2 August 2020

Elm Grove leaseholder digs in for another historic battle with government over housing plans

| Ian Bushnell
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Paul Carmody

Rural leaseholder Paul Carmody points to the wooded hills where homes are proposed in the next stage of Jacka. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The battle of Jacka is about to be played out in Canberra’s north as the rural leaseholder of the heritage-listed Elm Grove digs in against the Suburban Land Agency’s plans for the next stages of the Gungahlin suburb.

Paul Carmody has been growing wool and hay at Elm Grove since acquiring the property from the Gillespie family in 1985. He was instrumental in its heritage listing in 2008, despite being told by government officials that it had no heritage value. Then Chief Minister Jon Stanhope disagreed with the officials’ assessment and it saved the property from housing development.

Now Mr Carmody, armed with three consultants’ reports and the Conservation Management Plan he was required as the lessee to commission, plans to object to the SLA’s development application for its estate plan on the grounds that its proposal will impact on the European and Aboriginal heritage values of the Elm Grove heritage precinct.

He also says the application does not take into account the true biodiversity value of leased land beyond the precinct, including threatened box gum woodland and Golden Sun Moth habitat.

Mr Carmody says the SLA has ignored his overtures and played down the heritage and biodiversity values of the property in its DA documents, which he believes he will end up contesting in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Site of the proposed precinct

The Jacka master plan shows how close the suburb will come to the Elm Grove heritage precinct, including Stage 2 which is at present box gum woodland and a lambing paddock. Image: ACT Government.

The SLA has also been accused of ignoring a conflict of interest because the same company which wrote the Conservation Management Plan for Mr Carmody and was accepted by the government, is now a consultant on the Jacka estate plan.

The plans for Jacka show medium-density housing abutting the south-west corner of the heritage precinct and then, in the next stage, to its west in box gum woodland that is at present Mr Carmody’s lambing paddock.

But Mr Carmody will argue, based on the Conservation Management Plan and the heritage listing, that the heritage value includes generous buffer zones and the view to and from Elm Grove, and that the Jacka homes to be built on the nearby high ground will be in clear sight.

”It’s going to make a big impact on those hills in Gungahlin,” he said.

Mr Carmody said the Conservation Management Plan plus consultants’ reports from Eric Martin on heritage, Capital Ecology on biodiversity and Past Traces on Aboriginal heritage would clearly show that the ACT Government had not taken into account all the information that they should have.

Mr Carmody said Elm Grove was like the Lanyon of the north and the last working property in the Gungahlin area, with residential development reducing Horse Park, Gold Creek and Wells Station to costly museum pieces that don’t pay their way and are now headaches for the government.

“If this goes ahead it takes out a big chunk of the agricultural land and eats into the property to the point that that heritage listing will have to be changed to ‘Elm Grove was the last working property in the Gungahlin area’,” he said.

Aerial view of the property

An aerial view of the property. Photo: Elm Grove.

Mr Carmody said the plans were urban sprawl on a micro-scale.

”They’re just trying to squeeze every square inch out of something which I don’t think is appropriate, from a heritage and biodiversity point of view, but in the grand plan of things they’re just tiddling at the edge of Gungahlin to get the last little bit out of it,” he said.

Mr Carmody accused the SLA of tunnel vision and simply focused on producing blocks, saying the different sections of government need to be working together.

”The development is not consistent with the Conservation Management Plan and the heritage listing and one part of the ACT Government needs to consult with other parts of the government to see what is in the best interests of everybody,” he said.

The economic gain would be minuscule compared with the loss to the community of the environment and heritage value Elm Grove encompasses, he said.

”Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Mr Carmody said.

The Gungahlin Community Council also has serious concerns about the development’s impact on the rural and bushland character of the area, and particularly Elm Grove.

President Peter Elford says the heritage listing for Elm Grove, founded in 1882, makes much of the “region” and “character” and “views”.

”I don’t believe the Jacka 2 development takes these issues on board and we have another case of the ACT Government [SLA] responding to its own advice, guidance and legislation,” he said.

The time to comment on the DA has been extended until 6 August.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on The RiotACT.

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