Sydney's Northern Beaches have often been labelled as a hidden gem. Anyone who loves the bush and beaches would agree. Beautiful bushland within national parks and crown land intermingles with residential areas. Locals are often surprised by Swamp Wallabies on roads and in their gardens. The occasional snake, usually a Diamond Python, and birds like Black Cockatoos and Black Swans with their cygnets are the happy nature stories talked about. People feel blessed to be here.
However the NSW Government with its restricted vision on accelerating development is likely to change this blissful picture. With the help of precisely crafted rules for state significant sites and state significant infrastructure, environmental protection legislation is swept aside and a remnant hilltop forest is deemed to be annihilated for a monstrous road development to accommodate the new central hospital under construction: stage 2 of the Northern Beaches Hospital Road Connectivity and Network Enhancement Project.
Stage 1 of the road works was approved before community feedback was evaluated. It includes widening Frenchs Forest Road, which runs parallel to Warringah Road, with a distance between these roads of 250 m. Frenchs Forest Road is to be extended from three to ten lanes at its intersection with the Wakehurst Parkway.
A total of 25 lanes, separated only by the 250 m wide hospital block, are deemed the ideal transport solution, whilst better public transport had been dismissed. Roads and Maritime Services claims people prefer using their cars. However public meetings within the community clearly indicated the monster roads were of such a threat, that people are selling their homes to leave the area. Everybody had eagerly anticipated improved public transport not monstrous roads.
Now I would like to take you to the remnant hilltop forest. After climbing up the last hill heading west from Dee Why, with sweeping views back over the hills to the ocean, we reach an area with tall trees. We are in the suburb Frenchs Forest named after Mr French, who owned large parcels of land and sold timber cut from his forest. Scientifically though, this forest is described as Duffys Forest Ecological Community (DFEC) named after the suburb Duffys Forest about 15 km away, where its special nature was first recognised. DFEC is now listed as endangered under NSW legislation.
DFEC is an ecological community that has always been restricted to local hilltops covered with a richer type of soil containing ironstones. Only about 15% of DFEC is left and that is it for our planet or perhaps our universe. It only occurs in isolated patches and these patches are within a radius of about 20 km.
DFEC is characterised by its high biodiversity with a high percentage of members from the Proteaceae family. No specific plant is needed to make DFEC. It is the combination of a large number of species matching the characteristic assembly. It may host threatened species, but it is not required to do so.
My own 'DFEC nose' is a combination of early timber-getters observations and scientific research: a surprisingly tall forest, in hilltop location with characteristic eucalypts like
E. sieberi, E. capitellata, E. umbra and E. pilularis. Angophora costata is also often about, but not for example E. haemastoma, a more Sydney sandstone vegetation species.
The location of the forest planned for destruction is another crucial factor that should have stopped this development. The forest is the only bridge between two large bushland areas. It is a wildlife corridor of regional significance and connects the bushland of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment or Garigal National Park East with the bushland of Manly Dam. Without this narrow forest corridor, terrestrial fauna cannot cross between these areas. Despite it currently being cut by six-lane Warringah Road, roadkill data confirm its regular use by Swamp Wallabies and genetic studies even demonstrate that Long-nosed Bandicoots cross over the road.
As with other development proposals, an environmental impact statement (EIS) was prepared. The EIS is daunting being over 2500 pages in size, but selected sections make an interesting read. For example five threatened fauna species are recorded: Red-crowned Toadlet, Powerful Owl, Grey-headed Flying Fox, Swift Parrot and the White- bellied Sea Eagle.
The Swift Parrot has just been declared critically endangered by UNESCO. The Swift Parrot migrates between its breeding grounds in Tasmania and mainland Australia's east coast. The Swift Parrot can claim two parrot records: it is the fastest and it travels the longest distance ‑ up to 5000 km!
The recently rediscovered Spotted-tailed Quoll in the Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment was discounted in the EIS as having enough other habitat, even though large tree stumps are its favourite habitat and it is known to travel large distances around its core habitat.
Somewhat surprising is the inconsistent count of trees and hollows deemed for destruction. 65 trees with 103 hollows becomes 85 trees with 129 hollows a few pages later. It is acknowledged that the area is likely habitat for 17 threatened flora and 35 threatened fauna species. However as no threatened terrestrial fauna was encountered on the sites during the survey, it is not regarded as necessary to keep this habitat corridor. The EIS ignores the simple and undeniable conclusion that the loss of the corridor is likely to lead to fauna species becoming locally threatened and extinct within the Manly Dam Catchment.
Regarding the patches of forest doomed for clearing, in total 6.1 ha is declared as DFEC and the government's ecological consultants predict it will over time drive the whole local stand at Frenchs Forest into extinction. Frenchs Motorway has been suggested as a new name for the suburb.
A mention should also go to all the other eco-services provided by the forest to us humans and in particular the local community. The forest filters the air from pollutants and produces oxygen. During storms it acts as a windbreak and as a sponge decreasing the chance of flooding of local creeks including the runoff that frequently floods the Wakehurst Parkway. Like all forests it retains moisture and cools the area during heat and drought. And the direct action of the forest on us? It relaxes our mind and lifts our spirits. This aspect seems desirable in the surrounds of a hospital.
It is hard to believe that the government, with the premier Mike Baird living adjacent to Manly Dam, could be supportive of the destruction of the iconic ecology in his backyard. But apparently widening Warringah Road up to 15 lanes for a short distance of 1 km is worth sacrificing all this.
Roads and Maritime Services predict it will shorten travel times during the evening peak period in 2028 by almost 50%. Doing the calculation this will be saving motorist just over 1 min compared to the predicted worsening travel times in the do nothing scenario.
In comparison to motor vehicle travel speeds from 2012 the afternoon peak will be slower even with all the extra lanes and during the morning peak it will only save a few seconds.
Stage 2 is not yet finalised. Your help to stop the unnecessary destruction of DFEC and the regional significant wildlife corridor would be greatly appreciated.
Please contact your local member, the Minister for Planning, the Premier and the media and ask for effective public transport improvements as the initial step, followed by a comprehensive traffic study. And please request that planned stage 2 road works are fully reviewed.
View a video of the roads and intersections at www.media-server.com/m/go/Roads_and_Maritime_Services_NBH/ftag/hq1.