Raising dam wall could lead to more development on floodplain, Emergency Minister says Image

Raising dam wall could lead to more development on floodplain, Emergency Minister says

Raising dam wall could lead to more development on floodplain, Emergency Minister says

NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott says raising the Warragamba Dam wall could pave the way for the release of more land for development in Sydney’s north-west, putting him at odds with his ministerial colleagues.

As residents return to the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley to count the cost of the deadly and damaging floods that inundated homes throughout the region last week, Mr Elliott said the controversial project to raise the height of Sydney’s largest reservoir by at least 14 metres could benefit the future growth of the area.

“It ... means that we can probably release more land in the north-west for construction and development,” Mr Elliott told Triple M radio, adding he currently opposed development in his Baulkham Hills electorate – which was affected by floods – due to lack of infrastructure.

His comments contradict those of Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres, who is overseeing the $1.6 billion proposal, and who told The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this month that raising the wall “will not allow development to take place in flood impacted areas where it is currently not permitted”.

Mr Ayres added to his position on Monday, saying he didn’t support residential development below the one-in-100 flood level at which it is currently permitted: “Raising the dam wall won’t change that position.”

Planning Minister Rob Stokes, who last week revealed he had paused residential rezonings in the north-west due to evacuation fears, also recently said the future development of the area did not hinge on raising the wall, and that the project would not give him the capacity to rezone any additional land.

Former State Emergency Service deputy director-general Chas Keys also recently hit out at the level of development already occurring in the area, saying “we’ve got it in the worst possible flood environment in the state.”

A leaked planning document presented during a budget estimates hearing earlier month said the wall-raising plan was intended “to ensure safe, flood resilient, sustainable, well-planned growth and development in areas affected by severe to extreme flooding like the Penrith CBD”.

The document singled out the Penrith Lakes Development Corporation’s plan to rezone land for 5000 dwellings, a project Mr Ayres described in a 2015 news report as “the crown jewel” of the region with “so many opportunities we can explore”.

Mr Ayres said on Monday he didn’t support residential development at Penrith Lakes: “This is a long held view that Penrith Lakes Development Corporation is fully aware of.”

The plan to raise the dam wall has been promoted as a flood mitigation scheme primarily to protect existing residents of the flood-prone region. It has been wracked by controversy due to the inundation it would cause to sensitive parts of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area including hundreds of Indigenous sites.

Asked whether raising the dam wall was environmentally friendly, Mr Elliott replied that “man isn’t environmentally friendly”.

“So whenever we do something like dig a mine, build a dam, construct a city, lay a road, the environment’s going to suffer, so what we have to do is make sure it’s mitigated,” he said.

“My view is all those greenies that think that a dam is going to damage the environment in the catchment area are forgetting the fact that the flood damages the environment in the flooding area. I’m also a strong believer that our first obligation as a government is to protect life and livestock ... life and property.”

Experts have raised concerns of the ability of a raised wall to mitigate major flooding, given the impact of the tributaries coming in below the dam.

Mr Elliott also said that if raising the dam wall increased its capacity to hold water as well as mitigate flood damage, “well that’s a win-win situation”, but the government has previously said water storage is not an intended purpose of the project.

By Angus Thompson