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Urban Bushland Acquisition and Conservation

Adrian Vlok wama at peg.apc.org
Thu Jun 20 14:42:38 EST 1996

I am looking for information regarding innovative mechanisms for local or 
regional governments to acquire and manage urban remnant 

Perth is a city of about 1.5 million people and experiencing strong 
growth (population and area), a population of about 3.0 million is 
expected by 2030.  Perth is located within the South West Western 
Australian Botanical forest, a region recognised as one of the most 
floristically diverse places on the planet.  Principal responsibility for 
assessing, acquiring and managing areas of high conservation remnant 
native vegetation lies with the State Government. However Local 
Governments may also acquire and manage urban bushland.

Currently the development (urban, commercial and industrial) process is 
conflict driven and highly reactive.  More often than not land is zone 
(at a regional level rather than in local town planning schemes) for a 
particular land use prior to detailed environmental assessments.  Where 
Local Governments and the State for that matter seek to preserve bushland 
it is in private ownership and has considerable value (compared to a 
rural zoning).  

Under the current system Government can either choose to impose its will 
by de-zoning the land or request a significant percentage (over 10%) of a 
development site be set aside for conservation purposes (10% is the 
current statutory maximum).  This raises the question of monetary 
compensation, which would be in the millions of dollars (compensation 
seems to be an in alienable right, as well as the belief that “I will do 
what the hell I like on my land”.  Clearly the above is not considered an 
option, consequently Governments choose to purchase land at its current 
market value, believing that conservation objectives can best be achieved 
in public ownership; a view not shared by all.

The State’s Ministry for Planning has just about completed an exhaustive 
assessment of remnant urban bushland within the Perth Metropolitan 
Region.  It’s principal criteria is to identify bushland 
communities/associations with less than 10% of their original area 
remaining and make recommendations to the State government on 
acquisition.  The urban bushland identified will be regionally 
significant bushland.  As the end of the day this looks like being about 
10,000 ha (~6 acres to 1ha) and in dollar that’s probably a minimum of 
$100 million.  This might not be much in global terms but for a State 
half the size of the US with only 2 million people its big money.

The remaining bushland will be called local significant bushland (~60,000 
ha) and will be the responsibility of Local Government. While not having 
the same high conservation value as regional bushland, locally 
significant urban bushland provides green corridors, habitat, landscape 
amenity, passive recreation, contains declared rare flora and maintains 
biodiversity.  Unfortunately Local Governments in Western Australia are 
in no position to acquire significant parcels of land containing urban 
bushland, this is due to a lack of resources (money), administrative and 
legislative capacity, technical expertise to assess and manage bushland. 
 Local Governments in Australia can not tax, are a creation of the State 
and are not even recognised in the Federal Constitution; it was only 15 
years ago they were called Roads Boards with the responsibility of local 
roads, domestic rubbish and dog licensing.  Despite this, the planning 
system does provide Local Governments with the power to set aside 10% of 
a development for “open space” (more often that not cleared for ovals, 
tennis courts and drainage sumps).  Their ability to require developers 
to set aside more is very limited (increased density with increased open 
space).  The other issue of resourcing for the management of urban 
bushland still needs to be addressed.

In summary, I don’t believe Perth Western Australia is unique, this 
problem must be universal.  There must be people out there and innovative 
examples of solutions to this problem which go beyond costly public 
purchase and management of urban bushland.  What incentives/legislation 
has been tried for private land owners to retain and manage bushland?  
Has tax deductibility and rate relief been explored by others?  What 
legislative means have been tried, for example, conservation levy’s, like 
the City of Brisbane in Australia?  Have countries explored removing any 
compensation avenues where State, Federal or Local governments require 
conservation on private land?  What trade-offs and deals with developers 
have been tried and found to work or not work?  

Your thoughts, experiences, anecdotes, personal contacts and relevant 
policies, guidelines, legislative Acts and mechanisms which may answer my 
questions would be greatly appreciated.  Please feel free to contact me 
at the West Australian Municipal Association, 15 Altona Street WEST PERTH 
6005 or by post, PO Box 1544 WEST PERTH 6872, AUSTRALIA, Telephone +61 09 
 321 5055, Facsimile +61 09 322 2611, email  wama at peg.apc.org

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