We have written about Hornsby Park and the Quarry several times in STEP Matters. Westleigh Park is another important bushland site in the Hornsby Shire. The land was owned by Sydney Water until 2016 when it was purchased by Hornsby Council with the main objectives of providing future recreational opportunities and for conservation purposes.
The site covers 34 ha and contains a mix of open space and bushland. The land has not been managed so mountain bikers have taken the liberty to construct 9 km of tracks over the site.
Hornsby Council has undertaken various studies of the site. Vegetation mapping has identified critically endangered ecological communities, Sydney Turpentine Forest and endangered Duffys Forest that council is obliged to conserve and protect. There are also other large areas of quality bushland and threatened plant and animal species.
Studies undertaken of the current unauthorised trails identified soil degradation, contamination and asbestos. The exposed asbestos is managed by monitoring and removal when required but there is buried asbestos that needs to be dealt with.
TrailScapes Pty Ltd, an international trail building company, undertook a study in 2018 of options for restructuring the mountain bike trails network. Their report summed up the current state of the trails as:
In its current form the trail network is unsustainable and not ‘maintainable’. The appropriate management of water is key to a sustainable trail network. A network that continues to erode and pool water not only contributes to erosion but also edge effects such as trail creep (widening) as riders trample vegetation by riding around erosion gullies, pooling water and deteriorating trail features.
In the draft masterplan the bike trails have been reduced considerably. They have been moved to the margins of the endangered ecological communities (EECs) rather than cutting through them. Some bushwalking tracks are proposed that will to go directly through the EECs. The management plan must prevent bikers using these walking tracks.
Clearly existing trails have to be shut down and rehabilitated. The mountain biking fraternity is up in arms fighting the proposal with many people signing petitions and commenting on Facebook. We need submissions to express the importance of fixing the damage and ensuring the bushland is preserved.
The masterplan includes three sporting fields with one proposed to have synthetic turf for soccer and AFL. This is another bone of contention – see Opposition to Synthetic Turf is Growing.
The two projects will be staged over several years with the Westleigh project being given lower priority. The rehabilitation of the mountain bike trails should be given a high priority.
A link track will be built between the two sites using existing walking tracks and fire trails but some new tracks will be required plus a bridge over Waitara Creek. Details are not clear at this stage.
The masterplan is full of glossy diagrams with huge file sizes. There are several precincts including the Old Mans Valley sporting field area, the crusher plant, the Higgins cemetery as well as the Quarry void area.
The environmental status of the precinct is crucial given the rare bushland vegetation that includes Powerful Owl nesting sites and its proximity to Berowra Valley National Park.
The park is close to the Hornsby residential area and many more apartment buildings are proposed. It is important that the park provides facilities for families as well as sporting groups.
STEP has several concerns about the plan in its current form. Some details are still to be worked out so there is currently plenty of opportunity to express our views and counteract the influence of the mountain bikers.
In brief our main concerns are:
- The existing mountain bike tracks in the Blue Gum Diatreme Forest and high-quality Blackbutt Forest should be closed down.
- There are few walking tracks and these conflict with the mountain bike trails.
- The only space for general informal community use is in the Quarry void where there appears there will be large open space with no trees. This would be very hot in summer.
- The sporting field in Old Mans Valley, close to the suburban area, will have synthetic turf surface. This makes it unsuitable for general public use and will be a bushfire hazard.
- It appears that extensive lighting is proposed that will impact on nearby nocturnal wildlife, particularly the Powerful Owls.