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Forging common ground

AN alliance has emerged between conservation groups and developers over the need to develop a form of environmental levy.

While the two sectors are often at odds, representatives at a recent Urban Development Institute of Australia forum agreed millions of dollars were needed to save Australia’s environment, and that a broad-based levy or tax was the best method of raising the funds.

But differences of opinion have emerged as to how part of that money should be spent.

The UDIA argues part of the funds should be used to compensate developers for land they have bought, but are not able to develop for conservation reasons, while the Conservation Council of Australia believes the millions should go toward providing incentives, rather than compensation, for developers to keep the land.

UDIA president Russel Perry said that, as more bushland was cordoned off from development and environ-mental regulations became increasingly tighter, the cost of development was pushed higher.

“A lot of decisions have been made without consideration of the costs,” Dr Perry said.

“If a developer has a subdivision and then part of that is put aside for conservation purposes and not adequately compensated, the sale price is pushed up on the balance of the land to make up for it.”

He said the end result was that the consumers, who were often first homebuilders, had to foot the bill. The higher sale price, therefore, meant fewer people could afford to build.

“We did a study in the early 90s which showed that for every $5000 increase in the price of a block, 15,000 families would be unable to afford it,” Dr Perry said.

“The environment is for everybody, so everybody should pay for it, not just home builders, who are often the ones who can afford it the least.”

This position was supported by Bennett Brook Catchment Group coordinator Linda Tamin, who said unless adequate compensation was offered, private landowners would continue to clear bushland in the fear they would be left out of pocket.

“The first thing we have to do is secure the land worth conserving ... replacement of this land is not possible and we have to remember that,” Ms Tamin said.

But Conservation Council of Australia acting coordinator Chris Tallentire did not believe compensation should be offered, saying that, like investment in shares and equities, investment in property involved risks and it was unreasonable that the government should be expected to preserve property development as a guaranteed money making activity.

“Developers have bought land with an expectation to clear and develop it, but all investment is speculative. If a developer makes a poor choice on what area they wish to develop, they should have to live with that,” Mr Tallentire said.

“With a bit of imagination, environmental values could be incorporated into a development so they add value, and I don’t see a need for compensation there.”

He said the money should go towards providing incentives to developers and private landowners to keep and maintain bushland.

The money was also desperately needed in the restoration and management of bushland, Mr Tallentire said, citing figures from an Australian Conservation Fund report that $6 billion was needed over 10 years to fix the country’s environmental problems. Dr Perry said the groups would continue to work together to find common ground over the environmental levy or tax and hoped a formal working party, including representatives from other industries, could soon be formed.

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