A Federal Court judgement made on Thursday, July 8, that found the Australian Government must assess the risk to future generations of emissions from burning fossil fuels, has been welcomed by the Central Coast’s Climate Future group.
“This ruling will hopefully demonstrate that the Australian Government, including the Prime Minister and Environment Minister, have a personal responsibility to consider the risks posed to young people by climate change,” said Climate Future Chair, Richard Weller.
“It is clear that our Federal Court understands the gravity of the climate emergency we are facing and is sending a strong message to our political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of approving any new coal mines or mining expansions,” Mr Weller said.
“Judge Mordy Bromberg has ruled that before Whitehaven Coal Ltd is permitted to extend its Vickery coal operation in NSW, the Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, must assess the consequences of additional greenhouse gas emissions from the coal produced,” he said.
To quote from the Bromberg judgement – ‘The risk of harm that the minister must take reasonable care to avoid is personal injury or death to the children arising from the emission of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal extracted from the extension project’.
“Judge Bromberg is not alone in his judgement as climate campaigns in many countries turn to their courts for legal recognition of the intergenerational risks posed by the burning of fossil fuels,” Mr Weller said.
“In May The Hague ruled that Royal Dutch Shell Plc must cut emissions faster than planned and many other climate actions are pending in courts around the world,” he said.
“This judgement will hopefully act as a precedent for the examination of future coal projects by the Australian Government.
“His judgement specifically referred to a duty of care in relation to ’emissions of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere’ so it could apply to any project with emissions that needs approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
“This precedent makes it clear that our government must commit to cutting emissions and do so at an accelerated pace.”
A voluntary change to accounting practices adopted by the first Central Coast Council Administrator in 2016 was disastrous for the new council and must be examined as part of the Public Inquiry being conducted by Roslyn McCulloch.
Chair of the Community Environment Network (CEN), Mr Gary Chestnut, said the group felt compelled to make a submission to the McCulloch Inquiry because of the impact the Council’s financial situation was having on its legal responsibility to Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD).
“CEN exists to support ESD and fight threats to it and Central Coast Council’s financial problems pose a substantial threat to the ecological sustainability of this region,” Mr Chestnut said.
“That is why the CEN has decided to speak out about the real causes of the Central Coast Council’s financial situation and we believe those causes include a voluntary change to accounting practices made in 2016,” Mr Chestnut said.
“The current terms of reference exclude anything that took place before September 2017, so we have written to Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock requesting that the terms of reference are broadened to examine this issue,” he said.
CEN’s submission to the inquiry highlights that, prior to the September 2017 council election, Administrator Ian Reynolds and CEO Gary Noble approved the accounting change that meant restricted water funds were reported as unrestricted and available to spend within the Council’s consolidated general fund.
“In other words, it looked like the Council had hundreds of millions of dollars more cash to spend on capital works projects than it really did,” he said.
“This policy was adopted by the Central Coast Council and its Executive Leadership Team and has never been rescinded.
“It has been undetected and unchanged by a number of Chief Executive Officers (CEO), Acting CEOs and CFOs and was never explained to the elected Councillors.
Central Coast Council’s Internal Auditor, its Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee (ARIC), the NSW Audit Office and consultant auditors all subsequently failed to question the practice which significantly eroded Council’s restricted funds and contributed to a cash crisis in 2020.
The NSW Crown Solicitor has recently provided advice to the NSW Auditor General which further complicates this issue by finding that the spending of those funds was legitimate, according to CEN.
“This advice by the NSW Crown Solicitor may change the financial position of Council considerably.
“The Public Inquiry must be able to examine whether the additional $150 million borrowed since the councillors were suspended was necessary and whether it was reasonable or just to blame the councillors for the organisation’s financial weaknesses given the Crown Solicitor’s advice has legitimized the spending of restricted funds.
“The ongoing mis-reporting of restricted reserves cannot be overlooked as one of the core reasons for the Central Coast Council’s financial failure. It must be examined by the inquiry.”
Climate Future has written an Open Letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison (and sent a copy to every Federal and NSW parliamentarian) pointing out that as the leader of the country he has a duty of care to protect its children from the consequences of climate change.
Climate Future Chair, Richard Weller, said he was compelled to write to the Prime Minister calling for urgent action because “the situation is dire and needs immediate mitigation.
“We are currently heading towards more than 3 ̊C increase, which would lead to a collapsing economy and geopolitical instability,” Mr Weller said. “This is now a question that can only be faced through top level political leadership.
“To avoid an economic and social catastrophe we must act urgently,” he said. “Every year of delay costs Australia $68 Billion/year.”
The Open Letter to Scott Morrison called upon the PM to “take the required leadership” as follows:
Mr Weller said a target of 75% by 2030 would mean that there could be no new fossil fuel projects approved and that existing assets would need to be retired (including petrol/diesel vehicles).
“This would require proper management to minimize economic impacts and transition employees that are affected to new industries,” he said. “We are given the task of stewardship for this planet on which we live.
“Scientists across a broad range of disciplines are warning us that our climate system is spiralling towards disaster.
“We have a moral duty to cease emissions of greenhouse gases so that our children and grandchildren can avoid a chaotic climate and inherit the world in a healthy condition.
“We would be negligent to do otherwise.
“The delays of the last 30 years leave us in the position that the transition is now an emergency and immediate action is required to avoid disaster.
“No other course is open to us but to rapidly cut our emissions.
“Climate change impacts are already affecting Australians. Examples include the 2019-20 bushfire season and the increasing drought situation across the Murray-Darling basin.
“Fabulous opportunities exist for Australia in the new low carbon economy if we act now.
“Instead of mining coal and gas we can mine our abundant sun and wind resources to export renewable energy to the world,” Mr Weller said.
The Community Environment Network (CEN) supports the Central Coast Council’s recommendation to refuse an application for a four-lot subdivision on environmentally valuable land at 35 to 45 Clarence Road, Springfield.
“CEN hopes the Local Planning Panel adheres to the recommendation and refuses this proposal when it meets on Thursday,” said CEN Executive Member, Mr Gary Chestnut. “The application was referred to the Planning Panel because of the high number of submissions received – an indicator that the proposal does not have community support.
“The proposed subdivision would be contrary to zone objectives, the character of the site and surrounding area. It would not provide a sufficient buffer for the critically endangered Rhodamnia rubescens species and would require clearing of the buffer zone protecting the Ecologically Endangered Community (EEC) of rainforest. The South-Western portion of the land is also flood prone,” Mr Chestnut said.
“In fact, the five reasons given to the Planning Panel to refuse the application are self-explanatory and irrefutable,” he said. “The proponent has submitted inaccurate information about the contours of the land. They have provided inadequate information on the turning heads required by the Rural Fire Service. Their Arboricultural Impact Assessment Report gave inadequate information on the proposal’s impact on trees.
“The Arborist report detailed that of the 157 trees surveyed, all were recommended for removal with the exception of four palm trees,” he said. “Their suggested removal of a ‘dam’ known to, and loved by, locals as the Springfield Pond Wetland is simply unacceptable.”
Mr Chestnut said the Local Planning Panel’s refusal of this latest subdivision proposal should “put an end” to any plans to subdivide and develop the land which is one of the last remaining corridors between Rumbalara and the Erina Creek Wetlands.
“The best outcome for biodiversity, for sustainability and for the community, would be for this land to be added to the Coastal Open Space System (COSS),” Mr Chestnut said.
“Every development proposal put forward since 2016 has failed to provide adequate protection to this ecologically valuable land which is home to two species of vulnerable microbats, Latham’s Snipe, the critically endangered Rhodamnia rubescens and a rainforest community,” he said.
This latest proposal was submitted to Council in November 2018, Mr Chestnut said. “The proponent has been given more than adequate time to provide Council with additional and accurate information and has failed to do so. The panel must refuse this proposal.”
The Central Coast Council's report recommending the refusal of the proposal can be found here.
For more information about Springfield Ponds Wetlands visit their website.
CEN has ranked the operational assets that Central Coast Council has put forward as potentially for sale from most suitable to least. Read here for the full story.
The Community Environment Network (CEN) has thanked Central Coast Council Administrator, Mr Rik Hart, for making it clear that he will not be reclassifying Community Land as part of Council’s asset sales program “unless absolutely necessary”.
“Those were Mr Hart’s words and CEN will do our best to hold him to them now that the community consultation for assets sales has closed,” said Executive Member of the Community Environment Network, Mr Gary Chestnut.
Mr Chestnut said representatives from CEN, the Central Coast branch of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Save Central Coast Reserves met with Mr Hart on May 25 to discuss community concerns about the asset sale.
“Mr Hart explained that Central Coast Council had considered a $90 million ‘basket’ of assets with sale potential from which it needed to sell $60 million worth of assets,” Mr Chestnut said. “It was a relief to hear Mr Hart clarify that only operational land that had not received a great deal of public opposition would be considered for sale at this time,” Mr Chestnut said.
“We also look forward to learning more about the options Mr Hart said Council was exploring with the Norah Head community in relation to their community hall and playground,” he said.
“At the conclusion of our meeting, Mr Hart undertook to provide answers to six questions and we look forward to receiving his response in the not-too-distant future.”
The questions were:
Mr Chestnut said CEN recommended that the following Operational assets should not be sold by Council because of their environmental value or contribution to the amenity and liveability of this region:
Environmental: 200 Thompson Vale Road Doyalson 2262 (Lot 762 DP 746526), 740 Thompson Vale Road Doyalson 2262 (Lot 32 DP 586913), 740 Thompson Vale Road Doyalson 2262 (Lot 78 DP 755245), 1550 Thompson Vale Road Doyalson 2262 (Lot 31 DP 586913), 11-20 Wyong Road, Tuggerah (Lots 15-21 DP 25373).
Green community space: 82 Yarram Road Bensville, 84 Yarram Road Bensville, 23 Memorial Avenue Blackwall, 23A Memorial Avenue Blackwall, 6 Tyrrell Place, Bateau Bay (Lot 478 DP 704452), 10 Lakeside Parade, The Entrance.
Important community uses: 219 Albany Street North Gosford 2250 (Lot 201 DP 840680), comprising Henry Wheeler Place (formerly Lots 7 & 10 DP 238231), 219b Albany Street North Gosford 2250 (Lot 203 DP840680), 219c Albany Street North Gosford 2250 (Lot 204 DP840680), 4 Tyrrell Place Killarney Vale, 126 Georgiana Terrace, Gosford (Lot 454 DP 727721).
Future cultural requirement: 53 Mann Street Gosford 2250 (Lot 3 DP 129268), 55-57 Mann Street Gosford (Lot 2 DP 129268), 59-71 Mann Street Gosford (Lot 1 DP 129268), 73 Mann Street Gosford (Lot B in DP 321076), 75 Mann Street Gosford (Lot 2 in DP 543135), 126 Georgiana Terrace, Gosford (Lot 454 in DP 727721)
CEN considers protection of the natural environment paramount. However, the liveability of Gosford and its position as a social and cultural hub for the Central Coast region is also a critical part of our commitment to sustainable development in the built environment. Consequently, and in an attempt to be balanced and respect Council’s need to reach $60 million of asset sales, CEN would be prepared to accept the conditional sale of the Thompson Vale Road land at Doyalson in exchange for the withdrawal of lots from 49 to 71 Mann Street, Gosford. The Mann Street properties were earmarked for the long-promised Regional Performing Arts Centre in Gosford.
CEN requested that Council consider the following assets for sale instead of some of the properties currently listed for consideration:
“The combined market value of 4 and 10 Warren Road and 140 Sparks Road would surely have made up a significant portion of the required $60 million asset sales target,” Mr Chestnut said. “CEN believes Central Coast Council should remove itself from the commercial risks involved in pursuing the development of a general aviation hub at Warnervale. It is not the core business of a local government. The airport could be sold as a going concern or as land for development.”
“We have urged Council to review all non-commercial arrangements and legacy relationships to put them on a commercial footing instead of providing ratepayer assistance to fundamentally lucrative operations and commercial assets.”
“It is CEN’s understanding that Council has work depots that are surplus to needs. We understand the need to keep some locations, such as Woy Woy, which has bore water infrastructure, but we question the need to hang on to other under-utilised operational land.
“If Council’s public face in its regional capital (Gosford) can be via a library, why does Central Coast Council need to retain either the Gosford or Wyong purpose-built premises?
“Mr Hart mentioned that the $90 million asset basket represented less than 1% of Council’s total land portfolio so perhaps employees could be relocated across other sites so that both the former Council buildings could be sold.
“Council meetings could be held in alternate venues such as the Erina Centre and the Art House. The sale of the Wyong building would provide an excellent site for infill development of affordable housing close to services and public transport,” Mr Chestnut said.
CEN also ranked Council’s Operational land sales list from most suitable for sale to least suitable for sale. The list, available here, was collated from Council agenda papers.
CEN did not rank any assets classified as Community Land although it will do so if Community Land needs to be reclassified and sold.
Saturday, June 5, is World Environment Day and the Community Environment Network (CEN) is inviting all Central Coast residents to do something positive for the environment by planting a tree.
It may shock the community to learn that each month locals make applications to Council to remove around 40 trees from their gardens, most of them natives.
That means hundreds of trees are being removed from local gardens every year in addition to the bushland being cleared to build new houses and other developments across the region.
The good news is that CEN harvests seeds and propagates trees that are natives and endemic to this region,” he said. “On the first Saturday of every month we open our Ourimbah nursery to the public so they can purchase endemic species for their gardens.
Our next wildplant nursery sale is this Saturday, June 5, which happens to be World Environment Day. CEN believes this is a great opportunity for Central Coast residents who are interested in growing endemic native species in their gardens to mark World Environment Day by coming along to our plant sale.
CEN nursery staff and volunteers provide information about each species and can give you planting tips. The nursery sale is also an opportunity to find out more about CEN’s programs and projects including Friends of COSS and COSS Connections, Land for Wildlife, Habitat for Wildlife and Waterwatch.
The public’s attention is often concentrated on the big environmental issues such as climate change, illegal clearing and endangered species which can be overwhelming and that is why we are asking Central Coast residents to embrace this year’s theme for United Nation’s World Environment Day by joining #GENERATIONRESTORATION.
As the United Nation’s has said in relation to World Environment Day 2021:
“This is our moment. We cannot turn back time. But we can grow trees, green our cities, rewild our gardens, change our diets and clean up rivers and coasts. We are the generation that can make peace with nature. Let’s get active, not anxious. Let’s be bold, not timid. Join #GenerationRestoration”
One tiny way to make a start is to spend $3, $5 or $7 on an endemic plant and give it a home in your garden. Another is to join CEN and get involved in local environmental issues. We encourage you to do both at Ourimbah (off Brush Rd, follow the signs) this Saturday from 9am to 12pm.
Join Central Coast Waterwatch on Friday, 4 June 2021 at 10am to celebrate World Environment Day.
Come on a guided walk along the Berkeley Vale foreshore and learn about your local waterway and wetland ecosystems with Central Coast Council’s Estuary Management Officer.
Learn about the work being done by Council to combat degradation and restore saltmarsh communities within the Tuggerah Lake system.
Find out how you can make a difference and help protect these important ecosystems.
Morning tea will be provided, just let us know of any dietary requirements in the comments section when you register to attend.
Venue: Blue Bell Park, Berkeley Vale Foreshore, 10am-12pm
Registrations are still open via our website
For more information Contact Central Coast Waterwatch Coordinator Rachael
Phone: 4349 4757
Register for this event via our website.
This event is supported by Central Coast Council through a Communtiy Development Grant.
Proposed amendments to the State Significant Development (SSD) at 89 John Whiteway Drive, Gosford, although welcome, will not address the excessive bulk and scale of the proposal or the substantial loss of vegetation, according to the Community Environment Network (CEN).
“The developer has argued the former quarry on the site has left parts of it ‘denuded and unsightly’ but the loss of 606 trees will have a massive impact on the Gosford ridgeline,” said CEN Executive Member, Mr Gary Chestnut.
“CEN welcomes the key amendments made to the proposal including the reduction in the building height, from between six and 12 storeys back to between five and nine storeys, and the reduction in the number of apartments from 260 to 204,” Mr Chestnut said. “We cannot agree, however, that the impact on vegetation and habitat, let alone amenity, is necessary or desirable.”
“The sheer scale of this development means too many trees need to be sacrificed to make way for the construction footprint (385) and meet the requirements of Planning for Bushfire Protection (221),” he said.
“Of the 830 trees surveyed within the site only 224 trees will be retained.
“A total of 606 trees will be removed, including six trees on neighbouring land at 80 John Whiteway Drive, for the bushfire Asset Protection Zone (APZ) and to accommodate the proposed building layout.”
Of the trees proposed for removal, 86 are medium or large size endemic (native to this area) trees and another 200 are endemic small-size trees. The remainder to be removed are native species not endemic to the site (243), exotic species (74) and three dead trees.
“It is positive that the trees which have been given the highest priority for retention are the large and medium size trees which contribute most to the visual and biodiversity values of the site,” Mr Chestnut said.
“The proposed vegetation management plan and landscaping proposals are also welcome but will not mitigate the loss of 15 Black Wattles, 21 Hickory Wattles, 42 Forest Oaks, 64 Rough-Barked Apples, 12 Grey Ironbarks, 105 Blackbutt, 16 Sydney Blue Gums, nine Cheese Trees, 237 non-endemic Swamp Oak and various other natives,” he said.
“CEN has strong reservations whether it is acceptable that the overall remaining canopy just exceeds the Draft Greener Places Guidelines for 15% canopy in Central Business District (CBD) localities or 25% in medium-to-high-density sites. This site is located on the ridge that connects to Rumbulara Reserve and is key to visual character of the city. We do not believe the unique vegetated landscape of the Gosford City should be measured against CBD or medium-to-high-density sites. This is the Gosford CBD not Chatswood or Hong Kong”.
“Additional trees may be removed where they present an unacceptable safety risk (even though this must be agreed by a qualified Geotechnical Engineer and Ecologist) so the overall number of trees to be lost may be even greater than 606.
“A total of 21 hollows in seven trees are proposed to be removed and will need to be replaced with nest boxes suitable for large possums or gliders, small gliders or parrots and micro bats. So even though no species were found to be impacted by the removal of vegetation these creatures obviously depend on hollows on the site as habitat.
“The APZ will require the management of canopy trees on the site in perpetuity including future tree removal, pruning and planting works.
“It remains to be seen whether or not the retention of selected trees, rocky habitats and managed understorey vegetation within the northern areas of the site or replanting works will result in some connectivity remaining for species with nearby Coastal Open Space System (COSS) reserves,” Mr Chestnut said.
“The proposal still exceeds the maximum building height under the Gosford City Centre SEPP 2018. In fact, the over-reach of this development reinforces CEN’s worst fears about how the Gosford City SEPP will destroy the unique character of Gosford City.
“CEN simply cannot accept that compliance with the height limit is unnecessary or unreasonable or that the revised design delivers an appropriate built form on the site or adequately reduces the visual impacts on the broader area.”
The Community Environment Network (CEN) has called for audits and penalties to stop excessive development variations through over-use of Clause 4.6 of the Standard Instrument LEP (NSW’s uniform planning tool).
In its submission to the Review of Clause 4.6 of the Standard Instrument LEP, CEN said the use (and abuse) of clause 4.6 to vary development standards had been contentious on the Central Coast for the past seven years.
“The development of residential flat buildings and multi-dwelling housing in the R1 Residential zone has been contentious because clause 4.6 has been widely used to vary the minimum lot size,” said CEN Executive Member, Mr Michael Conroy.
Mr Conroy said members had made many submissions because multi-unit developments that failed to meet the minimum lot size were also unlikely to meet development controls for side setbacks, private open space, solar access and overshadowing.
“Notwithstanding the well-argued submissions concerning the adverse impacts of developments that fail to meet the development standards, most such developments have been approved using clause 4.6,” Mr Conroy said.
A lack of accountability and transparency in the approval process resulted in the excessive use of clause 4.6, according to CEN.
“There is no evidence that the Department of Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE) reviews or analyses variations in development standards that are being approved,” Mr Conroy said. “How many Councils should have had their use of clause 4.6 reviewed before ICAC investigators discovered rorts at the former Canterbury Council?
“Variations in development standards that have been approved by Council officers under delegation should be reviewed to ensure they are not excessive or effecting a de-facto rezoning,” he said. “If Council officers have delegations to approve variations over 10 per cent, such approvals should be reviewed by the Local Planning Panel (LPP).”
Mr Conroy said CEN agreed in principle that a monitoring and auditing framework should be implemented by DPIE to monitor variations, review reasons for, the extent and nature of variations, audit those variations, publish the audit findings, and investigate larger, more frequent or unusual variations.
Councils could face penalties if misuse was established.
Mr Conroy said DPIE had previously required Councils to provide quarterly reports on DAs (approved under SEPP No 1) but “the Department did not have the resources needed to properly review all the variation decisions.
“The proposal to monitor variation decisions through the NSW Planning Portal has similar potential problems to the historic system if the Department is required to do all the regular auditing and investigation,” he said.
“An alternative arrangement would be for each LPP to monitor and audit the variation decisions of its Council. The Department could then monitor the decisions of the LPPs and investigate any Council where the LPP had reported larger or more frequent variations.”
CEN expressed its support for DPIE to require a developer to demonstrate that a variation would be consistent with the objectives of the standard, the zone and would result in an improved planning outcome.
CEN did not accept DPIE’s proposal to include an alternative test so ‘flexibility’ could be applied if an improved planning outcome couldn’t be demonstrated.
“If there are minor developments that cannot be designed to comply with the criteria, then the applicant should be advised to go back and re-consider their development proposal,” he said.
CEN rejected DPIE’s proposal that there should be no limit to the variation in a numeric standard.
“If a planning authority has gone through the process of including a development standard in an LEP or SEPP, the numeric standard should be based on analysis related to the objectives of that standard and should have been subject to public consultation,” he said.
“When SEPP No.1 was in force, it was the Department’s policy that large variations in development standards were tantamount to a de-facto rezoning and should be rejected.
“The Department used to advise Councils that they should consider preparing an LEP amendment (a planning proposal) if there were a number of DAs with significant variations in an area.
“A similar policy was recommended by ICAC when it reviewed the operation of Part 3A of the Act.
“ICAC concluded that the use of Part 3A to approve developments which exceeded development standards by more than 25% would potentially give the developer a windfall profit and thus increase the risk of corruption.”
The CEN submission agreed that development standards related to complying development and BASIX requirements should continue to be excluded from variation.
“The principle of complying development would become an oxymoron if a non-complying development could be certified as complying.”
The Community Environment Network (CEN) has urged the NSW Government to integrate National Pollution Inventory (NPI) data with known rates of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) on the Central Coast to measure the full impact of power station fallout on the local population.
CEN Executive member, Mr Mike Campbell OAM, said the Central Coast’s population is exposed to the pollution of power station fallout but there is no access to data on known public hospital admissions for URTIs for children or overall age groups.
“Documentation around problems of health and exposure have been notified to State Government bodies since as far back as the 1980s,” Mr Campbell said.
According to Mr Campbell, the NSW Government is currently considering submissions in response to its Draft Clean Air Strategy.
“It is a perfect opportunity for the Strategy to map the likely results of power station fallout by publishing material from our local hospitals,” Mr Campbell said.
“Seasonal influence via graphs would expose danger periods such as winter times and temperature inversion which normally exacerbate URTI reactions in the population.
“These steps would inform the public, health bodies and the Government to monitor impacts.”
“The National Pollution Inventory (NPI) maps the outputs of industry for the Australian Government.
“The huge tonnages of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxide (NOX) and heavy metals recorded by local power stations to the NPI should indicate the impact upon health from that continuous exposure.
“The NSW Government needs to integrate NPI figures to extrapolate the likely influences on URTI admissions on local populations.
“The integration of all the data available to the NPI, EPA NSW, the Environment Ministerial office and the Health Ministerial office should be accessible to the public.
“Not informing the state’s health bodies and those suffering URTI issues is surely a dereliction of duty, and a serious one at that.
“The Draft Strategy falls short in considering the vast pollution outputs of the power station industry as well as coal extraction pollution.
“By playing down these major influences the credibility of the NSW Government is put in doubt.
“Our constituency is suffering from pollution overload and it is incumbent upon our own NSW Government, through its agencies, to plan to address the correlation between pollution and public health, and to make those regular statistics publicly available so that change will occur with public knowledge and input,” Mr Campbell said.
“Doctors for the Environment have widely published statistics relating to the number of deaths and serious health impacts that the burning of coal has upon populations of the Hunter, Central Coast and Sydney.
“These figures are alarming in the least and need to be fleshed out in the public space.
“EPA NSW and the Department of Health should open up formal public debate on these claims to help inform the wider populace.”
Mr Campbell said CEN called upon EPA NSW to reject outright the current application by Vales Point Power Station for a further five-year extension of its Exemption Licence beyond standard pollution limits.
“To allow Vales Point to continue to exceed even current NSW limits would be a slap in the face to constituents of the Central Coast. The exemption licence to pollute above the already high value for acceptable NOX emissions in NSW should not be renewed.”
CEN’S SUBMISSION ON THE NSW GOVERNMENT DRAFT CLEAN AIR STRATEGY
The following is CEN’s whole submission.
The Community Environment Network is the peak community environment body on the Central Coast established over 20 years ago representing a large membership and many affiliated groups.
The population of the Central Coast are largely exposed to much of the pollution of power station fallout and documentation around problems of health and exposure have notified State Government bodies as far back as the 1980’s.
CEN refers here to the work of Environmental Justice Australia in their submission for “the People’s Clean Air Action Plan for NSW”. EJA have been working with CEN for the last 5 years bringing to notice the need for tighter regulations around air pollution by interviewing and advising both EPA NSW, local and State Members of Parliament and health agencies.
EJA’s Clean Air Action Plan identifies the largest sources of controllable air pollution and the actions that the NSW Government must take to reduce it to best practice control standards. We urge the NSW Government to adopt the Plan and the actions it lists throughout. The submitted 29 page document is comprehensively referencing 125 documents and studies both from Australia and overseas.
THE POWER INDUSTRY AND PUBLIC HEALTH
On the Coast we have no public access to known public hospital admissions for Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) for either children or overall age groups. For instance there is a perfect opportunity for the Strategy to map the likely results of power station fallout by publishing material from, local hospitals (Wyong and Gosford) likely to be higher, compared with, say, Belmont Hospital as a general reference point for least exposure to fallout from power generation. Seasonal influence via graphs would expose danger periods such as winter times and temperature inversion which normally exacerbate URTI reactions in the population.
These steps would inform the public, health bodies, and Government itself to monitor impacts.
The new air quality monitor only recently installed by the Government at Lake Macquarie has already issued “alerts” for exceedances of PM 10 pollution on five occasions within about six weeks. Here is an indication of what presents a problem for residents in the region.
The National Pollution Inventory (NPI) maps the outputs of industry for the Australian Government. The huge tonnages of SO2, NOX and heavy metals recorded by local power stations to the NPI should indicate the impact upon health from that continuous exposure. The NSW Government needs to become serious about integrating NPI figures and extrapolating the likely influences on URTI admissions on local populations here on the Central Coast and in the Hunter. The integration of all the data available to the NPI, EPA NSW, the Environment Ministerial office and the Health Ministerial office should be public accessible. By not informing the State’s health professional bodies and those suffering URTI issues is surely a dereliction of duty, and a serious one at that.
The Draft Strategy falls short in considering the vast pollution outputs of the power station industry as well as coal extraction pollution. By playing down these major influences the credibility of the NSW Government is put in doubt. The overwhelming data and input from studies as outlined in the EJA material will not go away but will continue to be refined and distributed to wider populations as each year goes on.
CEN, having worked with EJA during those last 5 years, has to agree that reforms have not progressed as they should. Our constituency, we know, is suffering from pollution overload and it is incumbent upon our own NSW Government, through its agencies, to plan to address the correlation between pollution and public health, and to make those regular statistics publicly available so that change will occur with public knowledge and input.
Doctors for the Environment organisation have widely published, as you would be aware, statistics relating to the number of deaths and serious health impacts that the burning of coal, has upon populations of the Hunter, Central Coast and Sydney. These figures are alarming in the least and need to be fleshed out in the public space. EPA NSW and the Department of Health should open up formal public debate on these claims to help inform the wider populace. These claims should not just be dismissed by Government bodies in one-line statements in the media.
The current application by Vales Point Power Station for a further five-year extension of its Exemption Licence beyond standard pollution limits should be rejected outright by EPA NSW. No NSW power station has world standard technology to contain pollutants. To allow Vales Point to continue to exceed even current NSW limits would be a slap in the face to constituents of the Central Coast. The exemption licence to pollute above the already high value for acceptable NOX emissions in NSW should not be renewed.
Renewables, in all aspects of either power generation or in vehicle transport, have made great advance in the last 10 years. Hybrid vehicles continue to play a role towards fully electric transport and have been embraced by the domestic population without major problems.
Public transport itself needs to expand and whilst the NSW Government has achieved advances in upgrading our rail network, once again embraced by the constituents of NSW, more is required to expand the bus networks throughout the state. Private operators often find it hard to deliver these services economically. State Government should look at greater incentives for private bus operators to expand services and to have those operators transition their fleet to either electric or hydrogen (which is emerging as a new and exciting resource) to enable greater economic use of public transport. This would be a genuine “win-win” for reducing road use and reducing pollution in a big way.
Fully electric private and public transport is beginning to impact upon the national fleet where we see, for instance, NRMA have advanced their own recharging station network. The NSW Government needs to ramp up this recharging system particularly in the Sydney metropolitan region, in Newcastle, Wollongong, and in larger regional rural centres. By advancing this system ahead of larger uptake of electric vehicles it will give greater incentive for people to choose to purchase this new age technology.
In both power generation and vehicle fleet moving forward to transition to new technologies, it is important to remember that new jobs quickly emerge in retrofitting as has been the case with installation of solar systems throughout NSW.
Whilst domestic battery/solar systems are currently expensive for the average household prices will continue to fall. Technicians talk of the idea of community-based batteries to gather solar generation. These batteries have been trialled overseas which see groups of households invest in a larger common roadside serviceable battery jointly owned and serviced by these households. This clearly spreads the economic outlay and servicing and reduces the dependence on poles and wires, seen by most people, as truly old infrastructure.
Natural disasters now impact upon communities more often and greater effort has to be given, at greater expense to the public purse, to repair public infrastructure effectively.
By people investing in independent battery systems the State Government is less likely to be called upon to spend large amounts for repair after a disaster.
CEN recommends the following:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent announcement on the Central Coast that his government will spend a total of $539 million on five hydrogen hubs and carbon capture projects will not be sufficient to handle the climate emergency.
Climate Future Chair, Mr Richard Weller, said “We do need a hydrogen industry and other new green products and energy to stay relevant in the new carbon-free economy and we must support the idea of finding new employment for those currently working in the fossil fuel industry.
“But Mr Morrison's proposal won’t be sufficient to handle the climate emergency,” Mr Weller said.
“US President Joe Biden has set a target of 50% emission reductions by 2030,” he said. “The UK is even more ambitious at 78% below 1990 levels by 2035. Many countries have targets of net zero by 2050.
“The current policies of our Government are simply not enough. Since 1990, Australia’s emissions have risen from 425 MtCO2e/y to 555, up 25% (not including land use and forestry).
“Our emissions rank us 15th of all the world’s nations while per capita we are worse, emitting more per person than any other major developed country. These numbers do not include what we export, such as our coal which is burned overseas.”
Mr Weller said Australia produces more CO2 than the UK which has 2.5 times our population.
“They have reduced their emissions by 45% since 1990 (800 to 450 MtCO2e/y) while we stood by and claimed special treatment.
“If we don’t take urgent action this decade, we will be left behind by the rest of the world with a stranded economy and collapsing employment. We have the best solar resources in the world and could be the largest energy producer of renewables - a ‘powerhouse’ if you like – but this requires the right support by our government for the necessary investment.
“To keep up with the USA, we would need to replace our entire energy production system with renewables by 2030 and electrify our transport fleet as well,” Mr Weller said.
This is still feasible according to Climate Future, a committee of the Community Environment Network (CEN) formed to promote action on climate change.
“If we start immediately, we can minimise the disruption to our economy but we need the Federal Government to drive this change”, said Mr Weller. “Neither of the major parties currently have sufficient ambition for the change necessary and we as voters need to galvanise this ambition.
“The scientists are saying that time is running out. Urgency should be the call of the day. The world has a carbon budget and we are fast using it up. Each year we delay means the targets must be harsher.
“If we don’t start till 2025, the target for 2030 must be much tighter again. This is the legacy of our governments' decisions over the last 30 years.
“We must convince our representatives – our federal parliamentarians, Lucy Wicks, Emma McBride and Senator Deborah O’Neill - that even more action is needed.
“The consequences of not taking action are already with us and will escalate with each year. COVID will be nothing compared to the impacts of more than 2C of warming if we continue to fail to act.”
The Central Coast Community Better Planning Group (CCCBPG) and the Community Environment Network (CEN) have urged NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, The Hon Rob Stokes MP, to refuse a planning proposal from Central Coast Council.
Chair of CCCBPG and Executive Member of CEN, Mr Gary Chestnut, said he had written to Mr Stoke and to Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Mr Adam Crouch, calling for NSW Planning to reject Central Coast Council’s 27 April resolution to submit a planning proposal for Mr Stokes’ approval.
“We believe the approach Council is pursuing is not in line with the state-wide implementation of the Standard Instrument which should result in ‘like for like’ zoning,” Mr Chestnut said.
“Central Coast Council is embarking on the rezoning of conservation land for other uses,” he said.
“The planning proposal was intended to achieve the integration of Deferred Matters (DM) land into Central Coast Local Environmental Plan (LEP) in accordance with relevant sections of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.”
Mr Chestnut said deferred matters land was currently subject to the provisions of Interim Development Order No. 122 (IDO 122) and Gosford Planning Scheme Ordinance (GPSO).
“We understand the resolution of deferred matters land is important,” he said. “However Central Coast Council’s resolution will not result in the application of a consistent zoning framework across the Central Coast,” he said.
“The IDO 122 7(a) Conservation Land has been zoned for the last 42 years with the same objectives as the E2 Environmental Conservation Zone so it’s logical that all 7(a) Conservation land should be zoned E2.
“Council’s resolution will result in 7(a) Conservation Zoned land being placed in zones other than E2 even though E2 is the ‘like for like’ zone in the state-wide Standard Instrument (SI).
“Council’s Director of Environment and Planning stated that land currently zoned 7(c2) Scenic Protection, depending upon its location, will be rezoned to either E3 or E4 rather than the ‘like for like’.”
Mr Chestnut addressed the 27 April Council meeting and proposed “That all deferred matters land that is zoned 7(a) Conservation under IDO 122 be zoned E2 Environmental Conservation and those parcels of land that have an existing dwelling right have an enabling clause applied in the SI to permit the erection of a residential dwelling and that all deferred matters land zoned 7(c2) Scenic Protection rural small holdings and 7(c3) scenic protection tourist accommodation be zoned E3 Environmental Management”.
Interim Administrator, Mr Dick Persson AM, gave the alternative proposal serious consideration but went with the staff recommendation expressing the view that he did not think it appropriate to place the cost of rezoning upon individual landowners.
“Had our recommendation been adopted the issue of deferred matters within the Central Coast LGA could have been resolved then and there,” Mr Chestnut said.
“Some landowners may hold the view that their land could be rezoned to a less restrictive conservation zone which could potentially increase their property values.
“If that is the case the property owner should take responsibility for the preparation, management, lodgement and cost of a planning proposal for another zone.
“Currently 3,445 property owners have DM landholdings in the former Gosford LGA. Of those, only 300 wrote submissions about the move to the SI.
“In state electorates such as Terrigal, for instance, where there is a great deal of deferred matters land, landholders who have acquired environmental land as a lifestyle choice may end up with their land rezoned to allow permitted uses not conducive to their lifestyle.
“At a time when Central Coast Council continues to face significant financial challenges, we believe that it should not be Council and ratepayers who carry the impost of planning proposals but private landholders.
“Had Interim Administrator Mr Dick Persson resolved to move deferred matters land to E2 on 27 April significant council resources could have been saved.
“We believe the planning proposal put forward for Minister Stokes’ approval will take significant time and council resources to implement and result in significant loss of Environmental Conservation land,” Mr Chestnut said.
The Community Environment Network (CEN) has welcomed the decision by Central Coast Council to give the community three weeks to provide feedback on its plan to reclassify, rezone and then sell off 27 lots of community land.
“This proposed land sale includes parcels from Norah Head and Toukley in the north to Ettalong and Umina in the south so the whole Central Coast community needs to take note of the assets - the environmental land, open spaces, bush reserves, community carparks and other facilities - it stands to lose,” said Executive Member of the Community Environment Network, Mr Gary Chestnut.
“Central Coast residents were told at the beginning of this period of administration that no environmental assets would be sold and yet this latest list of land sales includes a wetland and bush lots,” Mr Chestnut said.
“It includes some of the same community assets that the former Gosford Council was forced to withdraw from reclassification in 2015 as a result of community push back,” he said.
Mr Chestnut said the clock was already ticking and the community had until 21 May to visit Council's community engagement website and let Council know why these assets should remain classified as community land.
“Community land cannot be sold. Council must first reclassify it to operational land. Then it can be sold,” he said.
“This first round of consultation is only the beginning but it is critical that as many people as possible take the time to give their feedback and explain why they object to the reclassification of community land.
“Council has acknowledged that it is legally bound to lodge a Planning Proposal before it can reclassify land from community to operational so it can be sold and that process can take between 12 and 18 months to complete.
“Council is also required to have a public hearing to be convened by an independent facilitator so this will give the community another opportunity to voice its opposition to reclassification of community land.”
Mr Chestnut said CEN would support the community’s fight to protect community land. “The sale of community land is not the only option, and it is certainly not the best option, for reducing Council’s debt.
“The community is right to feel disappointed that Council has been speaking with potential purchasers before it even asked the community for feedback. This is one of many examples of Council putting the cart before the horse during this administration period.
“Central Coast Council knows the importance of green space for amenity and community wellbeing. It also knows that every residential estate development is required to have a minimum amount of green space.
“As this region’s population grows and as temperatures continue to rise we will need those green spaces more than ever. The community knows this to be the case. CEN is confident the community will send a clear message to Council that it needs to take these 27 parcels of community land off the table and find other solutions to satisfy its commercial lenders.”
Stay tuned to CEN's Facebook page for more information about the #stoptheselloff campaign and for tips on how you can stop the reclassification of community land in your area.
The Central Coast Community Better Planning Group (CCCBPG) has called for a review of the population growth projections for the northern area of the Central Coast due to recommendations from the NSW Legislative Council’s report Costs for remediation of sites containing coal ash repositories and the limited water exchange of Lake Munmorah and Budgewoi Lake.
Chair of CCCBPG, Mr Gary Chestnut, said: “The bottom line is the current ash dam at Vales Point is approaching 100 million tons and could be considered as toxic as it is not currently being contained.”
“The runoff from the current ash dam leads to Lake Macquarie,” Mr Chestnut said. “Due to pollution entering Lake Macquarie, the NSW Department of Primary Industries has closed the whole of the waters of the Vales Point power station outlet canal for any type of fishing by any method and the waters within 100 metres of the canal extremity into Lake Macquarie.”
The Legislative Council’s inquiry uncovered divergent views as to whether coal ash poses any risks.
The report said: “Community members, environmental groups and health professionals argued coal ash should be treated as hazardous waste material given the significant environmental and health risks it poses and has caused. In contrast, industry representatives and power station operators commented that there were technical processes that could be carried out, but are not currently, to make coal ash non-toxic and inert.”
Mr Chestnut said CCCPBG believed those comments were acknowledgement that untreated coal ash was neither non-toxic nor inert.
“The inquiry formulated 16 recommendations of which five have a direct relationship to the Central Coast,” he said.
The five relevant recommendations were:
Recommendation No 3 – That the NSW Environment Protection Authority conduct and publish a study of surface and ground water around all coal fired power stations and associated coal ash dams and their potential impacts on the surrounding environment by the end of 2022.
Recommendation No 6 – That NSW Health immediately undertake epidemiological assessment of the health of residents near coal ash dams to establish the health impacts of coal ash and publish by December 2022.
Recommendation No 7 – That the NSW Environment Protection Authority commission a comprehensive and independent assessment of the environmental impacts of coal ash dams to provide a better understanding of the issues and to inform best practice remediation.
Recommendation No 8 – That the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment establish a coal ash reuse taskforce comprised of state government agencies, unions, industry stakeholders and community groups to lead development of a strategy to achieve at least 80 per cent reuse of coal ash produced in NSW and report by 2022.
Recommendation No 9 – that the task force inquire and review regulations affecting coal ash reuse, including: the stability and regulation of ash dams; waste standards to ensure that coal ash is not contaminated with other waste; and land remediation including the state and effectiveness of current capping, the current and future risk of leakage of contamination into the surrounding environment and impacts of vegetation cover (including any contaminated vegetation, release of contaminants into the air via transpiration and cracking of capping materials) to ensure the safe and beneficial reuse of coal ash while promoting strong environmental and public health standards.
“We have met with Central Coast Council Administrator, Mr Dick Persson AM, Environment and Planning Director, Mr Scott Cox, and Chief Operating Officer, Mr Malcolm Ryan, and asked that Council reflect upon the findings of the health study.
“In addition to the health studies Council needs to instigate a study on suitable water quality controls specific for any development leading into Lake Munmorah and Budgewoi Lake.
“Lake Munmorah has an average retention time of 520 days or 1.4 years or 2.4 times longer than Tuggerah Lakes so the design of any water quality controls leading into Lake Munmorah must be, in our opinion, site specific,” Mr Chestnut said.
“To do otherwise, in our opinion, will lead to decline in the biodiversity value of Lake Munmorah and adversely impact upon the quality of life of residents adjoining Lake Munmorah,” he said.
“Depending upon what happens to long-term water quality in Lake Munmorah, as it discharges into Budgewoi Lake (and this has a retention time of 460 days or 1.2 years or 2.1 times longer than Tuggerah Lakes), water quality in Budgewoi Lake becomes a further critical consideration.
“It is our opinion there is a strong argument that site specific water quality controls are also needed for Budgewoi Lake. We therefore request that Central Coast Council instigate site-specific studies of suitable water quality design controls leading into both Lake Munmorah and Budgewoi Lakes,” Mr Chestnut said.
“CCCBPG would like to see a moratorium on any rezoning within the Greater Lake Munmorah Structure Plan area until the health and water quality reports are finalised,” Mr Chestnut said.
CEN has made the following submission to Central Coast Council regarding its recent exhibition of maps related to a proposed Conservation Agreement with the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust (BCT) which should see the wetland protected permanently.
CEN has been advocating for the permanent protection of Porters Creek Wetland for the past 20 years. It is the Central Coast’s largest remaining freshwater wetland, a vital part of the Tuggerah Lakes catchment and a backup drinking water supply for the region during drought.
CEN wishes to state categorically that it supports a CA between Central Coast Council and the NSW Biodiversity Certification Trust (BCT) to facilitate the permanent protection of Porters Creek Wetland.
In fact, since October, we have written to the Central Coast Council’s Interim Administrator on two occasions urging him to complete the agreement which was ready for sign-off by the former CEO at the time of Mr Persson’s appointment.
Representatives of CEN met with Mr Persson in December 2020 to emphasise the importance of completing the CA.
Whilst CEN endorses the proposed CA we wish to make the following points related to the exhibited maps and the draft of the CA emailed to us during the exhibition period.
On page 8 of the Conservation Agreement, under the Schedule of Terms, the document lists the details of land and conservation areas.
CEN understands that the former Wyong Shire Council applied the E2 Environmental Conservation zone to land that either contained Endangered Ecological Communities (EEC) or to land zoned under the former 7(g) Wetland zone.
We therefore seek clarification of Council’s zoning map which indicates that E2 Environmental Conservation zone extends beyond the properties listed in the land schedule.
The area of wetland and/or EECs extends beyond the listed properties.
On that basis, CEN asks that Council clarifies whether the list of properties contained in the CA includes all parcels of land owned by Council around Warnervale Landing Area?
If not, what properties have been excluded and why were they excluded?
There appear to be inconsistencies when all three maps are compared.
For instance, why is the area within the yellow oval not colour coded as part of the Map of Management Zones as MZ1?
Is the correct total area of the management zone for MZ1 517.63 if this area is not part of the management zones?
Can Council explain why these inconsistencies occur between maps?
In relation to the track and infrastructure map on page 26. Are all the pipelines, transmission lines and water junctions pre-existing or are they proposed for future construction? If new, will this involve vegetation clearing?
The map on page 32 of the CA identifies management zones from in MZ1 to MZ7.
We seek Council’s clarification of how access will be gained to manage trees that need to be trimmed within management zones MZ3 to MZ7?
In relation to the special vegetation management zones, can Council please confirm the CA acknowledges that those zones are only in place while the adjacent ALA is in existence.
The Conservation Agreement should not be a means to bypass any other conservation legislation related to the area at the southern end of the ALA.
Central Coast Council’s exhibited Mountain Bike Feasibility Study Discussion Paper acknowledges that the construction of unauthorised mountain bike trails poses environmental, heritage and reputational risk. The conclusions acknowledge significant community concern for the protection of COSS described as “highly valued by the community”. Yet the discussion paper’s conclusions list Rumbalara-Katandra-Ferntree reserves and Kincumba Mountain Reserve as suitable locations for local or regional mountain bike facilities.
The rationale appears to be the existence of illegal mountain bike tracks in these locations which could be transformed into sanctioned trails – a fundamentally flawed argument given that those illegal tracks have already caused damage to Ecologically Endangered Communities (EECs).
According to the Environmental Defenders’ Office of NSW, Council’s knowledge of that damage and its failure to stop ongoing damage and protect EECs make it vulnerable to prosecution under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.
CEN’s most pressing concern is to encourage Council to remedy the illegal use of its reserves to stop damage to endangered species and their habitat. We seek Council’s assurances that reserves known for their importance to sustaining the region’s biodiversity – namely Rumbalara, Katandra, Ferntree and Kincumba Mountain reserves – be excluded from plans for mountain bike facilities. We urge council to stop illegal mountain bike activities in those reserves and regenerate damaged areas.
UNLAWFUL ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE
The encroachment of mountain bike trail building and riding into sensitive environmental and heritage land is a risk to biodiversity and has caused damage to Ecologically Endangered Communities (EECs) in COSS. The Otium/World Trail discussion paper understates the damage that has already occurred as a result of illegal trail building and use. It fails to mention the illegal tree removal, damage to hanging swamps and rainforest, interference with creeks and damage to sandstone platforms that has occurred and the ongoing expansion of the illegal mountain bike track network on council-owned land.
Council has acknowledged that the full extent of environmental damage caused by illegal mountain bike activity across its reserves is unknown. No audit has been conducted and Council has acknowledged it is unable to keep up with the illegal activity. This has been the case for many years.
The discussion paper identifies Kincumba Mountain Reserve, Rumbalara, Katandra and Ferntree Reserves, Munmorah State Conservation Area and Wyrrabalong National Park as sites suitable for regional mountain bike parks. CEN wishes to express its fervent opposition to the use Kincumba Mountain or Rumbalara-Katandra-Ferntree reserves for regional or local mountain bike facilities other than the existing use of fire trails.
A regional site has between 20 and 80km of trail, two loops, a site area of more than 500 hectares, a location within 40km of a 15,000 population and less than 10km from highways and major roads. Turning either Kincumba and/or Rumbalara-Katandra-Ferntree into a regional mountain bike facility could cause damage to the sensitive EECs and habitats contained in those reserves.
The extensive network of illegal trails all over Kincumba Mountain Reserve indicates how Council’s neglect has resulted in significant environmental damage. Hundreds of trees have been broken, chopped or sawn down without approval. Of particular concern was damage to grass tree, hanging swamp and rainforest EECs in the reserve.
The moving of sandstone rocks to build an illegal trail through a hanging swamp has displaced obvious above-ground flora and species in the soil – seeds, bulbs, corms, rhizomes, rootstocks or lignotubers.
The illegal damage already done to the Kincumba Mountain hanging swamp would also have an impact on micro-organisms, fungi, cryptogamic plants and a diverse fauna, both vertebrate and invertebrate. There are many other examples of damage to COSS caused by mountain bike trail building and riding. Council has abrogated its responsibilities to manage illegal activities in reserves it owns and manages. No, or very little, action has been taken in recent years to monitor or prosecute those participating in illegal trail building and use.
The discussion paper glosses over the ecological risks of opening reserves for more mountain bike activity. It appears to want to empower the culprits of this illegal activity. It recommends collaboration between council and mountain bike riding groups to locate and develop new, “sustainable” riding opportunities.
Some unauthorised trails may be closed but, if a trail has been audited, and all stakeholders agree, it may be converted into a sanctioned trail. The discussion paper suggests that sanctioned trail networks on public or leased land would be maintained and managed by mountain bikers. Would they have the expertise or the inclination to protect biodiversity? Would this restrict access to reserves by the general public?
CEN has sought the advice of the NSW Environmental Defenders’ Office (EDO) regarding remedies available to the community to stop illegal mountain bike activities in ecologically sensitive land. The EDO drew our attention to the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, Part 2 Protection of animals and plants and in particular section 2.1, 2.2 and 2.4 which the EDO believes would be applicable to the damage to EECs within Council’s reserves caused by illegal mountain bike activity.
Council, as landowner, could be described, for the purposes of the Act, to be knowingly allowing breaches of the Act.
DISCUSSION PAPER OMISSIONS
Each 22km mountain bike track clears a football field of bush but the discussion paper’s section on environmental impacts does not adequately explore the damage that mountain biking can cause. It is limited to impacts during construction, the impacts of bikes versus hikers, and the importance of design and management. It has no information about the EECs and Regionally Significant species found in Council reserves. It fails to inform the community about the fragility of the fauna and flora within COSS.
The discussion paper does not even consider the environmental and heritage value of the. We urge Council to undertake further examination of the extent of damage already caused by illegal mountain bike activity within its reserves. It has a legal responsibility to do so as a matter of urgency.
MORE DATA REQUIRED
The parameters of the discussion paper were limited and several assertions were not substantiated. The discussion paper talks about high levels of demand for mountain biking without evidence apart from anecdotal feedback from bike shop operators. The building of unauthorised tracks is cited as evidence of unmet demand. CEN urges Council to undertake more research into the demand for mountain bike facilities before putting any recommendation to Council. One suggestion would be a single-sheet questionnaire sent out to all rate payers with their next rates notice. This would give Council the most representative and unbiased correlation of demand for mountain bike facilities.
The paper does not include an audit of the damage already done to the reserves, even those listed as popular mountain bike locations on the Central Coast. CEN recommends a systematic audit of all council-owned reserves across the Local Government Area to ascertain the extent of illegal trails, send a clear warning to the builders and users of those trails and assess the damage to EECs.
Kincumba Mountain appears to be one of the only potential mountain bike sites to have been visited by Otium or World Trails as part of the study. A desk audit of other locations may have been deemed appropriate for a discussion paper. An accurate assessment of the feasibility of mountain biking as a major tourist drawcard should only be made on the basis of comprehensive site visits and an exhaustive site audit. The site audit must include a systematic assessment of the presence of EECs and their habitat.
CONSULTATION NEEDS TO BE COMPREHENSIVE AND INCLUSIVE
If Council decides to make the Central Coast a mountain bike riding destination, a Regional Trails Plan will be developed with land managers and the mountain bike community. CEN seeks assurances from Council that the broader community and those with knowledge of EECs will be included in any consultations.
Council’s draft trails approval process implies mountain bike groups will be able to propose sites for new trails in an open-ended fashion. This poses the risk of environmental degradation across swathes of bushland. Academic research conducted into the culture and behaviour of mountain biking participants shows that it has increasingly turned into an ‘extreme’ sport and the conquest of new and more challenging trails is an intrinsic part of its attraction to participants.
If council cannot keep up with the current level of illegal mountain bike activity across the region, how will it do so once the region is identified as a mountain biking destination? CEN urges any proposal back to Council to include a detailed strategy for preventing and taking action against illegal mountain bike activity.
Otium and World Trails recommend that locations for trails should include the “opportunity to extend” the network as demand increases. CEN suggests this approach to the expansion of trails should be another reason to eliminate any sensitive locations such as Rumbalara-Katandra-Ferntree and Kincumba Mountain from consideration for sanctioned mountain biking.
CAN CENTRAL COAST COUNCIL AFFORD TO MOVE FORWARD WITH THIS PROJECT?
A trail audit and a demand analysis will require significant staff resources. It is questionable whether Central Coast Council can afford this speculative project with significant and quantifiable costs in exchange for benefits and revenue streams that have not been quantified.
A detailed analysis of demand is needed to substantiate any additional spending on this project. The absence of a reliable demand analysis in the discussion paper has made it difficult for CEN and the broader community to assess whether this venture has a measurable economic benefit.
CEN seeks assurances from Council that resources will not be taken from other important environmental programs and works to push this project forward.
Council’s focus appears to be on building formal tracks to attract tourists. This emphasis is unimaginative and reflective of council’s ongoing preference for picking low hanging fruit rather than developing a vision for the Central Coast that reflects its abundant potential as a national and an internationally-significant eco-tourism destination. In light of the council’s current financial fragility it may be considered reckless to spend any more money on mountain biking.
A WORD ON CULTURE
As an environmental network CEN does not consider itself qualified to comment on the cultural significance of sites such as Kincumba Reserve. However, according to Awabakal & Guringai Pty Ltd Director, Traditional Custodian and Registered Aboriginal Stakeholder with Heritage NSW, Ms Tracey Howie, the cultural significance of Kincumba Reserve should rule it out immediately as a site for sanction or official mountain bike activity. In Ms Howie’s words the destruction and illegal impacts to Aboriginal cultural heritage items on Kincumba Mountain due to illegal mountain bike tracks is a criminal offence.
“Please do not consider Kincumba Mountain for mountain bike riding. There are other areas more appropriate. More riders will only add to the damage currently visible throughout this cultural landscape due to the actions of the mountain bike riders. I encourage Council to adhere to their responsibilities and obligations to Aboriginal cultural heritage within their LGA and explore efforts to have the Kincumba Mountain Reserve recognised and registered as an Aboriginal Place, given its deep connection to local Aboriginal lore and law and the obvious heritage present within the cultural landscape.”
Central Coast Council continues to overlook this region’s most obvious and abundant potential as a tourist drawcard - its existing natural assets, its beaches, national parks and reserves and sites of Aboriginal cultural significance. They give it boundless potential, if managed and promoted correctly, to become an ecotourism destination of world acclaim.
From the Hawkesbury River to the southern shores of Lake Macquarie, the Central Coast boasts natural landscapes and attractions less than two hours from international airports and cruise terminals. Until we realise the value of our natural and heritage assets and take steps to commit to preserving and promoting them in a sustainable manner, we will never be able to harness their full potential. The consideration of turning locations such as Kincumba, Rumbalara, Katandra, Ferntree, or any other natural reserve or national park into venues for an extreme sport like mountain biking, moves this region away from ever becoming a preferred destination for the burgeoning regional, national and international eco-tourism marketplace.
Central Coast Council must embark on a detailed investigation of harnessing the region’s eco-tourism potential. As a starting point, we recommend the following:
The NSW Local Government Act states ‘Councils should consider the long term and cumulative effects of its actions on future generations and should consider the principles of ecologically sustainable development’. The protection of COSS lands, now and into the future, is of paramount importance to sustaining the Central Coast’s biodiversity. Section 2.4 of the Biodiversity Conservation Act of 2016 clearly states that a person who damages the habitat of a threatened species or threatened ecological community who knows that it is the habitat of any such species or community is guilty of an offence that carries a maximum penalty of $330,000 for an individual (plus a per-day or per-animal penalty) or two years’ imprisonment.
Those who damage habitat in the carrying out of an illegal activity (such as building or using unsanctioned bike tracks) are taken as knowing that it is habitat. It is not good enough for Central Coast Council to throw its hands in the air and say it is too difficult to catch the people damaging endangered habitat. It is arguably a dereliction of its legal responsibilities to enable damage to such habitat.
If Council is going to spend money on mountain biking that money should be spent on signs about the penalties for the destruction of habitat, CCTV cameras to catch the culprits, education and enforcement to stop the building and use of illegal trails and bush regeneration to repair the extensive damage already called. Having just zoned all council-owned COSS land E2, the community wants to see Council’s ongoing commitment to COSS and the community values it represents.
Council staff’s overall objective to seek endorsement for the development of a draft mountain biking action plan for the Central Coast region appears to be a costly endeavour, both in financial and environmental terms, with little evidence of any substantial return on investment. Council (in August 2020) resolved to recognise the economic and social benefits of Mountain Biking and acknowledged the importance of a structured approach to developing facilities and tracks for Mountain Bikes in conjunction with a targeted tourism strategy.
However, since August, Central Coast Council’s true financial situation has been exposed, and it would seem irresponsible to pursue anything but core activities at the present time. CEN also wishes to note its opposition to Bouddi and Brisbane Water National Park and Jilliby State Conservation Area as appropriate sites for national trail parks defined as being able to accommodate more than 100km worth of trails.
We request that Council rules out the idea of establishing shared or club maintenance and management of sanctioned trail networks on public or leased land if it does go ahead with a regional mountain bike plan.
We object to the recommendation for the adoption of a trails approval process that appears to empower mountain bike groups to propose sites for new trails in an open-ended fashion.
The Central Coast Council's consultation for the Mountain Bike Feasibility Study Discussion Paper closes on Monday, 22 March, 2021. It's not too late to make a submission.
If you feel strongly about the need to protect biodiversity in Central Coast Council's reserves, particularly in COSS lands, use our submission template to have your say.
Share the template with others who feel the same way and encourage them to make a submission.
The threats to COSS land are real. All Council-owned COSS land has now been zoned E2. CEN believes, in the absence of a unique zone for environmental land in public ownership, the best zoning for COSS would be an E1 Regional Park or National Park.
We will keep campaiging for the protection of COSS so the whole community can enjoy Council reserves.
Use our submission template and have your say!
The Community Environment Network supports mountain biking but we are concerned about its suitability in the Coastal Open Space System (COSS). That is why we are urging our members, supporters and the broader community to oppose, via Central Coast Council's Your Voice Our Coast website, any plans to build new trails in COSS or approve existing illegal trails.
Central Coast Council staff are considering a Mountain Bike Strategy to build and manage mountain bike tracks and parks in Council-owned reserves, including COSS. A Mountain Bike Feasibility Discussion Paper is currently on exhibition until March 22 via yourvoiceourcoast.com.au.
The discussion paper acknowledges that the construction of unauthorised mountain bike trails poses environmental, heritage and reputational risk to Council.
The conclusions acknowledge significant community concern for the protection of COSS described as “highly valued by the community”.
Yet the discussion paper that is now on public exhibition is flawed.
We are urging Central Coast residents who care about protecting ecologically sensitive land to make a submission against Council moving forward with a full-blown Mountain Bike Strategy via yourvoiceourcoast before March 22.
The encroachment of mountain bike trail building and riding into sensitive environmental and heritage land is a real risk to biodiversity and has already caused damage to Ecologically Endangered Communities (EECs) in COSS.
Each 22km mountain bike track clears a football field of bush but the discussion paper’s section on environmental impacts is inadequate. It is limited to impacts during construction, the impacts of bikes versus hikers, and the importance of design and management.
The discussion paper has no information about the Endangered Ecological Communities and Regionally Significant species found in Council reserves. It fails to inform the community about the fragility of the fauna and flora within COSS.
The discussion paper does not even consider the environmental and heritage value of the reserves that could become regional mountain bike parks.
It understates the damage that has already occurred as a result of illegal trail building and use. It fails to mention the illegal tree removal, damage to hanging swamps and rainforest, interference with creeks and damage to sandstone platforms that has already occurred.
The discussion paper identifies Kincumba Mountain Reserve, Rumbalara, Katandra and Ferntree Reserves, Munmorah State Conservation Area and Wyrrabalong National Park as sites suitable for regional mountain bike parks.
A regional site is required to have between 20km and 80km of trail, two loops, a site area of more than 500 hectares, a location within 40km of a 15,000 population and less than 10km from highways and major roads. Turning Kincumba, Rumbalara, Katandra or Ferntree into a regional mountain bike facility would completely undermine their biodiversity value and cause irreversible damage. These iconic reserves, so important for their ecological value, would be lost.
As a case study, the extensive network of illegal trails all over Kincumba Mountain Reserve indicates how Council staff’s neglect has resulted in significant and potentially irreversible environmental damage. Representatives of the Community Environment Network have walked illegal trails on Kincumba Mountain to quantify and qualify concerns expressed by the community.
The extent of the damage must be witnessed to be believed. Countless trees have been broken, chopped or sawn down without approval. Of particular concern was damage to hanging swamp and rainforest terrain in the reserve.
The moving of sandstone rocks to build an illegal trail through a hanging swamp has displaced obvious above-ground flora and species in the soil – seeds, bulbs, corms, rhizomes, rootstocks or lignotubers.
The illegal damage already done to the Kincumba Mountain hanging swamp would also have an impact on micro-organisms, fungi, cryptogamic plants and a diverse fauna, both vertebrate and invertebrate.
There are many other examples of existing damage to COSS across other reserves caused by mountain bike trail building and riding.
Lack of data
Council has asked the community to participate in consultation when it has not even done a trail audit or a demand analysis.
The discussion paper talks about high levels of demand for mountain biking without evidence. How can the community make up its mind about the feasibility of mountain biking without a trail audit or a demand analysis?
The paper does not include an audit of the damage already done to the reserves, even those listed as popular mountain bike locations on the Central Coast.
Of the 22 sites listed in the Mountain Bike Feasibility Study Discussion Paper, Kincumba Mountain appears to be one of the only potential mountain bike sites to have been visited as part of preparation of the study. Why have so few site visits been conducted? Surely if staff were serious about determining the feasibility of this activity as a major tourist drawcard, more site visits needed to be conducted before the study went on exhibition.
Kids in the candy shop
Council staff have abrogated their responsibility to manage illegal activities in Council reserves. They have taken no, or very little, action in recent years to monitor or fine those participating in illegal trail building and use. The discussion paper glosses over the ecological risks of opening reserves for more mountain bike activity.
Council staff want to collaborate with mountain bike riding groups to locate and develop new, “sustainable” riding opportunities. Some unauthorised trails may be closed but if a trail has been audited and all stakeholders agree it may be converted into a sanctioned trail.
Sanctioned trail networks on public or leased land would be maintained and managed by mountain bikers. Will they have the expertise or the inclination to protect biodiversity? Will this restrict access to reserves by the general public?
If Council decides to make the Central Coast a mountain bike riding destination, a Regional Trails Plan will be developed in consultation with land managers and the mountain bike community. Other key stakeholders, including anyone with environmental expertise, appear to have been excluded from this consultation. Will the broader community and those concerned about conservation be consulted?
Council’s draft trails approval process implies mountain bike groups will be able to propose sites for new trails in an open-ended fashion. This poses the risk of environmental degradation across swathes of bushland.
Council’s consultants, World Trail, recommend that locations for trails should include the “opportunity to extend” the network of trails as demand increases. Does this mean more trails will be built in COSS on an ongoing basis?
Can Central Coast Council afford this?
Both a trail audit and a demand analysis will require significant staff resources, particularly given the extent of illegal trails. Council has not been able to afford the resources to properly address the illegal building of tracks in its reserves. It is therefore questionable whether Central Coast Council can afford this speculative project with significant and quantifiable costs for potentially insignificant and unquantified benefits/revenue.
The discussion paper repeatedly asserts high levels of demand for mountain biking without completing a demand analysis. A detailed analysis of demand is needed to substantiate any additional spending on this project. The demand analysis should have been completed as part of preparation of the discussion paper. How else can the community assess whether or not there is a measurable economic benefit to the region from this venture?
Council staff’s focus appears to be on building formal tracks to attract tourist revenue to the region. This emphasis is unimaginative and reflective of staff’s ongoing preference for picking low-hanging fruit rather than developing a vision for the Central Coast that reflects its abundant potential as an internationally-significant eco tourism destination. This is the latest of many “lightbulb” grabs for cash in the grand tradition of Chinese theme parks, passenger airports and giant pelicans.
It is of interest that the Department of Premier and Cabinet was consulted by staff as a stakeholder in this feasibility study. According to the discussion paper, a senior project officer within the DPC said a NSW Mountain Bike Strategy was currently being put together.
“Some cross-agency networks have recently been established in northern Sydney. Hornsby-Kur ring gai and Northern Beaches councils are working together with National Parks and other state land managers to look at ways to meet the growing demand for mountain biking”.
It is of note that Central Coast Council does not appear to have been included in this networking. In light of the council’s current financial crisis it may be considered reckless to spend any more money on the feasibility of mountain biking. If other regions are more advanced than the Central Coast the unmet demand for mountain bike locations may very well be met before Central Coast Council is able to develop anything.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
If you think sensitive COSS lands need to be kept for passive recreation and conservation and other, more appropriate, locations found for mountain bike riding, please have your say before March 22 at yourvoiceourcoast.com.au.
Be sure to:
1. Register your interest to discuss the proposal with project staff
2. Ask a question and have the answer published
4. Encourage others in the community who share your concerns to also participate in the consultation
6. Register to speak at a Central Coast Council public forum about the importance of protecting COSS
Do you know somebody who has… stood their ground at the crease...deflected the assault from their opponents...and remained steadfast in protecting their wicket…. all in the interests of the environment?
Then we would like to acknowledge them as part of the team.
CEN is calling for nominations for the following Annual Awards:
Nominations must be submitted by 5pm, Thursday, 12 November, 2020.
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