EDITORIAL: Saving the green corridor

CONSERVING a cohesive green corridor from the Watagan Mountains to Stockton Bight doesn’t seem like it ought to be an insurmountable task.

After all, Newcastle and its surrounding urban settlements haven’t yet attained the population density of Sydney, so the all-important variable of land value hasn’t yet completely tipped the balance against conservation.

The tipping point is fast approaching, however, as seemingly interminable arguments over the so-called Tank Paddock at Minmi have demonstrated over the past several years.

Controversy regularly rages over land, including much formerly controlled by mining companies, where rezonings in favour of residential development have the potential to create large windfalls for property owners and developers.

Considerations such as these have made the long-standing goal of a formal green corridor – about 60 kilometres long and 4 kilometres wide – very challenging to achieve.

Now the familiar dilemma is being showcased in miniature over land at Minmi that conservationists believe should form a key connection between the corridor and Bluegum Hills Regional Park. 

To the surprise of some observers, the 26.4-hectare lot was rezoned by Newcastle City Council at its last meeting of the year, despite concerns from the Rural Fire Service and despite a warning from the state office of environment and heritage that proposed offsets were significantly inadequate.

The rezoning of the land from ‘‘environmental living’’ to ‘‘low density residential’’ will – according to backers of the green corridor – largely remove any real possibility of a meaningful linkage between the corridor proper and the Bluegum Hills park.

It seems unlikely the council will now reverse its decision.

In that case, it should at least explain the thinking that lay behind its rezoning and reassure those who assert that the decision was made without enough public consultation.

Residential property development is a vital driver of the regional economy and many lobbyists insist that too much regulation and consultation is already slowing down the process, to the detriment of community prosperity.

But concerns that the broader interests of a major long-term regional conservation goal may have been too readily dismissed surely need to be addressed.

Some workable compromise between development and conservation must be sought, before the bulldozers go to work.