Canberra’s western fringe must be saved from urban development | The Canberra Times

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Most Canberrans wouldn’t know that the ACT government has signaled plans to radically expand the area’s urban footprint westward. Identified in the government’s 2018 ACT planning strategy, this year’s budget, with the $2.3 million allocation to the Western Edge Investigation, indicates that planning is about to begin in earnest. Bordered by the Murrumbidgee River and the regions of Weston Creek, Molonglo Valley and Belconnen, the “West Rim” refers to 9,800 acres of virgin land west of Canberra. Much of the area consists of rural leasehold land, the purchase of which by the Suburban Land Agency in 2015 garnered much public interest. Despite stating at the time that there were no plans to develop the country for 20 to 30 years, the 2021 budget announcement indicates that early planning studies are underway. The Conservation Council believes that Canbera’s urban footprint should not extend beyond the current areas designated for new landscaping in Gungahlin and Molonglo, and that Canberra’s urban footprint should not extend beyond the western edge. There are two main reasons for this: first, sprawling cities are less sustainable, and second, the area marked for future urban development has already been identified as having significant environmental values. The challenges of urban sprawl are publicly visible in Australia’s capitals: poor access to services – including public transport and employment – leads to increased traffic congestion and air pollution, and high costs of services. Rather than continue to grow outward, a 2018 OECD report recommended that “policy makers should rethink maximum density constraints, rethink the design of urban containment policies, and develop new market-based tools to promote densification where it is needed most.” “. The ACT government has a policy of 70 percent infill and 30 percent greenfield development. While this is a laudable target, it won’t forever put off the push to expand Canberra’s urban footprint. The planning strategy clearly identified the western fringe as the new development frontier for the future. Many of the blocks have been held as rural leases and are likely home to nationally important grasslands and forests. Large trees in the landscape provide habitat for birds and other species, and also play an important role in ecosystem connectivity – that is, keeping the landscapes connected so that species can move between different areas. READ MORE: Bluett’s Block is one such site in the Western Edge Investigation area that is incredibly ecologically diverse and includes high-quality habitat, hence its significant conservation values. In addition, Bluett’s Block is likely home to many endangered and rare species – particularly rare marsupial populations of dunnart and antechinus. The site also plays an important role in connecting the Murrumbidgee River to the Black Mountain Nature Reserve near central Canberra. Urban development is a major cause of habitat loss in Australia and worldwide. Houses for humans are built at the expense of houses for other species. In the face of a global extinction crisis, we continue on this path at our peril, as our own livelihoods depend on the flourishing of other species. When we look at these global challenges, we often think they apply to people in other distant and less fortunate countries; but here in the ACT we will have to grapple with that same dilemma for the next decade. As we chase that big Australian dream – a detached house that now looks set to come with two living areas, three bathrooms and a double garage – we need to pause and consider the impact of our housing choices on our local environment. As a community, it’s time to rethink what it means to live a smaller, more sustainable life. We must face the challenge of housing people within an urban footprint that is liveable, energy efficient and sustainable and make creative use of the shared space available to us. Perhaps then we can forgo development west of the city in favor of caring for the natural ecosystems that exist there, and draw a line around the ubiquitous and damaging environmental threat posed by ever-expanding urban development.



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