QUESTIONS TO COUNCIL | How much more ratepayer’s money for mountain bike pipe dream?

The following statement and questions were posed to Orange City Council by CCA Vice-President, Dr Andrew Rawson at the Council Meeting of 7 September, 2021.

I refer to Agenda Item 5.3 Progress Report of the Operational Plan, specifically Section (Progress the Mt Canobolas precinct for mountain-bike activities).

Very little information about the progress of this project has been forthcoming to the public.

Apart from the brief Public Forum earlier in the year, only 3 pieces of information have eventuated which were all tabled at the July meeting:

  • A brief progress report from Roxanne Betts, Project and Corporate Information Officer, which included some information about strategies employed by the consultants to prioritise constraint areas and placement of trails.
  • Six maps from Dirt Art showing the new Mt Canobolas Trail Master Plan.
  • A Constraints Summary Report, prepared by The Environmental Factor (TEF) and dated March 2021 (presumably to coincide with the Public Forum).

The Constraints Summary report indicated other reports had been produced by the consultants. These included:

  1. An overall Concept Plan provided by Dirt Art
  2. An archaeologists report provided by Apex Archaeology

Presumably there would also be a finalised Constraints report from TEF, as well as a Preliminary Environmental Impacts Assessment (PEIA) which would be the minimum required for any potential submission to DPIE if Council is still determined to apply for this project to be considered a SSD.

There appears to be no Business Plan, although the Summary Constraints report mentions that the Dirt Art Concept Plan includes a business summary.

I would like to ask Council a number of questions related to the above:

  1. When are elected councilors and the public able to see the finalized reports from the three consultants?
  2. Have the consultants finished their work? If not, how close are they to finishing?
  3. How much money has already been expended on this process?

The consultants were engaged to provide information sufficient to consider further progress, not the decision itself. That’s up to council, and really that should be the councilors and public.

Given these consultancies were paid out of the public purse, they should be made public to allow scrutiny and further decision before any further steps in any process. Have they had independent external review for example?

All the fanfare surrounding these consultancies was to prepare the paperwork to get things “shovel ready”. The council has presumably spent a considerable amount of money and the project is nowhere near that point, nor could it ever be.

  • Is council aware of the cost and time required to take this to the next stages if they pursue trails in the State Conservation Area? Does the Council realise how far from “shovel ready” they are?

SSDs are designed to weigh up the costs and benefits of developments that may have a detrimental environmental impact. If an SSD is sought for a development in a critical environment the first question asked by DPIE is going to be: “Does it need to be here – is there an alternative site?”.

Mine proposals can claim their development has to be where the ore is, however in the case of Mt Canobolas, there is no justification for a mountain bike park causing serious and irrevocable damage to a gazetted conservation area of immense ecological and heritage value, especially when there is a perfectly suitable alternative immediately next door in the State Forests. It’s clearly suitable, as the Mountain Bike Club has already placed trails there and is continuing to do so.

If council decides to go down the SSD path, what are the next steps?

  • A submission including the PEIA needs to be sent to DPIE requesting the Secretaries Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs), which are detailed requirements for the next and most extensive environmental impact assessments.
  • An eventual submission of a DA together with a Biodiversity Development Assessment Report (BDAR) (which constitutes the Environmental Impact Statement)

These could take years to complete, because a significant amount of fieldwork over many seasons would be required to do the assessments properly. The costs of all this extra assessment would be borne by Council, and ultimately by ratepayers. Based on the costs of the recent consultancies, this would amount to many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It is highly likely that any final approval (if it were given) would require offsets to be created because of the impact on listed threatened, endangered and critically endangered species and communities in the Conservation Area. There is no equivalent Mt Canobolas to provide those offsets, so Council would be required to pay millions of dollars as an alternative, even before a spade hits the ground. And for what? To desecrate our most important regional tourist asset.

Councilors should be aware that the SCA has been nominated as an AOBV (Area of outstanding Biodiversity Value) under the Biodiversity Conservation Act (2016) and it meets the criteria for the new designation as an Asset of Intergenerational Significance under the NPWS Act. It has also been nominated by some in the local aboriginal community as an Aboriginal Place under the NPWS Act.

Council needs to be aware there are many barriers in getting this mountain bike park in the SCA.

A much cheaper, easier and quicker alternative exists right now in the State Forests. It represents a win:win for the community if the SCA was excluded from the development.

If council were to given approval to proceed by DPIE, the cost in further legislated surveys, and subsequent offset costs required would be many millions of dollars.

I implore the council to take a breath and consider these costs and constraints and whether it is worthwhile expending any more public money on this scheme.