Frensham’s Controversial Bush Cabins Delayed in Court

Frensham Defers Land and Environment Court Case.  It is unclear how long this delay will last

Frensham last week moved to ‘vacate the dates’ of the 12/14th October for the hearing in the Winifred West Schools v Wingecarribee Shire Council case over the Frensham Bush Student Accommodation.  This means, in effect, that Frensham has deferred the court hearing.

Opposition to this building project proposed on a portion of Frensham School’s undisturbed land known as the Lower Holt has seen many members of the School’s own ‘family’ join WinZero in a campaign to prevent building on that site. Over 2400 people have signed a petition to the Board of Governors asking they choose another location as the Lower Holt is central to a vital waterway, is part of a wildlife corridor with a presently viable wildlife colony and contains significant remnant natural vegetation.

The Upper and Lower Holt on the Frensham grounds, are recognised by water authorities as important filters to protect and enhance the quality of run-off water as it enters the Nattai River system. When Frensham chose the Lower Holt location for their proposed Bush Cabins accommodation project, they did not take into account this and other environmental restraints prescribed for that location.

Initially, in 2020, Wingecarribee Shire Council (WSC) planners recommended approval of the DA but the WinZero campaign highlighted many deficiencies in the reports presented by Frensham in support of the DA. This culminated in the deferment by WSC of a decision on the DA.  A condition of the deferment imposed by WSC was for a meeting to be held between Frensham and the community with the specific aim of discussing the possibility of relocating the development to an alternative site where environment and habitat impacts would be minimised.

Frensham failed to enter any such conversation and has continued to ignore the voice of its local community. It is notable that no local ecologist, environmentalist or wildlife carer supports this development in its present location. Despite WInZero’s ongoing strenuous efforts to achieve such consultation, the School chose, instead, to take the case directly to the Land and Environment Court.

One of the major points of disagreement between Frensham and the community has been the role of the wildlife carer who has rehabilitated many native animals on the site. This program has been undertaken not only with the approval of the School but as an important part of its well-promoted environment program.  However, the School did not involve this wildlife carer in the process of selecting the site, even though it is now asserting wrongfully that it did so.  This is naturally causing a great deal of distress to the wildlife carer who says she would not have rehabilitated these orphans in the Lower Holt if she had known about the plans.

Leadership at Frensham in recent years has moved the school away from its founding covenant of positive engagement with community and edged the school towards a more exclusive and exclusionary stance. Recent evidence of this was seen in a 2020 attempt by Frensham to privatise a section of a public road, Mittagong’s Waverley Parade. The community responded with anger at what was seen to be a high-handed move to take possession of their roadway and strong opposition ensued.

The application to purchase Waverley Parade was ultimately unanimously rejected by WSC.

With the impact of climate change and, in particular, since the Bush Fire Season of 2019/20, new imperatives for protection of the environment have been brought into high relief. This is resulting in an urgent awareness of the need for best practice management of all remnant natural bushland places, no matter how fragile their condition. 

People represented in the WinZero campaign remain hopeful that Frensham will emerge from the isolationist ‘bubble’ into which it has retreated and join the community in addressing complex issues of mutual concern to achieve the best possible outcome for management of the precious environment we share in Wingecarribee Shire.

Background on WinZero

WinZero is the community organisation focussing efforts on defending the local Wingecarribee environment and building resilience to climate change.  These efforts include action to protect riparian zones and wildlife corridors that are so important in strengthening and enriching the Shire’s biodiversity, the high quality of which is under ongoing threat from development. 

Read more about the Bush Student Accomodation here

8 thoughts on “Frensham’s Controversial Bush Cabins Delayed in Court”

  1. there is also a large tract of natural bush land on the other side of Mt Gibralter that has a DA pending I think. Is WinZeor involved in this campaign?

  2. When Frensham declared the Lower Holt
    LAND FOR WILDLIFE in 2014 , they made a moral commitment that can’t now be reversed.

  3. I was looking at a map of the area in the Southern Highlands phone directory 2021/22 and the land which is in question is marked “green”. According to the Legend that means either National Park or State Forest or Park or Recreation Area depending on the depth of the “green”. If is the former, then the whole plan is illegal. There is also marked an Equestrian Centre which is not there at the moment although I have heard that it is the planning stage which will also decimate the area. Has anyone seen these plans?

    1. Rosanne, yes the site has a 100+m wide Category 1 – Environmental Corridor under the Council LEP in addition to the width of the Nattai River. The Nattai River’s headwaters start just South of the Frensham grounds and it is eroding and widening markedly with these major flood events we are experiencing in the Southern Highlands. Had the importance of this zone and requirements under SEPP (2011) been known, the buildings, infrastructure, planned land-use and required clearing shouldn’t have been proposed in this area. What was particularly worrying is Frensham stated, in publicly distributed letters, that this Environmental Corridor didn’t exist. One can only wonder if Frensham’s Board of Governors, as custodians of this land, actually understand the environmental value of this special piece of land.

  4. Hi Rosanne, from the perspective of a Frensham old girl and parent I do hope this development is illegal for the reasons you have stated. Winifred West, who founded the School, certainly considered this land something to be preserved and which the School had a duty of custodianship over. A few decades ago a member of the Frensham board of governors managed to get some protection for the Upper Holt. We’re certainly hoping that the current managers of the School have a memory of the principles of Winifred West to stop this development on the Lower Holt too.

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