Yass Valley Council has signalled its intent to pursue the rezoning of a large parcel of land in Murrumbateman for subdivision after a proposal was brought before councillors to look at biocertification. The small but essential planning step could eventually lead to adding another two-thirds of the current population of Murrumbateman, raising it to 5,400 people.

At a recent meeting, councillors unanimously agreed to take the initial step of strategic biocertification for the eventual development of the council property known as “Hawthorn.” The grazing property sits on 286 hectares of land north of Murrumbateman on the Barton Highway.

Biocertification under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 aims to conserve species living on the land and minimise the impacts a development will have to native vegetation.

A report to council states in 2018 the Council’s natural resource and sustainability officer undertook a biodiversity assessment to identify areas of high value around Hawthorn. According to the Council, this can be used to proceed with a full evaluation in the future.

Critically endangered Golden Sun Moth photographed on-site at “Hawthorn”

The assessment found significant biodiversity values on parts of the site, including the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth, and the Endangered Ecological Community White Box – Yellow Box – Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland. There are also several mature hollow-bearing trees which are likely to be providing habitat for threatened bird and bat species.

Remnant Eucalypt on site at ‘Hawthorn’ Murrumbateman

There are currently three scenarios proposed for the site if any future rezoning was approved, allowing for development. Each one involves different levels of housing and environmental impact. Due to the biocertification process, the most likely to be approved is scenario two which is the most’ balanced outcome in terms of the development of the land,’ according to Council’s Director of Planning and Environment, Ms Julie Rogers.

Scenario two involves around 188 hectares of land to be built on with the goal of approximately ten lots being built per hectare. The current Canberra model being used in Gungahlin is around fifteen lots per hectare.

“A good round figure, a sustainable figure for Murrumbateman would be around eight or ten which is significantly less than the figure they are squashing into Gungahlin,” said Councillor Michael McManus during the August meeting.

This would see around 1800 lots developed, which would be massive growth for Murrumbateman. The average persons per household are about three, which would see a rough increase of population around 5,400 people. The current community of Murrumbateman is 3.5 thousand and Hawthorn will take the bulk of the growth towards the ten thousand mark.

“In the settlement strategy we reserved some extra land for possible future growth beyond that 10,000 should a number of other matters be able to be resolved; a big one being water supply,” advised General Manager Chris Berry.

“We need to secure a water supply from an alternate source if we are going to realise that growth potential. That work is currently with the department of water for consideration for funding. If we don’t secure water, it will never be realised,” Mr Berry emphasised.

Mayor Rowena Abbey stressed that this development would be a long-term plan.

“It will take five to ten years to get an approval through government and another ten to twenty years for it to grow,” said Mayor Abbey.

Different avenues are being explored and executed to secure a water source for Murrumbateman. A Yass to Murrumbateman pipeline will soon provide around 1000 lots with water. Still, with the projected growth, this will become unsustainable.

A smaller by comparison development in Murrumbateman for Isabel Drive has received the green light, but it will not be a part of that water equation, relying on rainwater tanks as the primary source of water and a bore to supplement water to the 101 lots.

The Isabel Drive subdivision development was approved subject to conditions at the most recent meeting of Council in September.

The application was initially lodged for 106 lots but was later revised to 100 lots with one open space lot. The open space lot includes a shared horse/bike/pedestrian trail from Isabel Drive to Merryville Drive.

The conditions that are required to be met include satisfactory land capability assessment for effluent disposal and the dedication of the open space lot be supported, subject to conditions including a Voluntary Planning Agreement covering the dedication, associated works, and initial maintenance period. Finally, a further report is expected to be presented to Council on the draft terms of the Voluntary Planning Agreement.

The community in Murrumbateman took up several opportunities to raise concerns with some of the critical issues being bore water consumption, no local school, electricity and internet. Water is a common concern for development in the region.

Some of the public voiced concerns about the creation of a new bore taking away water supply from existing bores. Testing of the existing bore suggests that it is operating well and there is enough water and pressure.

“The bores are a matter for Water NSW. They are the approving authority and need to make the determination on any future bores,” said Director of Planning and Environment, Ms Julie Rogers.

Councillor Mike Reid has been a strong advocate for a local school in Murrumbateman for the past ten years and has been involved at a grassroots level with surveying the community. The results showed a need for a primary school of around 350 students.

“I think we should also have a high school. The Council offered the education department six hectares of land on Hawthorn, so they could build a primary school and a high school at some stage in the future and have a recreation area in between,” said Councillor Reid.

An expression of interest has been lodged with the NSW Department of Education and Council is awaiting a reply. However, Councillor Reid believes that a school was needed ten years ago. With the 100 new lots approved for Isabel Drive, estimates are around 100-150 more children will soon require local schooling but will instead have to travel into Yass or Canberra along with the other children of Murrumbateman.

Ryan Betts