Editorial: Government must get Toondah verdict right

IT’S the 11th hour for a federal government decision on whether the controversial Toondah Harbour referral moves to the next stage.

The purpose of a referral is to determine whether the development will need formal assessment and approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

If the referral is approved, detailed planning will begin, including studies on how the project might impact on the built and natural environment.

Proponent Walker Corp says it will lead to an in-depth examination of all environmental, social and economic impacts and will involve extensive consultation.

The government decision, due by June 8, will enable Walker Corp to start work on an environmental impact statement for the $1.4 billion project.

The project will see the harbour greatly improved as the gateway to North Stradbroke Island and other parts of the bay.

But because of its sheer size, it also will greatly increase the existing harbour’s environmental impact.

Moreover, it will impact on the visual amenity of nearby residents and put a major load on roads and public transport as it includes a substantial residential component which will eventually see about 6300 people move into the area.

It’s hard to imagine that it will not also impact on the remaining koalas that hang on in the Cleveland area, already under pressure from development and cars.

The federal government is considering the latest iteration of the project whose marine impact has been reduced in order to protect migratory birds. It’s footprint on land remains unchanged.

If the federal government decides Walker can take the next step it will not mean approval for construction but it surely is a fair indication of thinking at that level.

The proposal already has state government, opposition and Redland City Council approval. In fact these levels of government have been bullish about promoting it.

Over past weeks residents and bird watchers have raised serious concerns about the project and its many impacts and one can only hope that these are given due weight when a decision is made.

Given the size of the Toondah Harbour project and the extent of its potential impacts, it is a critically important decision that the federal government cannot afford to get wrong.