ADDRESS TO COUNCIL | Destination Management Plan & Mountain Biking

Dr A. Rawson, President of CCA

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to agenda item 5.10 on the Destination Management Plan on behalf of the Canobolas Conservation Alliance.

We welcome the changes made to the draft DMP and support the endorsement of it by Council.

The reasons for the changes relate largely to Gaanha bula Mt Canobolas

Put simply: Gaanha bula Mt Canobolas is a very special place.

It has fundamental values far greater than just a hill to ride bikes down.

You have just heard from Uncle Neil about its importance to Aboriginal people.

I could speak at length about the number of endemic species, listed threatened species and endangered ecological communities on the mountain.

I could speak about the unique geology, rare soils, and globally significant biodiversity of the mountain.

I could speak about the number of people and groups who already visit the mountain, and the iconic status this mountain already has for our region’s tourism.

But what I will speak about is the almost impossible road ahead if Orange City Council wishes to pursue the Mountain Biking project that will permanently degrade these values.

Mountain bike trails do cause significant environmental damage.

Gaanha bula and its ecological and cultural values are currently protected from such damage under State and Commonwealth legislation.

The onus is on any developer to provide proof that their development either won’t have an impact, or that the impacts can be offset in some way.

It is my view, and of many of my colleagues, that you would fail to provide this proof.

The money spent so far has gone towards trying to have this project assessed as a State Significant Project. The only criteria available to Council is 1) High cost and 2) the likely environmental impact.

Why would any developer, especially a council, want to be involved in any project that carries such high cost and high likelihood of environmental damage? I reiterate – this damage would be to the most iconic and important tourist destination in our entire region.

You have to have a pretty good reason to spend public money on a project that is fundamentally built on high cost, high environmental impact and unknown and tenuous benefits for the community.

The previous council spent a lot of ratepayers money last year on a feasibility study. Now the Dept of Planning requires a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment, Cultural Heritage Assessment, Health Impact Assessment, Business case, Traffic Assessment, Fire Hazard Assessment, and more – all to be carried out by qualified professionals.

To do this properly could take years, and would cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of ratepayer dollars.

All this even before a spade hits the ground.

I can only assume this is what the $1.5 million in your budget is for, but of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. What is not being mentioned is

  • the cost of legislated environmental offsets for all the listed threatened species that would be impacted,
  • the cost of building the trails, and
  • the cost of long term administration and maintenance.

This all would run to 10s of millions of dollars.

We also believe you have no social licence to progress this project.

I draw your attention to the many public submissions on Council’s I P & R documents a few months ago. 94% specifically rejected any further Council expenditure on this proposal. A similar proportion rejected any similar wording in the DMP.

It is just not wanted.

Many questions are being raised in the community about why Orange City Council feels it’s necessary to expend Orange Ratepayers money in an adjoining LGA.

Aren’t there more pressing needs for funding in Orange itself?

While we all agree that mountain biking is a great sport – like all things it too needs to be placed in the right locations.

A much cheaper, easier and quicker alternative exists right now in the State Forests, where the mountain bike club is already placing trails. So if you are still keen to support mountain biking in our region, then that location is plainly available and valued by mountain bikers.

Council’s MTB proposal on Gaanha bula doesn’t meet any reasonable standard, whether on fiscal, environmental, social licence or cultural grounds.

It doesn’t pass the pub test, and certainly won’t pass any detailed scientific assessment.

I implore the council to make the decision now to abandon this expensive, divisive and unnecessary project.

Speech to Orange City Council Meeting 20th Sept 2022 by Dr A. Rawson, President of CCA