Reference Group

Gandangara has ensured it receives the very best thinking on environmental, social and economic sustainability as it develops its plans at Heathcote Ridge.

To this end, Gandangara established a Heathcote Ridge Sustainability Reference Group to provide advice on how to build best-practice communities. This unique approach will see the project exceed the minimum standards set by the industry.

Mark Aarons chairs the Group and Phillip Toyne, Professor Peter Phibbs and Kelly Knowles provide specialist advice on the environment, social and economic considerations.

The Sustainability Reference Group was established in early 2011 after studies at Heathcote Ridge got underway.

Members of the Group have taken guided tours though the site and meet on a regular basis to review progress and interrogate the planning process as it progresses.

The Group has already made important contributions on conservation and conservation management, housing affordability and economic development.

Members consulted with key stakeholders in the development of the Heathcote Ridge Reference Group Report which was included in Gandangara’s submission to the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.

A number of recommendations came out of the report and Gandangara have agreed to all the recommendations in principle. The main recommendations include:

  • Gandangara sourcing an expert service provider to assist in the management of the conservation reserve;
  • Gandangara providing housing at a range of price points through a mix of initiatives, including affordable home ownership, affordable rental homes and affordable aged housing in addition to mid to high-end residential options;
  • Gandangara providing state-of-the-art facilities such as local interactive hubs that make co-location of work-life activities easier, including opportunities for staged growth on the employment lands towards higher order uses;
  • Gandangara to commit to be an innovative and socially responsible developer through a comprehensive public transport plan;
  • Gandangara to investigate a range of opportunities for reduced car use, including the potential for car share schemes, car rental schemes and public bicycle programs;
  • Gandangara to establish sustainable benchmarks for the design and construction of housing and employment centres.

The full report can be downloaded here: Heathcote Ridge Sustainability Reference Group Report



Member Bios


Mark Aarons – Chair 

Mark Aarons is a long-term Sutherland Shire resident and has extensive expertise in balancing socio-economic and environmental outcomes in contentious situations.

From 2005-2007 he was Senior Advisor to the NSW Government on environment, climate change, water and energy policy, providing high level advice to Premier Morris Iemma on the Murray Darling Basin, renewable energy, national and marine parks and urban water strategies.

From 1996-2005 he was Deputy Chief of Staff to Bob Debus, the NSW Attorney General and Minister for the Environment. He led the environment team during major conservation decisions, including several major forestry assessments resulting in the creation of new national parks and the restructuring of the timber industry, the establishment of marine parks and implementation of water reform, both urban and rural. He oversaw the reform of the environment portfolio and the establishment of a single NSW environment agency.

Mr Aarons is an author and former ABC investigative reporter. He has written on a wide range of subjects for many major Australian newspapers and magazines as well as publishing six books


Phillip Toyne 

Phillip Toyne is one of Australia’s best known environmentalists. He has played a major role both in Australia and internationally on the issues of biodiversity, sustainable development and climate change. His former roles have included Head of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Environment and co-founder of the National Land Care program. Currently, Phillip is a Director at Eco Futures.

Phillip has been involved in successful campaigns on mining in Kakadu, the Wet Tropics, Antarctica, and began the long process of merging green and Aboriginal partnerships. His work with the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal people included the successful negotiation of the passage of the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act, resulting in the granting of freehold to 103 000 square kilometers of the Pitjatjatjara traditional lands.  He later negotiated the transfer of freehold title to the Uluru (Ayers Rock ) National Park to its traditional owners and its lease back as a national park. This arrangement is today used as a model around the world in reconciling indigenous and environment issues.


Peter Phibbs 

Professor Phibbs is an urban planning academic with an international reputation in the area of housing studies. Formerly the Associate Dean (Staff) in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sydney, his research in recent years has been in housing issues such as planning for sustainable change, housing for an ageing population, housing for key workers and the broad area of affordable housing. Infrastructure planning reviews have included analysis of road transport proposals and transport funding models.

In his current role at the Urban Research Centre he is convener of the Master of Urban Management and Planning and the suite of short courses, which makes up the Professional Development Program of the Urban Research Centre. This includes courses in Urban Governance, Developing Sustainable Places and Financing Cities. He is the University of Western Sydney coordinator for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.

Peter is also an expert in the funding of effective transport systems.  Peter will provide advice on emerging strategies that best address the timely delivery of transport infrastructure alongside development.


Kelly Knowles 

As a long time Sutherland resident, Kelly Knowles brings to the Reference Group a great local knowledge of the place and people of the Sutherland Shire along with experience in community consultation and local business, educational and environmental initiatives

Kelly is the Human Resource Manager for a major aircraft manufacturer and a current member of the University of Wollongong’s governing body.  As a former Councillor at Sutherland Shire Council, Kelly has established a reputation for fostering economic and community development through links to business and education.

In her time as a Councillor, Kelly chaired the Sutherland Shire Hub of Economic Development an award winning, not for profit business accelerator that provides development support, mentoring and a collaborative office space for local entrepreneurs to build better and more profitable businesses. She also chaired the Councils Environment Committee, which focused on conserving the local natural environment.

Community Consultation

A critical part of the preparation of the Heathcote Ridge project is consultation. Gandangara aim to bring a high level of transparency to the planning for Heathcote Ridge through meaningful consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. In addition to this Gandangara has established an independent expert group to provide advice on best practice.

Over 30 key stakeholders have been consulted with to date including:

  • Local Councils;
  • Relevant State and Commonwealth agencies;
  • Utility providers;
  • Emergency services; and
  • Adjoining landowners.

In the initial consultation phase Gandangara held two targeted neighbour forums and three broader community forums in Menai and Sutherland. When the plans were placed on public exhibition two community display sessions were held with experts on hand to answer questions.

Consultation with Sutherland Shire Council and Liverpool City Council is an on-going part of the development of the proposal.

Much of the engagement with relevant State and Commonwealth agencies, utility providers and emergency services is undertaken though the various technical experts in our project team due to the specialist nature of the investigations.

Consultation with landowners adjoining the site includes major landowners of Department of Defence, ANSTO, Sutherland Council and the State Government as well as residential areas of Menai.

There are a range of environmental, business and local interest groups that have also been contacted about the project.

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