A PRIVATELY-OWNED wetland neighbouring Eric Singleton Bird Sanctuary has been partially cleared and will be filled in to make way for a 27-lot housing development.
Last Tuesday heavy machinery rolled in with little warning. Paperbacks have been felled, scrub cleared, and residents were furious no attempt was made to relocate oblong tortoises, banjo frogs or any of the other 37 species that have been recorded at the site.
The residents are now fighting a rear-guard action to try and prevent the development, which has sub-division approval from the WA Planning Commission but is opposed by Bayswater council.
Bayswater council is investigating what appears to be instances where workers sawed off the branches of publicly-owned trees close to the developers’ boundary.
The sanctuary itself is rehabilitated land that was once a dump, and Branka Radanovich from the Bayswater Urban Tree Network says its unthinkable the WAPC would clear the way to bulldoze a remnant bushland covered by ancient paperbarks for more apartments.
The sanctuary also has a minor infestation of introduced fish that feast on frogs’ eggs, meaning most of the amphibians were living in the block, which is owned by the D’Orazio family.
About 50 concerned residents, many visibly distressed, met with Bayswater councillors Dan Bull and Chris Cornish and council officers on site last Friday.
One muttered it looked like a cyclone had hit.
Prior to the meeting councillor Chris Cornish contacted the D’Orazios and convinced them to engage an environmental consultant, who took a canoe ride around the site earlier this week.
The family has owned the parcel for decades. Late patriarch John D’Orazio was mayor of the city, which is currently looking into a memorial for him. A neighbouring block owned by the Carter family may soon follow suit.
Back in February a majority of Bayswater councillors asked the WAPC to refuse the subdivision because of the effect on animals and plants in the bird sanctuary. If it went ahead, they requested an additional buffer zone to protect the sanctuary, but the WAPC ruled the 20-metre road reserve was adequate.
Cr Alan Radford told last Friday’s meeting the council had the opportunity to buy the site more than a decade ago. For reasons lost to time (cost, or just not recognising its significance at the time) the purchase never happened.
Local Labor MP Lisa Baker also attended, saying she had serious doubts all approval conditions had been met.
“The WAPC’s decision to approve this development is another example of state government processes railroading the democratic process and local government authority,” she said, comparing it to bureaucrats from development assessment panels rolling over local sentiment.
“The state government must take action to restore democracy and community input into our planning process,” Ms Baker said.
“Additionally, the state government must do more to protect the fragile ecosystem of our sensitive wetlands. In this case, we have seen irreparable damage done to wetland habitat that is known to provide refuge to unique and endangered species.”
Environment House is a community environment centre neighbouring the sanctuary. Rachael Roberts from the centre wrote to planning minister Donna Faragher imploring her to step in.
In the letter she revealed a passerby went onto the land to rescue a baby tortoise but was “told to leave the site”.
“We don’t know how much fauna was destroyed along with the flora fringing the wetland. No survey was done before the works.”
“There is no community value in having houses in the area where this development is going ahead. This is one of the most well used riverside park lands in the whole of Perth.
“It is a leisure centre and an area where people can go to experience nature.
“Children don’t just need nature playgrounds. They need to be able to peer into the depths of wild wetlands like this and discover all of the life within.”
Bayswater staff had no idea the works were going ahead until they were alerted on July 12.
They raced down and wondered how this could happen on the back of a seemingly minor subdivision approval. An internal memo says the staff “sought clarification from the department of planning in respect of whether the works were authorised and whether the WAPC would take action”.
The planning department maintains the works happening at the site are allowed under its subdivision approval.
The D’Orazio family was contacted for comment, but we didn’t hear back before deadline.
by DAVID BELL