Southern Sydney Branch has made a comprehensive submission objecting to both these planning documents. The proposed changes amount to a major shift in the balance between conservation, recreation, and commercial operations. You can read more in the submission.
The NPA submission followed months of deliberations by a dedicated team of members who undertook field surveys, met frequently, and reviewed published papers.
The primary concern was that minimal information of new visitor facility proposals was provided and no detail was given to their likely heritage impacts. The reserves are within easy access of millions of greater Sydney residents yet no attempt at determining sustainable carrying capacities was undertaken. Instead more visitor facilities are proposed including ‘serviced’ camping with car-based sites allowing for campervans in expanded recreation zones.
Of concern was that the draft plans state that proposed new visitor facilities will be subject to future NPWS environmental assessments for which the NPWS has a policy of not making publicly available. Related to this is that comprehensive flora and fauna surveys of the reserves are decades old.
NPA had to seek additional mapping from the NPWS to show that the proposed mountain biking networks crossed over areas of mapped endangered ecological communities, while statements in the plans said that such outcomes would not be allowed.
According to the draft plans, a 2002 trial that allowed mountain biking to occur on 6km of track in addition to the 150km of allowed management trails, has resulted in at least 104km of additional illegal tracks, half of which NPWS now propose to formalise. Recent work by NPA has shown that in some proposed mountain bike areas, the actual length of existing illegal tracks is 50% greater than that listed in the draft plans. This brings into question the ability of the NPWS to apply legislation that clearly make such actions an offence.
NPA proposed that mountain biking in the reserves be restricted to the existing management trail network, and that Government look for opportunities on other lands to meet demand. A number of mountain bike discussion papers have been produced by the NPWS which when accessed show that mountain bike riders represent less that 0.8% of all visitors, however large parts of the reserves are to be zoned for mountain biking, incorporating the grading of tracks to meet international standards and allowance for national, regional and club events.
The NSW Government recently announced a major $80 million funding boost for a visitor facility expansion in the reserves. Therefore there are proposals in the draft plans for new facilities that have no assessment of impacts, the NPWS has not yet considered community input on those draft plans, the Minister has not signed off on a new plan of management, and yet proposed new facilities are already funded.