Billabong achievement at risk

As Coordinator of Friends of the Billabong (FOB), St Peters Park, this is the area that I know in particular. I am also familiar with the Linear Park that runs through St Peters Park towards the city and Walkerville, Marden, Vale Park, Felixstowe.

First, I must say that the Billabong is a magnificent accomplishment of Council, and of the State and even Federal Governments. It provides an amenity for the whole of Adelaide, not just for our City of NPSP, not just for the surrounding residents. As coordinator of FOB, I can vouch that people come from a long way to enjoy it. The Linear Park is a visionary amenity for Adelaide and an important tourist highlight, created, I believe, by successive State Governments.

How does Council manage our public amenity, open space and natural habitats? The City Plan for NPSP commits to increasing biodiversity; this DPA talks about sustainability and environment. And the Council has done good things towards achieving environmental sustainability, with Billabong is its crowning achievement – natural revegetation in a park setting, with rapidly increasing diversity of local native species, and, with this, an increasing diversity of wildlife.

Council also has a commitment to water conservation in its 30-year Plan. In fact, a few years ago, my place was designated a “water conservation demonstration site” by Council, in Partnership with the State Government. One of the features of this demonstration was management of stormwater – I don’t mean only gutters, tanks and run-off to the street. I mean planning a development with a minimum of hard surfaces, so that rain, when it falls, can soak into the ground, and naturally replenish our soils and waterways.

So, what is happening now? On the DPA, there are several stretches which specify developments of three storeys that are just one block wide, mostly not more than about 50 metres deep, absolutely abutting the Linear Park and Billabong. Furthermore, the current planning regulations allow, as totally compliant developments, dwellings that take up almost all of a suburban block, with built structure and heavily paved areas. Therefore, under current planning laws, three story medium-density developments in a strip 50 metres or less wide will shade the biodiverse areas, prevent their access to seasonal water, and greatly diminish the natural assets that Council has worked hard to achieve. The Council may not want this to occur, but it is developers who create it, according to what the planning laws allow. I find this an astounding apposition of contradictory priorities.

So, I can’t actually object to the Development Plan Amendment, allocating areas of higher residential density along the River. But I can object to the choice of areas set aside.

Indeed let us have denser dwellings, creating easy access to our amenities for more people. But let us have the multistorey developments in places where there can be a wide swath of parkland or native habitat adjacent to the river, to protect our natural assets, not where there is a strip one block wide. My friends Carrie and Ivan Rehorek cite Merri Creek in Melbourne, which runs through the inner-city suburbs of North Fitzroy, Clifton Hill and Northcote. The Merri Creek and Environs Strategy outlines the need to reduce the impact of urban development by protecting and enhancing the creek's natural visual character, requiring “the presence of natural vegetation”, limiting “the proximity of nearby development and the extent to which buildings address the creek corridor”. Let us have middle-height buildings that are set back, not just from the road, but from parks, to prevent overshadowing, overpowering of the natural landscape, with destructive impacts on our biodiversity.

Let us avoid setting this DPA in concrete, literally, until there are planning laws in place that are more sensitive to the environment.

Dr Marianne Frommer, FAA
Coordinator, Friends of the Billabong, Norwood Payneham & St Peters
Honorary Professor, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of New South Wales