New aerial photographs of bushland have set off alarm bells in a Queensland community after roads randomly appeared almost overnight.
The images, shared by a resident to a Noosa community group on Facebook, showed wide strips of land cleared through dense forest backing onto the Noosa Civic shopping centre, on the state’s Sunshine Coast.
Locals commented speculating on the reason for the unexpected development, some hopeful it would result in a new artery of roads, while others were suspicious over the amount of trees that had been cleared.
The development company who owns the land, Stockwell, claimed to be following urgent advice in line with a bushfire management plan, but locals were left puzzled at the nature of the clearing’s extreme likeness to a set of roads.
In an “urgent” letter to Noosa Council’s Environment and Sustainable Development Director Kim Rawlings on September 12, Stockwell’s General Manager Georgina Madsen sought immediate permission to commence clearing land to construct fire breaks.
It came in the week of the catastrophic bushfires at nearby Peregian Beach.
“Given the emergency situation, it is our intention to complete these works urgently, and formalise any operational works approval retrospectively,” part of the letter read.
Ms Madsen was understood to be referring to the out-of-control fires. She added that a contractor had been engaged to commence work the following day.
Company claimed ‘urgent’ work was required
Having just acquired the land from the Queensland Investment Corporation, Ms Madsen said its employee Les Hawkes had conducted a Bushfire Management Review in June 2018 and May 2019.
She wrote that Mr Hawkes had since advised recommendations made in the initial 2018 review, be enacted “immediately”.
“We have reviewed these recommendations with Les and in light of the current environment, his advice is to immediately clear a 20 metre fire break in both (the north and south boundary) locations,” she wrote.
After photos were shared online, some favoured the company’s work, and said they wouldn’t be upset if the fire breaks eventuated into roads.
Others were less than impressed, accusing the company of knowingly deceiving the council and locals.
“They're not fire breaks, (they are) all surveyed complete with traffic calming,” one person wrote in a comment to the post.
Someone else thought there was no good excuse to be knocking down so much bush.
“They need to stop knocking down bushland. The poor wildlife are losing their homes. Some people are making millions off these developments and they don't care about the bush or wildlife,” they wrote.
Another thought the layout of the tracks might be for “ease of access for fire trucks”.
Noosa Council’s Environment and Sustainable Development Director Kim Rawlings confirmed with Yahoo News Australia that Stockwell did not attain necessary approval before clearing bushland behind Noosa Civic Springs.
Ms Rawlings said while they were permitted to conduct works in line with an approved Bushfire Management Plan, the plan they were working in accordance with had not yet been signed off on.
Cleared road follows path of proposed development
“The revised Bushfire Management Plan was not approved at the time of the clearing and staff are currently assessing it in consultation with the landowner,” Ms Rawlings said in a statement.
She also confirmed the clearing followed the path of an internal road network proposed in a development application by Stockwell which was also yet to be approved.
“The clearing carried out generally follows the path of a proposed internal road network, which is proposed within a development application for the site currently being assessed.
“The development application proposes a reconfiguration of the site from one lot into 24 lots, with the provision of a number of internal roads. The proposed roads include an extension of Hofmann Drive and a north/south extension of the internal road network. Council is still assessing the application.”
Stockwell told Yahoo News Australia its clearing was conducted following an “urgent review of bushfire preparedness”.
“In light of the immediate threat, and the State provisions for exempt clearing work, Stockwell contractors commenced work on 13 September; with all works completed by Saturday 21 September,” a spokesperson said.
They said works were undertaken to align with an extension proposed in a planning scheme, which was outlined in an application still before the council, and along boundaries of an existing fire track.
“Stockwell has an application before council for subdivision, which includes delivery of balance road infrastructure for Noosa Civic in line with community expectations. Any road infrastructure and associated works would be subject to council’s decision on this application.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.