A furious row has erupted over an Aboriginal land council’s plan to build 450 new homes in a bush refuge for native wildlife and ancient art.
The billion-dollar project has infuriated residents of Sydney’s northern beaches, where the average house costs more than $2 million.
They are shocked that the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council is pushing to build houses at Lizard Rock, near Belrose, on what was presumed to be an important site of Aboriginal culture and history.
The local council and the area’s federal MP are opposed to the sale, and most residents are staunchly opposed but fearful of having their say on the development – on the equivalent of 45 football pitches – in case they were labeled racist for standing up to the Aboriginal council.
“If it was anyone else I’m sure it would be immediately thrown away and scrapped forever,” said a resident of the nearby town of Cromer.
“But as the Land Council is the developer, no one thinks they can really object without their motives being called into question.”
They are shocked that the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council is pushing to build houses on the equivalent of 45 bush football pitches at Lizard Rock, near Belrose.
Residents warn development area (pictured) poses bushfire risk
The land, just 20 minutes from Sydney’s CBD, is home to wallabies and other native wildlife, and has ocean views of Collaroy and Narrabeen beaches.
It features ancient artwork, including a large engraving of a gray kangaroo and footprints etched into the landscape, close to the natural landmark that gives the area its name: Lizard Rock.
In 2013, the Aboriginal Land Council proposed transforming the 71 hectare site developed in an Aboriginal-owned national park.
But a decade later, they are seeking the green light to send in bulldozers and transform the bush into a high-impact housing development.
The land council said the massive profits from their sale would be invested in projects to support indigenous communities, including social housing.
They insist the development will protect ancient Aboriginal sites within the subdivision boundary and 19.8 hectares of bushland will remain conservation areas.
MLALC CEO Nathan Moran (pictured) previously said opposition to the development was “akin to racism and paternalism”.
Northern Beaches Council rejected the plan and refused to take part in the planning process, fearing they would be forced to approve it under current legislation.
“The new homes would be built in valuable bushland and residents would face extreme bushfire risk,” Northern Beaches Mayor Sue Heins told Daily Mail Australia.
“This proposal lacks merit due to significant planning, environmental and hazard issues.
“Council has repeatedly informed the NSW Planning Department that the proposal does not demonstrate strategic or site-specific merit and should be rejected.”
The previous NSW government also pledged to block the proposal, but lost power in the March state election.
“Concerns raised by the community around bushfires, critical infrastructure and the density of enforcement cannot be ignored,” a Coalition spokesperson said.
Such opposition has sparked accusations of “racism” and “paternalism” from the land council’s CEO, Nathan Moran.
“There has been a lot of misinformation about our proposal,” he said in September.
“This land was previously farmland, agricultural land and was at one time home to an extractive quarry.”
The council renamed the area Patyegarang in its planning proposal, after saying Lizard Rock – after which the area is named – has no cultural significance.
The MLALC changed the name of the area from Lizard Rock to Patyegarang, which local MP Michael Regan (pictured) finds ironic.
It features ancient artwork, including a large engraving of a gray kangaroo (described above) and footprints carved into the landscape near Lizard Rock, which gives its name to the area.
The new name means gray kangaroo and was given to an elder woman who was believed to be the first local to teach an indigenous language to the early British settlers.
Michael Regan, the former Northern Beaches mayor, ran for the local state seat of Wakehurst in March on his opposition to the project and was successful as an independent, defeating the Liberals who had held the seat for 40 years.
He claims the name change is a “PR exercise” and has only served to highlight why the development should be blocked.
“This is an outrageous plan to rezone beautiful bushland and clear 45 football fields of native trees, in a known fire zone in Belrose,” he said.
The proposal has now been submitted to an independent planning committee set up by the previous state government, and public submissions will close on November 7.
Its ancient history was once prized by the MLALC which wanted to transform the 71 hectare site into an indigenous national park in 2013.
The MLALC says the development will include a cultural center, with this artist’s impression as a suggestion of the finished design.
Local federal MP Sophie Scamps, a Teal, is also against the development, which opponents say will impact the environment, traffic, infrastructure, open spaces, bushfire risk and Aboriginal heritage .
The Land Council became the owner of the land under the Land Rights Act. Its Land Rights Unit studies and claims vacant Crown land in greater Sydney.
“This work has enabled Metro to become the largest landowner in a number of Sydney’s local government areas,” the council proudly boasts on its website.
But one local has criticized the Lizard Rock development plans as a money grab.
“Noel Pearson said in his speech to the National Press Club last week that ‘No one has lost any land’ under the Native Title Act,” the resident said.
“Try telling that to the locals. We just see ourselves losing this beautiful bushland in a cynical ploy to turn it into prime real estate.
The planning proposal includes building design concepts for the bush development, which vary from large to small.
A local campaign against the project gathered more than 12,000 signatures and forced debate on the issue in state parliament.
Ancient engravings carved into the landscape are scattered around the bush site.
The NSW Planning Department said an independent consultant would submit a report to the planning committee based on all public submissions during the ongoing consultation process.
“The panel will then make a recommendation to the ministry on whether the proposal should be finalized and, if so, in what form,” a spokesperson said.
“The Minister, or the Department as delegated by the Minister, will make the final decision on the development proposal.”
The timeline for the final decision is unlimited, based on community feedback and any issues they may raise with the proposal.
The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council declined to comment and referred all inquiries to its development website.