12 May 2017

Aura has taken out the Project Innovation award at the 2017 Property Council of Australia/Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation & Excellence Awards for its unique approach to community consultation and world-leading sustainability initiatives.

Aura’s Engagement Excellence Program has lifted community stakeholder collaboration to new heights, with outcomes setting new benchmarks in environmental research, social infrastructure and economic development.

The program was conceived by Stockland during the initial planning stages of Aura, following extensive consultation with local community organisations and the Sunshine Coast Council, and seeks to identify and optimise opportunities for community management of natural areas within Aura.

The program was inaugurated in 2014 as part of the Aura Community Stewardship Group, which is being co-ordinated by independent organisation, Healthy Land and Water. It continues to evolve and now includes more than 18 community stakeholder groups working in close collaboration with Stockland.

Ben Simpson, Regional Manager for the Sunshine Coast at Stockland, said the program clearly demonstrates the benefits of broad community engagement at the very early stages of a project.

“Aura is the first new city in Australia to be designed and constructed to the world’s highest environmental and sustainability standards and is home to the nation’s largest wetland rehabilitation project,” Mr Simpson said.

“It will take us more than 30 years to develop the Priority Development Area and the community will be here in perpetuity, so the actions undertaken and implemented today will echo for generations, therefore it is absolutely imperative that we get it right.

“By working together with our community stakeholders, we have achieved a broad range of outcomes that are setting new standards within the Australian development industry and there is more to come.

“The stewardship group has resulted in improvements to the Aura masterplan, research partnerships with universities, community-led rehabilitation initiatives – the list goes on.

“It’s a win-win for the Aura project, the community and the environment and I am delighted that our efforts have been recognised with this prestigious award.”

The program was instrumental in Aura achieving a 6 Star Green Star – Communities rating from the Green Building Council of Australia, the nation’s first city building project to achieve this.

It has also received the support of the Federal Government’s Green Army program, with Stockland, Healthy Land and Water and Conservation Volunteers Australia collaborating to fund, train and manage a team of nine young jobseekers to rehabilitate the Bells Creek Catchment in 2015. The six-month project included weed management, seed collection, propagation and construction of a training nursery shade house that will form part of the Aura community nursery.

Covering 2,360 hectares, the Aura site is comprised of degraded land previously used for pine forestry. The site is located several kilometres from the Pumicestone Passage, a Ramsar-listed wetland, and throughout all stages of planning, Stockland has been acutely aware of its environmental responsibilities in managing and developing the site.

Mark Stephens, Senior Environment and Community Development Manager at Stockland, said research partnerships with the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and Sunshine Coast University and other organisations are piloting new technologies to protect important environmental values at Aura, including water quality and endangered species.

“More than 152ha of Wallum Sedgefrog habitat is being created at Aura including the creation of dedicated frog movement corridors across the site, which will include hundreds of dedicated frog breeding ponds,” Mr Stephens said.

“We’re also creating dedicated frog and fauna crossings at every major road.”

Mr Stephens said pioneering research is developing new ways of using the latest technology for more efficient and reliable assessments of fauna within a particular area. Further research is uncovering new insights into the conditions needed for preserving, creating and maintaining successful habitats.

High efficiency sediment basins to treat construction runoff are setting new standards in Australia, protecting downstream waterways and the Pumicestone Passage.

The collaboration of community stakeholders has also made it possible for cultural fire experts to teach cultural fire management techniques to traditional owners and local firefighters at the Aura site for the first time on the Sunshine Coast. Meanwhile, a partnership with local school Unity College has given students access to some of the world’s leading environmental experts.

Onsite recycling is also taking place, with soil suitable for frog habitats harvested from construction areas and placed in conservation corridors; and potential habitat logs recycled and moved to the future environmental protection zone to support biodiversity in regrowth areas. Eighty-nine nesting boxes have been made from local recycled timber and installed along road corridors.

Mr Stephens said Aura was setting new standards that would shape the future of the development industry.

“We are developing the world’s best practice sustainability strategies that will ensure our unique flora and fauna integrate harmoniously into the urban fabric of our new city,” he said.

More than 700 hectares, or nearly one-third of the site, will be rehabilitated and designated as conservation and environmental protection land.