New park lands hospital gets federal environment tick

Premier Peter Malinauskas says his government’s plan to build the new $3.2 billion Women’s and Children’s Hospital on heritage-listed park lands has won a tick of approval from the Commonwealth environment department.

Nov 16, 2023, updated Nov 16, 2023
Plans for the new Women's and Children's Hospital being built on city parklands. Photo: supplied

Plans for the new Women's and Children's Hospital being built on city parklands. Photo: supplied

Malinauskas told State Parliament yesterday that he was “pleased to report” that potential impacts on the National Heritage Listed Adelaide Park Lands were deemed insufficient to trigger a national controlled action assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act).

The federal department found the development was “unlikely to adversely impact habit critical to the survival” of the grey-headed flying fox listed as vulnerable, with its national recovery plan noting a “nationally important roosting camp exists on the Adelaide Park Lands”.

Its Statement of Reasons for a Decision also noted that the state government said it would try to protect habitat trees and take measures including a Bat Management Plan.

The report rejected 165 public comments claiming the new WCH development should be a controlled action because it would impact the park lands that won national heritage listing in 2008 for early colonial planning, the original city grid and encircling park lands.

“There is no doubt that by choosing to build the hospital on the Women’s and Children’s site, that we were opening ourselves up to political criticism,” Malinauskas said in parliament when he revealed the decision.

“We were going to give our political opponents a few things to play with, to complain about, and they have walked straight into that trap.”

The report by the Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water Department’s branch head of environmental assessment Kylie Calhoun was published on the department site this week.

It said the new WCH’s hospital building, eight-storey car park and two-storey energy plant plan did not trigger controlling provisions under the park lands’ national heritage listing.

Calhoun’s assessment related to National Heritage Places sections 15B and 15C under the EPBC Act addressing an action that will have or is likely to have a significant impact on its heritage values in circumstances involving actions taken by:

  • constitutional corporations;
  • commonwealth or commonwealth agency;
  • purposes of international or interstate trade or commerce;
  • in a commonwealth area or a territory;
  • impact on National Heritage values to the extent that they are indigenous heritage values;
  • in respect of which Australia has obligations under article eight of the biodiversity convention.

“None of the circumstances in which 15B and 15C would prohibit an action with a significant impact on the national heritage values of the national heritage place exist,” the report found.

Yesterday, Malinauskas told parliament that under the EPBC referral the development was not deemed a controlled action and there were no conditions attached.

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“So, the commonwealth regulator has given the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital a tick for heritage and a tick for park lands because this project is going to see more park lands returned,” he said.

“When we get to the beginning of the 2030s and the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital is opening, every South Australian will know that it was this Labor government that gave a better outcome for the park lands, a better outcome for this heritage site but, most critically, a better outcome for women and children in this state with a hospital that will last.”

The assessment was triggered by a state DASH Architects heritage report on the development that found several issues that could adversely affect the listed park lands long term, finding that it should be scrutinised under the national Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) that protects the park lands.

DASH Architects said the planned new hospital and carpark were “significantly larger in scale and height” than the existing state heritage-listed Thebarton Police Barracks which are set for demolition, with “greater visual prominence” that will risk the “openness” of the existing protected parklands.

It considered the new hospital could also have a long-term impact on Colonel William Light’s Adelaide plan and its “encircling park lands”.

The findings meant the SA Health and Wellbeing Department lodged self-assessment plans with the federal Environment Department last month, with its report refuting the claims.

“Approximately 5.65 ha of the disturbance footprint is the site of the proposed action (excluding construction service areas and road upgrades). Of this, less than half is in the National Heritage Listed Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout,” the submission led by new WCH project director Brendan Hewitt said.

“However, the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital Act 2022 introduces legislation that ‘switches’ off this zoning in this location for the purpose of the development of the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital.”

The state government said landscaping and pedestrian linkages would “mitigate this potential impact” and open areas previously closed to the public, while encroachment on the park lands was “minimal”.

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