Gold Coast environmentalists represented by EDO Qld protected a rainforest site teeming with rare and threatened wildlife by challenging a proposed development. Sometimes, the environment wins even when a court case is lost.
They lost the appeal but evidence presented during the case persuaded the developers to relocate their development to an already cleared area and reduce other impacts. The site is now owned by the State Government and proposed for transfer into the national park estate.
In 2003, the Gold Coast City Council approved the development of tourist cabins in an ecologically sensitive part of the Gold Coast Hinterland near World Heritage-listed Springbrook and Lamington National Parks.
Environment groups the Gold Coast and Hinterland Environment Council (GECKO) and the Friends of Springbrook Alliance, and local residents Ken and Jeanette O’Shea, opposed the development because it would destroy rainforest of outstanding conservation value. They launched an appeal in the Planning and Environment Court, represented by barrister Paul Howorth and EDO Qld.
The site proposed for development was remnant rainforest, and partly in an area designated as a Nature Conservation area under the Springbrook Structure Plan, which specifies that no buildings or structures are to be erected in that zone.
As part of the legal process, our clients’ expert witness, botanist Dr Mike Olsen, conducted a site inspection. He found the vegetation to be of exceptionally high quality, equal to that of the nearby World Heritage listed national parks. On the proposed cabin sites he found numerous rare and threatened plant species not identified by the developer or Council. The site hosted at least 10 rare or threatened plant species, and habitat for more than a dozen rare and threatened fauna species as well. Because of the site’s outstanding values, Dr Olsen recommended that no development be permitted in the Nature Conservation area and already cleared sites be rehabilitated.
After receiving expert witness reports from our clients’ botanist and town planner, the developers altered their proposal. They decided to restrict the development to existing cleared areas, reduce the size of the proposed cabins and upgrade their wastewater system to ensure disposal outside the rainforest.
Although the development would still have damaging impacts, these changes prevented the destruction of remnant rainforest and protected rare and threatened species. Judge Newton dismissed our clients’ appeal against the development, but he included the proposed changes negotiated with the developers as conditions for the development.
Recently, the site has been purchased by the Queensland Government and it is now destined to become part of a national park. This case resulted in a substantial win for a very precious and pressured environment. It demonstrated that court challenges can be a powerful way of gaining influence over a development through the potential to negotiate improvements.