The state's biodiversity laws are holding back the supply of affordable housing in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven and even conservationists don't believe the laws are protecting the environment.
After a damning review of the law intended to protect biodiversity in NSW was released, an unholy alliance of conservationists and developers are speaking out against the current legislative framework.
The body representing property developers in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven has said that around 40 per cent of new housing releases - roughly 3400 lots - in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven are held up due to the Biodiversity Conservation Act.
UDIA Shoalhaven chapter chair Matt Philpott said the current laws did not get the balance right between protecting the environment and allowing for new housing.
"Getting a balance between housing and biodiversity is a really important matter for the development industry," he said.
"The development industry needs certainty and a lack of complexity and unfortunately, the way the Act is structured at the moment, it offers neither of those things."
An independent review of the Biodiversity Act found the act was unlikely to ever achieve its objectives.
"Biodiversity is not being conserved at bioregional or State scale," lead reviewer former Treasury chief Dr Ken Henry writes in the report.
"The diversity and quality of ecosystems is not being maintained, nor is their capacity to adapt to change and provide for the needs of future generations being enhanced.
"Yet these are the principal purposes of the legislation."
It is a view shared by environmentalists, who argue that the Act's failure can be seen in land clearing continuing unabated and in fact increasing since the law was introduced in 2016.
In the Illawarra, Emma Rooksby, Urban Biodiveristy Illawarra group member, said the region was rapidly losing its remaining pockets of native vegetation.
"On the whole, the current situation does not adequately protect biodiversity," she said.
While the upper Illawarra escarpment was relatively well protected, the coastal plain was host to a number of endangered ecological communities.
"They have been really significantly fragmented," she said.
In response to the report, a spokesperson for NSW environment minister Penny Sharpe said the government would consider the nearly 60 recommendations, and said there would be a "whole of government" response.
"All the recommendations will be considered as part of this process but no final decisions have been made," the spokesperson said.
"The review raises a wide range of issues and options for reform, all of which will be carefully considered across the government before the response is finalised."
Offsets have been a key battleground between development proponents and environmentalists, however both agree the current system doesn't work.
Ms Rooksby said in the case of endangered Illawarra ecological communities, offsets should be replaced by no-go zones, as some patches were so localised similar environments did not exist.
"In this area, with some of the ecological communities, there's so little left that there's no way you can offset."
Similarly, Mr Philpott said the system through which developers could purchase offset credits was not set up to provide like-for-like alternatives.
"If you are clearing vegetation in most cases you have to do some offsetting, and that requires the developer to find credits that are similar or equivalent to what's on site," he said.
"Unfortunately the credit supply pipeline isn't as well advanced as it could be."
Both Ms Rooksby and Mr Philpott called for a more strategic approach to biodiversity, with councils or the state government, depending on the size of the land, conducting large scale biodiversity surveys to identify and protect high value ecological communities and determine where developments could go ahead, rather than this being done on a lot-by-lot basis.
"There are opportunities to do strategic biodiversity certification," Mr Philpott said.
"That exists now under the Act, but it's very, very difficult. It's a very long, slow process to go through but going through that process, and coming out the other end, will provide certainty to landowners in those areas, they can get on with and do the development."
Ms Rooksby said to protect what was left of the Illawarra's biodiversity, a big picture approach was needed.
"Rather than a piece by piece approach, if you look at them holistically, then you can see the areas where there are closely located patches, or one large patch on multiple land tenures that is worth protecting," she said.
"Where are those big patches on public or private land, how do we link those up and put the housing in the places that do the least harm?"
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