In late August / early September the North East Link project levelled a broad strip of remnant bushland at the Simpson Army Barracks; an area of approximately 13 hectares (130000 square meters). The extent of the devastation has come as a surprise to many who were lulled into a false sense of security by reassuring NELP-produced artist impressions. Even those of us at WCS who have warned of the damaging nature of this project for several years were shocked to see how bad it looks. There is pretty much nothing left within the project area.
There are many reasons this clearing should not have gone ahead. The bushland that was destroyed was some of the best remaining habitat for two critically endangered plants, the Matted Flax-lily and the Studley Park Gum. It was also part of a wildlife corridor used by the Powerful Owl (vulnerable) and the Swift Parrot (critically endangered) had been sighted there. In 2019 a state government appointed expert advisory panel suggested that the Simpson Barracks should be a “no go zone” due to the unacceptably high environmental and social impact the project would have at this site. Unfortunately, the Planning Minster ignored this advice and approved a reference design that allowed the current level of damage to occur.
There were conditions attached to the project approval which theoretically provided some level of protection for the environment. Environmental Performance Requirement FF2 - Minimise and offset native vegetation removal, includes a section indicating that "This must include minimising removal of Matted Flax Lily, the locally endemic Studley Park Gum and the loss of potential foraging habitat for the Powerful Owl, Swift Parrot and Grey-headed Flying Fox. Key areas for minimisation efforts must include Simpson Barracks......". Looking over the now barren landscape at Simpson Barracks, there is little evidence that the removal of threatened plant species and significant habitat has been minimised.