tracie Sonda to residents in the Menai/Bangor area about the decision to build the sporting complex on the Menai 'B' site. In the weeks subsequent, the Menai Precinct Residents' Association voted unanimously to support the Environment Centre in its opposition to the development. A response to the Mayor's letter was then distributed to the residents of the Menai area. You can read the full response here.

On 2nd July, the Centre served notice on Sutherland Shire Council for a Class 4 action in the Land and Environment Court. The Centre is once again challenging Council's decision to build this complex.

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Photos and plans of the Menai 'B' bushland site

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What are our concerns?

We are concerned that any development on the already small area of bushland will threaten its sustainability. Council cites studies that seem to show that, given certain conditions, the integrity of the area could be retained. There is no assurance of this. We believe that, in this case, we should strongly push for the precautionary principle to be applied. There are arguments by Council that appropriate zoning of the site, a management plan for the remaining undeveloped area, putting greater resources into regenerating another SSTF site (Hall Drive), and strict controls on development to maintain the footprint, will safeguard the SSTF community. We are very wary of these claims because:
  • Council is not able to demonstrate proper management of bushland sites. Its most successful effort is its Bushcare program but most bushcare groups detail their difficulties with noxious and environmental weeds, vandalism and workloads. In addition, Council's Bushcare section has been consistently opposed to the development on Menai B. In general, Council is losing the battle to retain the sustainability of bushland.
  • Council's record of enforcement of its own conditions of consent is poor. We need look no further than the Menai B site for examples of how poor it is. The area has had concrete, soil, and rubble dumped into it - as well as other building materials. Our efforts to have Council require compliance have met with claims of "lack of resources" and "inability to point conclusively to the perpetrators of the crime", as well as a general lack of understanding of the seriousness of the incremental effects of each destructive (whether it be dumping, or driving through the site, or destruction of the bushland verging the road by parked cars looking for shade) event. The tape "fence" council initially put up frequently lay on the ground and cars parked over it. Council in September 2000, erected a sturdier fence, but around only 2 sides of the site. Sections of this are frequently dismantled by nearby developers (below) and has now been removed showing the access way.

  • We do not believe that the footprint of the indoor sporting complex can be maintained either in the short or long term. Again, there is scant evidence anywhere in the Shire that footprints can been contained. The intrusion of edge-effect from a current adjoining development to the bushland is a case in point. The developer has, in the process of accessing the site, created a dirt track where once the bush existed. The bush has gone and the soil severely disturbed .(see below) This example does not bode well for the indoor sporting complex

The Centre's position is fairly simple:
  1. We want an outcome that will give the highest chance to ensure the sustainability of the bushland site.
  2. We want an outcome that will protect the residential amenity of the area.
There are at least three different ways we think this can be achieved:
  1. Locate the indoor sporting complex on another site in the Menai area.
  2. Implement the plan of management of the bushland without the indoor sporting complex built. Set targets to measure success of works. When targets are reached, reconsider the development.
  3. Redo the eight-part test and SIS, and consult appropriately with the community.
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Are there alternatives?

The Centre has stated from the beginning that it is not opposed to the indoor sporting complex per se, only to the appropriateness of its siting. We are not in a position to know all the parameters Council must consider to site such a complex, but two sites seem to us to be suitable. One of them is the old Lucas Heights tip site which is currently being rehabilitated for sporting facilities. The second is the Police Station site. On 30 October 2000, the long-running debate over the location of the complex in Menai seemingly marked a turning point. In a Mayoral Minute (No 13/2000-2001), Councillor Tracie Sonda sought Council's approval to hold urgent discussions with the State Government and explore the possibility of locating the indoor sporting complex on the State Government's "police station" site on Old Illawarra Road. Council agreed.

Among the advantages of the Police Station site are:
  • it is located further away from residences;
  • it has room for expansion, to incorporate other facilities, such as swimming pool, netball courts, etc;
  • it will enable above ground car parking (the Menai B proposal required extensive excavation for underground car parking);
  • it gives opportunities for synergistic action between local and state government (the police could continue to maintain a presence on the site);
  • it is serviced by public transport.
The Police Department prepared a report on the proposal and presented it to Council. Without giving the Police Department an opportunity to negotiate further Council announced that the Police Station site was inappropriate due to the cost of acquiring the site from the State Government. This decision came as a surprise to the Police Department.

Another alternative is the Lucas Heights Tip site - but, again, Council stated that this was inappropriate. At first they stated the Tip was "too far away" - now we are told the site is fully allocated to other facilities.
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Byrnes & Associates (2001) Assessment of Development Application for an Indoor Sports Complex at Menai Town Centre - January 2001

Lembit, R. (2001) Menai Sports Complex, Report Prepared for Sutherland Shire Environment Centre - April 2001

Woodward, J.T. (1999) Report to Sutherland Shire Council, Independent Review - Menai Town Centre, Menai Business 'B' Land Owned by Sutherland Shire Council - Conservation and Development - Office of Environmental Mediation & Inquiry, April 1999

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