By Lois Levy
This article is a copy of a submission which I have been presenting to Gold Coast City Councillors at interviews with them over this week and the next couple of weeks. The submission was prompted by a remark made by Mayor Tom Tate, reported to me by Hot Tomato radio, that he did not intend to use the levy to purchase conservation land again this coming financial year and that he thought he might use it to pay the Council’s carbon tax instead. The city budget discussions will begin shortly and we wanted to be sure that Councillors were prepared with some facts about conservation open space before then and to encourage them to advocate for this expenditure in the budget.
Gecko has been an advocate for public open space, both conservation and recreational, since our foundation in 1989 and most of our major campaigns have been fought on preservation of public open space.
We are doubtful that it is legally permissible to use the money collected from ratepayers for a specific purpose another council obligation.
We hope that the arguments presented below will give you ammunition to use when talking to your Divisional Councillor.
The submission reads:-
The purpose of this submission is to demonstrate to Gold Coast City Councillors, the benefits of the Public Open Space Levy (OSPL) and the necessity of continuing efforts to achieve the stated outcome of protection of biodiversity so that the “city has a comprehensive, adequate and representative natural area reserve system.http://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/documents/bf/open-space-policy.pdf
Request: That Council continues the OSPL Land Acquisition Program of land of conservation value to benefit the city by adding to the existing stock in line with the stated objectives of the policy. Land prices are at their lowest for quite some time and this provides an excellent opportunity for Council to buy high priority properties, before prices begin to rise again.
In 2009 the Gold Coast City Council demonstrated great vision for our city by instituting the Open Space Preservation Levy (OSPL) for the acquisition of land of conservation value, which is exemplified by the policy statement :-
“Gold Coast City Council, through its Open Space Preservation Levy Land Acquisition Program, aims to acquire sites of the highest significance for nature conservation, particularly where other strategies are unable to achieve the required level of protection or where there is significant public benefit in protecting such sites through public ownership. Through the program threatened species are protected, vegetation communities are represented, wildlife corridors are secured, natural area reserves are consolidated, significant scenic views are maintained and catchments are safeguarded” http://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/documents/bf/open-space-policy.pdf
This program has continued without interruption until 2012, resulting in some exceptional purchases of high conservation value and has been supported by the majority of ratepayers as demonstrated by the extensive public consultation undertaken prior to the adoption of the now discarded Bold Future Strategy – a city loved for its green, gold and blue.
Regrettably there was no such public consultation in 2012 before the decision was made to defer purchases of land for that financial year. Nor has there been any consultation about the current proposal not only to defer purchases, but also to use the money for a purpose other than that for which it is intended. The rate notices clearly state the purpose of the levy is for the acquisition of land of high conservation value and ratepayers pay the levy in good faith that it will be used for this purpose.
To limit this program for the second year running is short sighted and fails to recognise the enormous benefits of conservation green spaces to our city.
Benefits of Land of Conservation Value.
Our green spaces provide us with many benefits which can often be overlooked when finances are stretched. Green spaces particularly those of conservation value benefit us through their aesthetic values, provision of good air quality, clean water, soil stabilisation, greenhouse mitigation, biodiversity conservation, climate control, physical and mental health of the population and tourism to mention just some.
Jason Byrne and Neil Sipe, Senior Planning lecturers from the Griffith University Urban Research Program stated in their 2010 submission to the Draft Queensland Greenspace Strategy that:-
“International research has shown that urban greenspace services provide the equivalent of hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of benefits in the form of sequestering carbon, attenuating stormwater, pollinating food crops, ameliorating heat-island effects, lowering wind speeds, increasing the sociability of neighbourhoods, lowering stress levels, promoting recovery from illness, improving children’s learning and motor-skill development, providing a reservoir for genetic diversity and a wide variety of other ‘free services’ that are seldom factored into decision-making. Including ecosystem services benefits in future calculations about greenspace provision will likely justify the retention and acquisition of land for greenspace that would otherwise be lost to development, and must be a component of Queensland’s future greenspace planning.”
Another study, this one by the UN, has determined that businesses and insurance companies now see biodiversity loss as presenting a greater risk of financial loss than terrorism” Jonathan Watts in the Guardian, October 27, 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/27/biodiversity-loss-terrorism . Biodiversity provides humans with access to medicines, genetics, potential crops and other uses we have not yet discovered.
There is also a strong component within the population who simply enjoy the native flora and fauna in its own right and want it to continue to exist. Why else would Gold Coast City Council spend millions trying to ensure that our koala population does not become extinct or showcase our biodiversity as a drawcard for ecotourists?
It is true to say that the Gold Coast city is not only defined by its high rise development “glitz and glamour” but also by its diverse natural assets in the hinterland and coastal areas which are equally important in returning economic benefit to our city. The green behind the gold as an economic asset for tourism, as well as the above named benefits, is not fully realised because of lack of vision, planning and financial commitment.
Community capacity building:
The popularity of visiting areas of high conservation value has been demonstrated through the Naturally Gold Coast guided tours of OSPL acquired properties which are always oversubscribed. “Bookings for all workshops are essential. Places are strictly limited and we are not able to accommodate people who turn up on the day.” http://www.gcparks.com.au/parks.aspx?page=95
It is also demonstrated in the commitment of the many beach and bush care groups throughout the city which assist Gold Coast City Council’s Natural Areas Management Unit in the care and protection of these properties. These areas are also used extensively by bushwalkers, birdwatchers and others just wanting to enjoy contact with nature. They are used for effective school and university field education and research projects, an important factor for our three Universities and many public and private schools.
Climate Control and ecosystem services:
There is no doubt that our green spaces are important in providing climate control, rainfall and clean water, cooling and good quality air to breathe and soil stabilisation, which keeps our waterways clean and healthy. The green behind the gold provides us with oxygen to breathe as well as carbon sequestration. Long lived vegetation is an essential part of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and is an important asset for a car dependent city.
Physical and mental health benefits.
There are many studies available about the importance of human connection with nature for sound physical and mental health. A British study by the Faculty of Public Health www.fph.org.uk in association with Natural England: www.naturalengland.org.uk states that “Access to nature can significantly contribute to our mental capital and wellbeing.” Further, a BBC report said research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2009 showed “the impact (of green space) is particularly noticeable in reducing rates of mental ill-health. The annual rates of 15 out of 24 major physical diseases were also significantly lower among those living closer to green spaces. One environmental expert said the study confirmed that green spaces create ‘oases’ of improved health around them. “
There have been other studies demonstrating that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism as well as teenagers with behavioural problems benefit from interaction with natural areas (Louv. R. Last Child in the Woods,2010)( http://www.iucn.org/about/union/commissions/cec/ )
Environmental psychologists have researched the beneficial effects of “nature”, ranging from wilderness to trees and grass, on multiple dimensions of health and wellbeing, including stress reduction (Ulrich 1981), reducing mental fatigue (Hartig et al. 1991) and improving mood (Hull and Michaels 1995; for reviews, see Kaplan and Kaplan 1989, Irvine and Warber 2002). (Wildlife Queensland submission to the Draft Queensland Greenspace Strategy)
The physical benefits of exercising and relaxing in natural areas are well documented.
Public open space both of high conservation value and for recreation is essential to any healthy city and Gold Coast is no exception. It is a false economy not to buy now especially when Mayor Tate is intending to give away to developers 75 hectares of existing open space in the Broadwater, which is worth millions of dollars, for the ill- fated cruise terminal and land grab.